Sustainability in Portland, Oregon (Part III)
So I had my meeting with sustainability officials at the City Council of Portland, which is unlike any local Government I’ve come across before. It has only 6 elected officials – the Mayor, four commissioners and an auditor – for a city of half a million people. Apparently this means things can happen quickly – IF you have the attention of one of the first five.
My meeting wasn’t on the record, so I must emphasise the following things I gleaned are my impressions rather than the express opinions of the Council officials (and I take full responsibility for any errors):
- While the City now has an exemplary sustainability reputation, it wasn’t always this way. It was sued by the federal Government in the 1970s over air quality standards.
- The City has integrated sustainability into its city plan, but that plan doesn’t mention sustainability – it is just embedded in there;
- Renewable energy is not a big thing in Portland as Federal incentives are weak and electricity is dirt cheap (8c a unit). This explains the one weakness I’ve noticed in Portland compared to, say, Newcastle where I live, a lack of domestic solar;
- Summer temperatures are definitely rising (it hit 36°C yesterday and may be warmer today) which has led to retrofitting of domestic air conditioning which is a big challenge;
- The first move in the cycle network was to install cycle parking around the city. As local businesses saw more business coming their way from cyclists, they became open to the idea of more cycle infrastructure. There’s now a waiting list from businesses for cycle parking;
- The cycle greenways that form the wider network were very low cost – signs, speed bumps and the occasional cycle crossing. The idea is to divert drivers and create safety in numbers for cyclists by funnelling them along those routes;
- The sustainable drainage swales I saw, are not just a trial – there’s 1,000 of them across the city. In addition, every new development is responsible for dealing with 100% of stormwater on site. As a result, many buildings have green roofs and/or gardens to retain excess water;
- While the hippy/alternative culture creates expectations, it can also cause resistance to, for example, a shift to more dense housing to avoid unlimited sprawl;
- A key tactic is to compare the cost of ‘sustainability infrastructure’ with that of car infrastructure. For example a new major bridge is about to open for trams, light trains, cycles and pedestrians. If cars had been factored in, it would have tripled the costs.
I’d like to send a big thank you to everybody who helped with this visit – I’ve learnt a lot!