As a fourth-generation Oregonian, I love downtown Portland, and when I was in town yesterday I spent three hours walking from the Civic Auditorium on the south end to Tanner Springs Park on the north end, stopping along the way to speak with store managers about their experiences. All through the day I wondered what was the biggest single problem- office and store vacancies, converting office to residential use, homelessness, crime, or drugs, and this morning I woke up with the answer: leadership.

Before driving down, I had read the presentation for a recent ULI panel titled, “Downtown Recovery, Can Portland Get Its Mojo Back?” and at the end of that were five “next steps” proposed by Prosper Portland, the city’s economic development and redevelopment authority. Respectively, those steps began with the words, “Investigate”, “Evaluate”, “Research”, “Analyze”, and “Assess”.

Rome is burning, and its government is using thinking verbs like evaluate and analyze rather than action verbs like stop, fix, build, and make that promise an outcome. If leaders do not act soon, individual businesses, property owners, and residents will take action themselves, with uncivil solutions like surveillance cameras and private security patrols. Those are antithetical to Portland’s sense of civic belonging, but government there is not working.