Alex Walker edited the Quest, directed Hum Play, and investigated development patterns in Vancouver, Washington, Portland’s unglamorous neighbor to the north, for his thesis. Photo by Matt D'Annunzio
Hometown: Sebastopol, California
Advisers: Tamara Venit-Shelton [environmental studies 2008–] and Michael Breen [history 2000–]
Thesis: Suburban Paradise or “Sprawlville, Washington”?: The Growth of the Vancouver, Washington Area, 1970–1994
What it’s about: How local residents and their governments reacted to and managed the explosive population growth and sprawling development in Vancouver, Washington, in the 1970s and 1980s, while Portland and its Oregon suburbs were cracking down on sprawl.
What it’s really about: Local-scale environmental activism, and why it does and doesn’t happen.
Who I was when I got to Reed: A homeschooler who had just gone to high school for a year in France.
Influential book: Richard Walker’s The Country in the City is a fantastic history of how environmental activism shaped the San Francisco Bay Area.
Favorite spot: For study breaks I took my iPod to the front lawn and listened to music while swinging on the swing set.
Random thoughts: I’ve learned a ton in terms of pure information, but also how to find and organize new information.
Cool stuff I did: I learned to direct crazy performances with lots of hum jokes in the Hum Play. Edited the Quest. Enjoyed living in the French house.
How Reed changed me: I’ve become more self-confident in some ways and more self-critical in others. Fortunately the self-confidence is mostly limited to social situations (where it is more important), while the self-criticism is mostly in academics (where it is very valuable).
Scholarships, awards, financial aid: I received the Mary Barnard scholarship for two years, which makes me feel very honored. Mary Barnard ’32 was a famous poet, known for her translation of Sappho.
What’s next: Working for a nonprofit in the energy industry. Eventually law school. I’m interested in land use because it’s a really important area of environmental law.
Portland is considered a great mecca of urban planning while Vancouver, Washington, is often viewed as an example of the failure of land-use planning. But not many people have actually studied Clark County. With regard to land-use planning, they actually had the basics earlier than Portland. They were having problems with subdivisions on septic tanks, which caused a bunch of water pollution. They realized they needed sewers, but they couldn’t just build them everywhere. So they drew this line around Vancouver and said, “In this area you’re going to have to build and prepare for sewers and not have septic tanks. Outside of the line you can’t build on lots smaller than one acre.” That was in 1971, before Portland had really done anything comparable. In 1979, Clark County reinforced that line, which is basically what Portland was doing with the urban growth boundary. They used sewers and roads efficiently to promote compact growth and preserve green areas.
Even If You Don’t Build It, They Will Come. In the 1970s Vancouver, Washington, drew the line on suburban sprawl. Alex Walker ’12 discovered that Portland is partly responsible for the perceived failure of its neighbor to manage growth.