What makes a great city? It's where you can walk down the street, feeling safe and with lots of interesting things to look at. It's where there are parks in the neighborhood. It's where you can meet friends and neighbors at the corner coffee shop as well as at the bakery or shoe repair. It's where opportunities abound for new experiences, for a decent education, for good work.

A great city is also one that you can escape easily, either on a short trip into the country or to a quiet corner of a plaza or the public library.

What kills a great city? It's scarce public dollars paying for new roads, new sewers and new schools rather than being reinvested in existing neighborhoods. It's good jobs locating farther and farther away from where people live. It's city dwellers paying the bills and getting less: less police and fire protection, worse schools and parks, fewer good jobs. It's sprawl as far as the eye can see.

This spring there is a measure on the ballot that would eliminate the best tool we have for keeping this region a great place to live. The secret of our success has always been an 'all for one and one for all approach' in which every community shares in the benefits as well as the burdens of growth.

Under the crassly deceptive title of 'The Neighborhood Preservation Act of 2000,' a right-wing fringe group, Oregonians in Action, wants to make it illegal for us to work together as a region to deal with growth.

If this measure passes, our only choice would be to blow open the urban growth boundary. Like Houston, Atlanta and Seattle residents, we will spend more and more time in our cars, breathe dirtier air and see our neighborhoods and downtowns deteriorate. We'll also lose valuable farmland Ñ land that contributes $3 billion a year to the Oregon economy.

Regional planning has saved us from the expensive and wasteful pattern of sacrificing existing neighborhoods to subsidize sprawl. Our inner cities are booming, and not just downtown. The streets of Gresham bustle with people. North Portland neighborhoods that had 3,000 abandoned houses just over a decade ago are now highly desirable.

In addition, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, Portland has the lowest congestion costs among similar cities, including Seattle, Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why? Because instead of endless subdivisions and strip malls stretching down the Willamette Valley to Salem, our state land-use planning system tells us to re-evaluate how well we use the land we already have developed and enables us to change zoning codes so land is used more efficiently. While protecting natural areas and parks. While providing transportation options, such as walking, bicycling and transit. While lessening air and water pollution.

It really does work. Just ask all of those elected officials and business leaders from around the country who come to Portland to find out how we do it. Regional planning protects our quality of life. Oregonians in Action, and their allies, the Homebuilders Association, want to blow open the urban growth boundary so they can profit. They don't give a hoot about your neighborhood. Vote no on the Neighborhood Preservation Act to save your neighborhood, your city and your region.

Rex Burkholder is Metro councilor from District 5. He lives in the Irvington neighborhood of Northeast Portland.

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