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Movers and shapers

Every year a couple of Reed students look up Mike Hayakawa ’78 at the city of Portland’s downtown planning office to ask for career advice. The urban planner in plaid shirt and jeans quickly dispels any stereotypes about stodgy government bureaucrats.

Mike Hayakawa
Mike Hayakawa ’78  
“We’re out to make a difference, even if it’s a little bit at a time,” he says, holding his thumb and finger inches apart. “You have to be an idealist. You have to have soul.”

Hayakawa has helped city neighborhoods work through a host of problems—traffic congestion, mud slides, noise pollution. In a recent high-profile controversy he hammered out an agreement to allow a southeast Portland church to continue a meals program for the homeless over objections from angered neighborhood activists.

Hayakawa’s idealism is rooted in a traumatic family experience. During World War II his father and grandparents were forced to move from the San Francisco Bay Area to a Japanese American internment camp in Arizona. The experience informs how Hayakawa approaches his work today—with a deep commitment to equity and respect.

“What I prize more than anything else is that everybody is treated the same here, whether they’re poor, black, gay, whatever; everybody is treated the same,” he says.

Hayakwa has worked for Portland since the mid 1980s, when the once-sleepy city began a boom time that saw rapid growth and skyrocketing prices. There’s no place he’d rather work, he says, citing the city’s reputation for honest government and progressive views about growth—not just in the city but throughout the metro area and state.

“This is planning nirvana,” he says.

While the laws and codes that regulate growth are established, Hayakawa must frequently find creative solutions. The issues aren’t always clear cut, and working with developers and citizens can be a delicate balancing act. He says every case is unique.

“Reed really has nothing to do with what I do now,” says the political science major, who wrote his senior thesis on the link between Maoism and Confucianism. But he soon corrects himself: “No, the most important thing Reed taught me was how to think.”

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