Oregon’s 'One Tough Mother' shares wisdom, humor with FSP students and Lanzhou MBAs

Submitted by Soleil Rowan-Caneer
Student, Community Development
Portland State University

“Work hard. Always tell the truth so you don’t have to bother remembering the lies. And always trust that if you have your heart and soul in it you will be successful,” Gert Boyle tells us. She is speaking to a crowd of Chinese businessmen and women who are hanging on her every word. “Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill,” she advises with a wry smile.

Business leaders in the MBA Executive Leadership training program from Lanzhou University in China have returned for their annual trip to Portland. They come to experience first-hand executive leadership in practice and to learn more about collaborative models of governance and sustainable business practices in cooperation with the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

EMBA Leadership Training Program is a partnership between Lanzhou University and Portland State University's Center for Public Service in the Hatfield School of Government.
On the final day of their two day tour with First Stop Portland, we were fortunate enough to meet Gert Boyle, the businesswoman behind the successful Columbia Sportswear Company. When the company faltered after the death of her husband, she refused to sell it for the $1400 that was offered, saying she would rather run it into the ground herself. Today Columbia Sportswear is worth over $2 billion. Scott Welch, Corporate Outreach Coordinator for the company, explains that it is largely through her bold leadership that, against all odds, Columbia became one of the most successful businesses to ever come out of Portland.

With that perfect introduction, Gert Boyle enters the conference room. At this point, the entire room leaps to their feet and with giant smiles on all of their faces the Chinese delegation bursts into 'Zhu Ni Shenri Kuaile,' the Chinese equivalent of ‘Happy Birthday.’ Gert may only be just over five feet tall, but she exudes a charismatic and energetic confidence. It was difficult to believe that she had actually celebrated her 90th birthday only the day before.

Gert makes herself at home at the front of the room and begins to answer all of the questions thrown at her by our visitors. She shares some of the lessons she has learned from her 70 years in business.

“I’ll share my motto with you,” she says “‘early to bed, early to rise, and work like hell…’”

There was a lot of curiosity about the recent announcement of a business venture with Swire Resources Ltd., a Chinese company Columbia has worked with for several years. Gert was really excited about the new direction, and emphasized how important the partnership with China is to the future growth of Columbia.

One of the final questions asked was “How do you have such a long life?”  I loved her response: “Don’t cook and don’t clean house!”

After our session with Gert and a whirlwind shopping tour through the Columbia Employee Store, we lead the delegation out to the Cooper Mountain Winery.
PSU Professor Gary Larsen at Cooper Mountain Vineyard
Stepping onto the property, my breath was taken away by the winter beauty of the vineyard. It was an unusually sunny afternoon for early March, and the hills of vines rolled away from us out towards a green valley that leapt up into mountains in the distance. The beauty all the more poignant when contrasted with the suburban "McMansions" that stood in a sharp line against the other side of the vineyard. We were standing at the Urban Growth Boundary, the line Portland has set to control sprawl and preserve important resource land.

Barbara Gross, Proprietor, Cooper Mountain Vineyards
Barbara Gross, the proprietor of the vineyard, strolled out into the yard to meet us with a warm smile. We spent the rest of the afternoon with her, learning about what it takes to make a small organic and biodynamic vineyard and winery work. We also were given the opportunity to sample their many delicious wines. We were told their soil and microclimate are particularly suited to producing stunning Pinot Noirs, which I found to be very true.

A day spent singing, laughing, shopping, and drinking wine may have on the surface seemed to be simply that, but in reality I learned about two strong, successful businesswomen whose story I was previously unaware of. I was given the chance to explore sustainable business practices and the importance of effective leadership. Most importantly, as a PSU undergrad, I was able to contribute the ongoing knowledge exchange between Portland and Lanzhou.

From left: Gert Boyle, Columbia Sportswear; Soleil Rowan-Caneer, Nancy Hales,Sydney James, and Victoria Dinu, First Stop Portland


First Stop's "fine-grained" approach informs Thailand's Smart Growth efforts

Submitted by: Edward "Cody" Kent
PhD Student, Urban Studies and Planning
Portland State University

The pressure put on natural resources by the increasing human population and rising standards of living is the defining challenge of the 21st century. This challenge is both local and global in scope, specific and universal in nature. The new and shifting character of these challenges means no single group has a monopoly on solutions. We are all learning from each other to solve our own local problems and the global issues. I recently became involved with First Stop Portland as a course requirement for PSU Professor Charles Heying’s "Green Economics" class. As a term project, students are required to step out of the classroom and work with a business, non-profit, or public agency to develop a solution to a sustainable development problem. I was immediately interested in working with First Stop Portland on their task of assisting with the sharing of sustainable development knowledge between Portland and other cities around the country and world.

Although I’m currently a first year PhD student in Urban Studies at Portland State University, I started as an undergraduate studying geology. As clichéed as it sounds, there are two kinds of geology programs: those that focus on field methods and those that focus on computer modeling. My program was one of those programs which focused on field methods and I spent a refreshing proportion of my undergraduate education hiking over the country side to map geologic structures. The value of feeling the texture of different sizes of mineral grains between fingers or the distance between features by how long it takes to walk from one to another cannot be overstated. This is the same kind of experiential knowledge provided by both the community-based learning project and First Stop Portland. For my project, I helped plan and lead a tour for a delegation of public officials and representatives of companies from Thailand, primarily from Koh Samui City.

The delegation included the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Director of Public Works of Koh Samui City as well as the owner and managing director of the a major hotel on Samui Island. The delegation was organized by Dr. Tanapon Panthasen head of the Urban and Environmental Planning Division of Kasetsart University and Thapana Bunyapravitra of Smart Growth Thailand. This is the second year they have lead a visit to Portland and the trip was intended to deepen knowledge acquired from their previous visit. Specificially, Koh Samui City is completing the first comprehensive plan with Smart Growth concepts in Thailand. Koh Samui is a large island off the eastern coast of Thailand. Until recently, the island was largely isolated and self-sufficient.  Koh Samui has under gone rapid development and tourism is now the major industry. Although the population of the island is only around 60,000, 1.5 million people visit the island each year. This presents special challenges for planning and sustainability. The visitors put strain on resources and services of the island especially water, solid waste, and transportation. The tourism also threatens the cultural heritage of farming and fishing on the island.

Consequently, this trip was geared towards learning about Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and solid waste management. The first day the delegation visited the Pearl District to view streetcar development and traveled out to Orenco Station in Hillsboro to learn view a neighborhood developed around commuter transit and visit the New Seasons Market to tour the recycling and composting operations there. The second day the delegation met with representatives from the Portland Metro regional government and the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

TOD is being looked at in Koh Samui to reduce traffic congestion and pollution and to reduce sprawl into agricultural and natural areas. The sprawl into farms and forests is also a problem for water control. Forests especially protect the soil from erosion and slow runoff increasing the aquifer recharge. Concentrating housing into denser developments as the delegation saw in the Pearl District and at Orenco Station reduces the land area required and can therefore protect forests. However, denser development is also more expensive. Above a certain height, buildings need to be built from steel frames and have elevators which cost more than typical low wood frame or cinderblock construction. Additionally, density has been seen as a negative in the United States where single family housing has become the norm. The Pearl District has shown not only that some people are willing to live in denser communities many are willing to pay a premium to live in denser areas where amenities and public transportation are available. Orenco Station replicates this success in a suburban setting. Partly this density depends on dis-incentivizing sprawl which Oregon has been able to achieve with the Urban Growth Boundary. In Koh Samui, denser transit-based development also has the advantage of reducing traffic and pollution which maintains the environment tourists are coming to see and increasing access for workers and tourists.

Similarly, recycling is seen as a solution to the solid waste produced by the large numbers of tourists visiting Koh Samui. This was clearly a major interest for the delegates who took every opportunity to observe waste collection around the city. In addition to touring the recycling at New Seasons market, delegates stopped to watch the collection of refuse by a front loading truck and noted the recycling containers around the city. During the discussions with Portland Metro and the City Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, delegates were interested in the broader waste infrastructure. Portland has been steadily increasing recycling and recently introduced a single family home compost program. Food and yard waste from homes is composted into fertilizer, while food waste from businesses is composted in an anaerobic digester to produce methane for energy production. Currently in Koh Samui waste is incinerated, and the delegates were interested in implementing more sustainable alternatives.

The delegates also introduced me to the King of Thailand’s philosophy of Sufficiency Economics. Although I have studied sustainability and sustainable development, I had not heard of the philosophy before, despite its relationship to the Western transcendental movement. I think it fills an important role by considering sustainability in a personal way. Constant demand at the personal level is not compatible with national and international sustainability. To achieve a global balance, billions of personal balances need to be achieved and scaled up. Sustainability is most difficult in that it requires thinking and planning about long term goals and making short term actions to reach those goals while forgoing short term gains. That requires immense, unprecedented cooperation as well as billions of individual choices.


Portland's own "Emerging Young Leader" connects with ELEEP Delegation

Submitted by Lauren Patton
Student, Masters in Urban and Regional Planning
Portland State University

My first experience with First Stop Portland gave me a glimpse of what cities need to be successful: individuals who care about true progress. Organizations may proclaim their green inclinations, but the everyday actions of individuals who make up those organizations are far more important. The Emerging Leaders in Environmental and Energy Policy Network (ELEEP) is a self-selected group of leaders who want to influence policy within their organizations. The delegation I worked with consisted of Americans and Europeans living all over the world who have taken it upon themselves to push for a green revolution within their organizations. I met a lawyer working for the EPA, an Austrian working on transportation in Mexico City, and a dozen other professionals from a variety of locations and organizations.

While riding the Yellow Line MAX train with them, I realized that the world needs people in every profession looking for game changing solutions. Getting off at the next stop, we came across one small example. We learned that the chains that act as a barricade at the MAX stations are actually made of recycled milk jugs instead of metal. The practice saved the project a ton of money, not to mention conservation of resources. The ELEEP delegation wanted to know where that idea came from-- at what point in the development process did someone think of that?  It was not an order from someone at the top of the project, our tour guide told us, but rather someone involved in the construction process in touch with the day-to-day details.

It all comes back to discrete actions taken by individuals; we can all continue to do our jobs as normal or we can find ways to incorporate innovative green solutions. 

The ELEEP delegation was in Portland to learn about our successes, but in reality there were just as many things that we could learn from them. Their time in Portland was really a two-way dialogue: they spent a day giving presentations to Portland's leadership at City Hall and spent another day hearing from our experts. I was fortunate to spend a day with them, because now I have a better idea of what it takes for cities to succeed. Cities need professionals who will take it upon themselves to innovate because bottom up solutions can mean just as much as top down ones.


Spotlight on China: Portland seize opportunity

Submitted by: Nancy Hales
Winter 2013

When I travel to other cities I count two things 1) building cranes and 2) bikes.  To me, building cranes mean economic activity, and bikes livability.

I know, it’s an imperfect measure.  But by this metric the bustling Chinese cities I visited recently as part of a diplomatic mission from Portland--Shanghai, Suzhou, Kunming, Chenggong, Xi’an, Changsha and Huangpu River District--are exploding with activity... and opportunity.

Street market, Shanghai


Uzbekistan observes Portland's "Habits of the Heart" on Whirlwind Study Tour

Uzbekistan lies at the heart of the Central Asia. One of only two doubly-landlocked countries in the world (the other is Liechtenstein) and a gateway to Iran and Afghanistan, this country is of strategic importance to Russia, China, and the United States. An independent nation since 1991, Uzbekistan’s emergence on the world stage compels it to think independently about the long-term effects of its decision-making.

This, we learned, after we received a request from a TV producer with the US Department of State and the
Office of Broadcast Support. He would be hosting three TV journalists from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, for a two-week study tour of US to document stories on "ecological advances in the US." The delegation would be attending the Better Living Show at Portland's Expo Center, he explained, and wondered if First Stop might be able to share some of Portland's sustainable innovations with the group. It wouldn't be enough to talk about what's happening in Portland, he insisted. First Stop would nee to help the crew bring Portland's policies and best practices to life for 30 million cable television viewers in Uzbekistan--in a single day!

Despite the threat of heavy rains and 40 MPH gusts, the crew started the day early on the Hawthorne Bridge for the morning commute. They met with BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky who shared the story of America's first bike counter with the visitors. It collects all sorts of data that helps us make the case for bicycles, he explained. When asked how groups like Cycle Oregon and the BTA are connected to Portland's government, Rob explained the important role that Portland's citizen activists play in the city's sustainability innovations.

(Click the images to view full size.)


Conference Update: 7th Annual International Association on Planning, Law, and Property Rights tours Portland

When most people think of First Stop Portland, they likely think of study tours which connect world leaders with local experts for on the ground learning experiences via mobile workshops, field studies, presentations and debrief sessions. No wonder why-- we've hosted over 1800 visitors as part of 150 delegations since our program came online back in 2009.

Most folks probably don't know that First Stop Portland also develops customized field studies for conferences meeting here in Portland. From our first, the 27th International Making Cities Livable Conference in the Spring of 2009 to our most recent, the 7th International Association on Planning, Law and Property Rights Conference (PLPR) this February, First Stop has shared the Portland Story with over 1200 people attending 18 different national and international conferences.

Unlike our usual study tours, in which First Stop develops programming based on the delegation's expressed goals or interests, our conference programming must connect Portland's experts and experiences to the specific conference theme--usually for a diverse group of people in a very limited time.


First Stop hosts "All the King's Men" from Bangkok, Thailand

First Stop recently hosted a delegation from Bangkok, Thailand comprised of 3 academics and 8 government officials who were in the US to attend the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Kansas City as guests of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Local Government Commission. While in the states, the Thais decided a trip to Portland was in order because of the city's reputation for innovative approaches to sustainable development. They hoped to learn more about Portland's tools like urban renewal, mixed use, land use, compact building design, housing choices, walkable neighborhoods, placemaking, and redevelopment of existing communities. While they were at it, they wanted to explore Portland's transportation choices, including streetcar, bicycle system, and transit-oriented development. In other words, they didn't want to see too much in a two-day visit!

The delegation was led by Dr. Tanapon Panthasen, a lecturer in the Division of Urban and Environmental Planning at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thailand. Also on the trip were mayors of nearby municipalities, representatives of the Crown Property Bureau (a quasi-government agency responsible for managing the property of the Crown of the Kingdom of Thailand) and the head of the Smart Growth Thailand Institute.

The delegation visited City Hall where they exchanged ideas with representatives from Portland's Office of Equity and Human Rights and Office of Neighborhood Involvement. They also took time to discuss research with faculty from the Hatfield School of Government.

Then, they hit the streets, exploring Portland's complete neighborhoods by transit--aerial tram, light rail, streetcar, and bus-- from South Waterfront and the Pearl District to the Sunnyside Neighborhood and Belmont District.

What did these leaders from an Asian mega-city of 12M inhabitants think of their visit to the little city of Portland? During an informal debrief session on a downtown-bound #15 bus, the group shared their reflections on their two-day study tour.