This is Tim Davis, and I have *loved* teaching math since 1992 – and entertaining my students with dorky numerical trickery. 🙂
Another huge passion is studying and visiting virtually unknown places that have instinctively universal appeal. I also follow inspiring leaders in urban planning.
I also enjoy following inspiring urban planning leaders and researching innovative solutions to major urban challenges such as affordable housing, sustainability, infrastructure spending, zoning, segregation, health, efficient use of public thoroughfares, historic preservation, parking, education, equitability, nutrition, etc.
OK, so that’s me in a nutshell…Now if you *really* want to know the incredibly geeky, embarrassingly honest path I took toward studying planning, placemaking, parks, people and Portland, read on–but consider this your first and final warning. 🙂
Before I could even say “population,” I *loved* studying cities–and dorky things like the height of every major mountain and skyscraper on Earth. My parents said my fascination with math, geography, piano and drums began at age 3. The musical instruments I chose to pursue naturally were percussive; they matched my love of numbers.
I also had quite literally insatiable curiosity. Worse yet, I was the first-born, so my parents, to whom I’m eternally grateful for their patience (along with their unwavering support and countless other qualities), had to deal with my nonstop questions. Note to self: that had to be pure torture in those pre-Google/Siri/Alexa/Cortana days! So, if you’re a mom stuck at home with a child who consumes facts like a firehose and doesn’t stop asking questions long enough to inhale, how do you find peace for five seconds? Give that boy an atlas! 🙂
That atlas was probably my first possession that I couldn’t wear, and I soon memorized every major highlight in the atlas (you can still quiz me on those damned mountain heights that I can’t get out of my head).
I loved studying every state, and I was always dreaming of ideal future places to call home (I grew up in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, but I always knew that I’d eventually live in a big city near mountains).
In about two nanoseconds I was incredibly interested in California. I was drawn to this newly discovered state purely because of its unmatched geographic variety and records. I couldn’t believe that a single state could be home to the world’s tallest tree (I still remember that it was listed as 367.8 feet in my long-gone atlas), the world’s largest tree, the world’s oldest tree, and even the world’s most photographed tree (the Lone Cypress on Pebble Beach, in case you were dying to know). I also liked California records such as most populated state, hottest place in the U.S., highest point in the lower 48, lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, etc…). By age 8, I was ready to pack my bags.
Oh, it gets dorkier: My insatiable interest in cities made my atlas-studying habit bury the nerd needle even deeper: I ended up memorizing the exact population of ALL the cities in California whose Census 1970 population exceeded 25,000. Fortunately, my brain no longer has space wasted remembering any of those populations (except for Garden Grove, for some weird reason: it was 121,155; I must have liked the name “Garden Grove”).
By middle school, the atlas was gone (progress!), but encyclopedias, the World Almanac and, OK, I’ll admit it, the Guinness Book, remained steady companions, as did gobs of useless sports trivia.
But my interest in math continued to grow. I ended up majoring in math and physics at the University of Wisconsin, although I kept studying geography, music and French. Oh–and my girlfriend once gave me (without a trace of irony) a huge book on weather facts for my birthday. I’ll admit it: I loved it.
Apparently my studies weren’t sufficiently masochistic at Madison, so I continued to study math in grad school at Washington University in St Louis. It wasn’t statistics or applied math, mind you, but theoretical math–in other words, the kind that’s totally useless for all future endeavors. For reasons God only knows, I couldn’t get enough of it, at least initially. However, I gradually realized that spending every waking second for two straight weeks trying to solve *one* math problem–and repeating this process over and over again for several years–really wasn’t so fun, after all.
Ever since those days of studying every night with a couple of equally masochistic friends at Waffle House until 3AM, life’s been a lot more fun. I’ve taught college math since 1992, and I absolutely LOVE it! I taught in person for many years, and it was a nonstop blast laughing with my students and helping them overcome their fears of what’s usually their most hated subject. I teach math online now, and I’ll continue to teach until I’m 90! 🙂
The target of my studies was no longer math, though; starting in the mid-1990s, I focused on civic and environmental issues, and I loved working for Municipal Research (a wonderful Seattle nonprofit that provides free legal and policy guidance on various urban issues for all Washington state employees). I felt equally fortunate to work next for the U.S. EPA, where I served as a webmaster for 16 years.
By this time, I had more freedom and income to travel, and I took full advantage: I’ve spent the past 20 years researching and exploring as many cities as I possibly could throughout North America and Europe. I’ve taken hundreds of thousands of pictures of every type of fascinating urban perspective I could find, and I will share some of the most interesting shots (such as some surprising “urban intersecting with nature” scenes) throughout this blog. I continually study, seek and capture images of great places; writing about my findings is a major focus of this blog.
“Wait: what was that about Seattle? I thought he was a California dreamer!” As usual, there’s a dorky reason for that. You see…As much as I loved facts and numbers, I gradually realized that they were quite limited ways of describing places. For example, California’s Mt Whitney may be the highest point in the lower 48. However, it has no glaciers, and nor do any of Colorado’s 54 peaks that exceed 14,000 feet (yes, I once had all their heights memorized, but you already knew that).
I gradually learned that one number, such as a mountain’s height, tells very little about it. I eventually found Washington’s Mt Rainier to be vastly more impressive and interesting than any California or Colorado 14er; Mt Rainier is draped by 26 glaciers (by far the most of any mountain in the Lower 48), and it actually soars 6000 feet *higher* above treeline than any other 14er outside of Alaska. Hmm, wondered my dorky self…What else about the Pacific Northwest had I overlooked in my obsession with California?
In 1996, I moved from Denver’s foothills into the tallest building in Capitol Hill (I know: it’s pointless trying to keep up with the cities and states). Anyway, the building was full of folks who often talked about leaving the green (OK, brown) pastures of Denver for other cities. I was dumbfounded; I loved living there, and until moving to this particular building, I figured that everyone else did, as well!
Granted, my life was improved immeasurably following years of studying math 17/7, and all I really wanted was to live in a big city near mountains–and to escape the humidity of St Louis.
Although I loved cities, I hadn’t yet studied urban planning. I wasn’t impressed by the discipline in those days, and the field still greatly lacks mathematical rigor. So, these guys spent hours educating me on civic issues, and I soon realized that a) I *loved* urban planning; b) Denver’s layout, zoning, topography, isolated location, lack of water, and many other factors (including its sunny weather, for some fascinating, surprising reasons) suddenly became huge negatives (thanks, guys, for ruining my little slice of heaven!); and that c) I really needed to move! I was (and will always be) a math teacher, so I could live anywhere–but where?!?
Notice that “traffic” was never a consideration. All popular North American cities have traffic “problems,” and their “solutions” are almost entirely counterproductive, including many aspects of how shiny new light rail lines are designed and executed. When it comes to traffic, the four most loaded words are sprawl, density, traffic…and bicycles. I’ll post hundreds of times about these issues alone.
Anyway…Where to relocate yet again? In those pre-Google days, I went to something called a “library” and spent crazy hours researching places to call home.
I was also increasingly interested in environmental issues. I wanted to live in a progressive and consciously sustainable big city that had abundant water–and hills right in the city (because hills always add tremendous charm to urban neighborhoods). I also wanted my home town to be bike-friendly, both in spirit and in climate (not too hot or cold). And it couldn’t be isolated by hundreds of miles from other big cities–or surrounded by states that were not appealing, politically or otherwise.
Continually refining what constituted the ideal place to call home and be the base for boundless exploration nearby, I also wanted to live within 1-2 hours of ALL of the following: the ocean, deep forests, glaciers, the desert, endless waterfalls, super tall trees, world-class rivers, and incredibly fertile valleys where produce could be grown abundantly throughout the year. I also wanted to be able to walk to a major research university with a world-renowned urban planning program. In the end, only two cities on Earth met all qualifications: Seattle and Vancouver. Actually, a third city, Portland, would have been an even better fit, particularly from an urban planning perspective, but its smaller size left it off my radar.
So, Seattle is was! Naturally, I studied literally *everything* about Seattle for 18 months before moving there in May 1998. I was there for three years and LOVED it, kissing the ground every day, until Municipal Research (that awesome nonprofit where my urban education continued to explode) was at risk of, well, imploding, and I needed to find a job.
Back in Denver (“Say what?!?” No worries, it’s all good: my brother’s growing, loving family was there, as was a great EPA job surrounded by amazing people that I always called by their phone numbers in the halls to make them smile–or freak out). Anyway, back in Denver in early 2002, my girlfriend suggested that we visit Portland, and I was so blown away by our visit and by all the subsequent research that I did on Portland that I visited Portland 30 MORE times before finally being able to call this place home forever. 🙂
There are some even more specific and “esoteric” (meaning in this case: analyzed mathematically by exactly one person) reasons why I chose my specific address in Portland, but I’ve already shared enough geekiness. 🙂
Granted, I really consider “Cascadia” to be home. Cascadia is the region between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade crest whose southern border is the line from Eureka to Mt Shasta in California. The region continues north through western Oregon and Washington, all the way to the BC Lower Mainland (it also includes Vancouver Island and smaller surrounding islands). Cascadia is, coincidentally enough, almost exactly the size of Oregon, and it includes cities such as Ashland, Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, Portland, Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, Bellingham, Victoria and Vancouver. Cascadia is true paradise on Earth! There is scarcely a square inch of Cascadia that I don’t absolutely adore, including the “quietest square inch” in the entire Lower 48, fittingly called One Square Inch.
I’ve closely followed every development proposed or built in Portland since 2002, and I serve on several planning boards that review such proposals. I live within a 3-minute walk of the downtown campus of Portland State University, which is nationally renowned for urban planning, so I enjoy attending as many planning-related meetings and events as possible.
I’m also deeply passionate about placemaking, and this blog will occasionally feature posts about my biggest placemaking heroes: Mark Lakeman (also from Portland!) and Fred Kent, the founder of Project for Public Spaces. This blog will also cover what constitutes great places.
I will never, ever tire of trying to create the greatest places and neighborhoods imaginable. While I’m not a builder or engineer, I’ll use the power of written words, enthusiasm, ever-increasing knowledge, humor (always!) and connections with lots of great planning folks to hopefully create positive change in the cities each of us calls home.