For as long as he can remember, Charlie Hales has loved the human energy of an exciting city, as well as the natural beauty of the great outdoors.
Watching as the urban core, suburbs and exurbs in his native northern Virginia succumbed to haphazard planning did more than disappoint and frustrate him; it instilled Charlie with a cause that led to a career.
He earned his degree in political theory from an honors program at the University of Virginia. After graduating, he climbed in his Plymouth Valiant and pointed toward Portland.
“Even in 1979 people knew this was a magical place,” he says, “an exhilarating city close to forests and fields and not far from mountains and an ocean.”
Charlie went to work for the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland and raised a family in Northeast and Southwest Portland. But, both at work and in the community, he began to detect hints of the sort of shortsighted development he thought he’d left behind back East.
That led to Charlie’s 1992 run for City Council.
“Almost nobody knew my name,” he recalls, “and I didn’t have a great deal of money. So I had to introduce myself – one voter at a time.”
The message at more than 20,000 doors was straightforward: “Portland is about to grow and how we grow is very important.”
Charlie was elected that year and twice more. In the ensuing decade he turned his views into action again and again.
At the Transportation Bureau, Charlie Hales championed light rail expansion, streetcar development and safe bicycle routes to reduce traffic congestion and improve the environment.
At the Parks Bureau, he inspired the first successful bond measure in half a century, then leveraged the funds to raise enough additional money to build or renovate 110 parks in every area of the city. A decrepit community center in Mount Scott was repaired and outfitted with a swimming pool, the Peninsula Park Center in North Portland was restored, and new community centers rose in East Portland and Southwest Portland.
Charlie left office in 2002 when a nationally prominent engineering firm asked him to replicate some of his successful mass transit efforts in cities around the country. As Senior Vice President for Transit Planning at HDR, Inc., he has studied, instituted and managed projects in Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Sacramento, Salt Lake City and Scottsdale. He has made presentations to civic leaders and planners in Austin, Charlotte, Denver, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Providence and Taipei.
Charlie left Portland for a few years after marrying his wife, Nancy, whose two children were still in high school in Stevenson, Washington. The family couple returned to Portland where they have poured sweat equity into fixing up a Tudor home in Eastmoreland over the past four years.
Nancy Hales directs First Stop Portland, a program within Portland State University that develops programming and field studies for visiting delegations interested in learning about Portland’s urban sustainability.
Charlie is on the boards of Friends of Trees and the Portland Parks Foundation. He has been a SMART reader, volunteered at Meals on Wheels and served on the Portland Public Market Committee. His work has been honored by the Bruner Foundation for Urban Excellence, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association, the League of Oregon Cities and the Portland Bicycle Transportation Alliance.
Charlie and Nancy are proud to have 5 children between them and a cat named Bogart.