When architects want to call on a member of Congress who gets it, they go to Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon and 11-year House veteran. Not that he's one of them: Trained as a lawyer and elected to the Oregon State House when he was just 23 years old, Blumenauer has spent his entire adult life as a professional politician. His experience legislating in one of the country's most keen understanding of the forces that shape community development today, and how both architects and politicians can make an impact. Architects, says Blumenauer, "link the artistic expression of what people want to get out of the built environment with the requirements and realities of the governmental arena--water, air, open space, light, energy requirements, and building codes." For that reason, the representative observes, "They are more important than they know."
Blumenauer, 48, spent 10 years as commissioner of public works in Portland, Ore., a key post in which he oversaw the boundary, a ring around the metropolitan area designed to promote high-density growth inside the city and prevent urban sprawl. In Washington, Blumenauer is perhaps best known for the Livable Communities Task Force, which he founded and runs. Its goal is to persuade Congress to support, through policies, communities that offer a better mix of transportation, housing, and open-space alternatives.
"I don't think there's anybody in the House and Senate who has been as focused. We [the task force] have made it part of our mission in Congress--for the federal government to be a better partner with architects and business," says the perpetually bow-tied Blumenauer, who doesn't own a car in D.C., preferring instead to pedal to work from his home near the Capitol.
With the Democrats now in control of Congress, Blumenauer is poised to come into his own. "It has been tough sledding in Congress for the last 10 years," he says. Now, Blumenauer holds a seat on a special House committee on global warming, established by newly elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and on the powerful tax-writing House Committee on Ways and Means.