(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Francine Raften is a Beaverton resident.)

In the middle of our daily routine we forget what makes the city where we live or work unique. Sometimes it takes both people close to home with their personal stories and from the outside world to remind us of the unique and positive characteristics that make our city exceptional in ways that stand out and rise above so many others. And those praises and accolades are honors indeed when one considers how tough they are to earn.

Like the story from Money Magazine which announced this summer, Beaverton ranked 79th among the top 100 places to live. No small feat. The magazine started with nearly a thousand cities with populations of more than 50,000, screened out cities of more than 300,000 and retirement havens, and cut cities with low education scores, high crime rates, absurdly high housing costs, declines in employment, and income less than 90 percent of their state's median. Then the magazine ranked the 201 remaining cities based on what people said mattered most - ample job opportunities, good schools and low crime - and then on 38 quality-of-life indicators and six economic opportunity measures: ease of living, health, education, crime, park space, arts and leisure.

Phew - tough criteria. But out of almost a thousand cities, Beaverton made the top 100.

The All-America City Award is another hard-to-get honor and Beaverton was one of 30 finalists in 2005. Presented by the National Civic League, the honor is bestowed on places where community members, government, businesses and nonprofit organizations work together to address critical local issues. Just applying is a daunting effort. Only about 5 percent of the cities that begin the application process find out they meet the criteria. For example, this year, nearly 600 communities sought to compete for the coveted award, but the vast majority soon found their qualifications couldn't stand up to the incredibly demanding criteria and difficult process. Except Beaverton, which stood proudly in the top 30 from across the nation.

What Money Magazine and the National Civic League acknowledge, many of our citizens concur. Beaverton residents polled in the last five years consistently agree that our city is moving in the right direction, a proportion that increased almost 10 percent between February 2005 and May 2006 to more than two-thirds. When asked how they feel city government is doing maintaining the livability of Beaverton, a significant 70 percent of residents endorse the city's efforts.

Constructive criticism is good, but so are hard work and high standards that result in notable recognition and justifiable civic pride. It feels good to be able to claim what hundreds of cities across our country cannot: Beaverton's economy is stable - jobs grew by 8.13 percent from 2000 to 2005. Beaverton's fiscal management is outstanding: Beaverton's bond rating was upped by both Moody's and Standard and Poor in 2006 so government services cost less and taxpayers save money. And Beaverton's low crime rate and high citizen-to-police officer ratio make us the second safest city in the Pacific Northwest.

These hard-earned marks of distinction make us proud, but at the end of the day, the people who live and work here are the heart of this city and they are the true storytellers. A city can't be solely defined by statistics and awards and excellent rankings (although they're terrific); it takes knowing the stories and experiences of the living, breathing people who work and reside there to tell the story. That's why Beaverton Stories (under the banner 'Beaverton: We Create Community') are coming soon. Beaverton Stories will be about your neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family - or maybe even you. Look for them soon in Your City, on the City's Web page and elsewhere around town.

Take pride in living in Beaverton. The first edition of Beaverton Stories is coming soon.

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