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Beginning in the 1960s, Portland is frequently recognized as one of the world's most environmentally conscious cities because of its high walkability, large community of bicyclists, farm-to-table dining, expansive network of public transportation options, and over 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of public parks.

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Portland's access to the Pacific Ocean via the Willamette and the Columbia rivers, as well as its easy access to the agricultural Tualatin Valley via the "Great Plank Road" (the route of current-day U. Route 26), provided the pioneer city with an advantage over other nearby ports, and it grew very quickly.

Portland remained the major port in the Pacific Northwest for much of the 19th century, until the 1890s, when Seattle's deepwater harbor was connected to the rest of the mainland by rail, affording an inland route without the treacherous navigation of the Columbia River.

To the west of the Tualatin Mountains lies the Oregon Coast Range, and to the east lies the actively volcanic Cascade Range. Johns Bridge, a Gothic revival suspension bridge built in 1931, to the north. Jackson Memorial Bridge and the Interstate Bridge provide access from Portland across the Columbia River into Washington state.

The Willamette River runs through the center of the city, while Mount Tabor (center) rises on the city's east side. Helens (left) and Mount Hood (right center) are visible from many places in the city.

This controversy was settled with a coin toss which Pettygrove won in a series of two out of three tosses, thereby providing Portland with its namesake.

The coin used for this decision, now known as the Portland Penny, is on display in the headquarters of the Oregon Historical Society.

Portland is approximately 100 miles (160 km) upriver from the Pacific Ocean on the Columbia. Three of downtown's most heavily used bridges are more than 100 years old and are designated historic landmarks: Hawthorne Bridge (1910), Steel Bridge (1912), and Broadway Bridge (1913).

Though much of downtown Portland is relatively flat, the foothills of the Tualatin Mountains, more commonly referred to locally as the "West Hills", pierce through the northwest and southwest reaches of the city. Portland's newest bridge in the downtown area, Tilikum Crossing, opened in 2015 and is the first new bridge to span the Willamette in Portland since the 1973 opening of the double-decker Fremont Bridge.

By the 1970s, Portland had well established itself as a progressive city, and experienced an economic boom for the majority of the decade; however, the slowing of the housing market in 1979 caused demand for the city and state timber industries to drop significantly. Helens, a highly active volcano 50 miles (80 km) northeast of the city in Washington state, is easily visible on clear days and is close enough to have dusted the city with volcanic ash after its eruption on May 18, 1980.

The city's increased presence within the cultural lexicon has established it as a popular city for young people, and it was second only to Louisville, Kentucky as one of the cities to attract and retain the highest number of college-educated people in the United States. According to a 2017 survey, several of these faults were characterized as "probably more of a hazard" than the Cascadia subduction zone due to their proximities to population centers, with the potential of producing magnitude 7 earthquakes.

During World War II, it housed an "assembly center" from which up to 3,676 people of Japanese descent were dispatched on concentration camps in the heartland.

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