First Stop helps St. Louis tap Portland's bicycling brain trust

Submitted by: Adriane Ackerman
Student Assistant, First Stop Portland

At First Stop Portland, we’re an ambitious group. We facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges about best practices between Portland's experts and leaders the world over. We promote Portland State University as a leader in the global conversation about sustainability. We help cities achieve their goals by sharing lessons from Portland, our successes and our failures.

Since our ultimate goal is successful knowledge exchange, it is particularly rewarding when a group asks us to host a hands-on, working and planning experience for them, in which the Portland model can be influential and the fruits of the exchange are tangible and immediate. This week we were afforded just such an opportunity as we facilitated a design charrette for alternative transportation leaders from St. Louis, MO, heading into the final phases of a major bike route expansion project.

Local experts from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and the City of Portland met with a visiting bicycle path task-force from St. Louis, MO, to share lessons learned from Portland’s last 30 years of shared-use path development. The coalition working on the paths included government officials, volunteer community members, as well as representatives from Trailnet, St. Louis’ premiere organization promoting regional healthy, active living through multi-modal transportation development. Also adding to the conversation were Portland State students from our Urban and Regional Planning programs, interested in regional planning and sharing their citizen cyclist experiences.

To begin, Jennifer Allen, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Trailnet, gave an overview of St. Louis – its strengths and challenges as a city and site for community integration through sustainable transportation. She explained that, while St. Louis is much smaller than Portland with a population that fluctuates less predictably, it is comparable in its high rates of civic engagement thanks to its “little big town” feel. With three of their 28 aldermen present at the event, the engagement around transportation options was palpably clear. Jennifer also noted that in St. Louis, “...we are willing to tax ourselves for great amenities,” meaning that funding for public works is not prohibitively difficult to come by.

Jennifer Allen, Trailnet, explains development, density
and population fluctuation in St. Louis.
After the presentation, we broke into smaller working groups with the shared goals of (1) conceptualizing the most important planning components to consider in the final phases of development and (2) where the actual bike routes should be to best serve the city. This is where Portland's cycling pioneers really took the lead and shared the insight that the Missourians were seeking.

Portland and St. Louis experts, PSU students and First Stop staff
collaborate, dream and design.
Roger Geller, Bicycle Coordinator at Portland Bureau of Transportation, advised in response to delegate concerns about bringing the planning to underrepresented communities: “To inspire true community engagement, you need to tap into the community’s natural channels of communication and speak the community’s language.”

Roger Geller listens and responds to a community liaison explaining
the challenges of engaging ridership in their neighborhood.
Gerik Kransky, Advocacy Director for the BTA, reiterated this point. “The best practice is to meet them where they are,” encouraging the community liaisons from St. Louis to host their planning meetings in places accessible to the most marginalized populations.

Gerik Kransky, BTA, explains best practices in
community engagement.
While tensions around actual path placement began to run high, BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky culled his 25+ years of transportation advocacy experience to remind participants of their expressed collective goal and to encourage both long-term planning and immediate gains to be considered as factors in their path placement. “Consider the employment hubs and connect to universities.” (An observation the Portland State contingent greatly appreciated!)

Rob Sadowsky, BTA, offers reflective concepts to consider
from the 10,000ft view when planning and placing bicycle infrastructure.
As a Portlander, my proudest moment came when Roger explained that our city government works under the “expectation that we will bring ideas to the community for feedback during the design process,” and that our “robust and engaged neighborhoods and communities will help us make the decisions, together.”

First Stop connecting local leaders, the university and students
like myself to build a more robust brain trust.
It is just this sort of knowledge (dare I say wisdom?) that First Stop Portland aims to share with other cities so that engaged public participation can become as sustainable as the green infrastructure it supports. We so look forward to watching our St. Louis friends further develop their sustainable transportation infrastructure and are thrilled to have facilitated their process along the way!


#PDXinRome ~ SPQR is our PDX

First Stop Portland Director Nancy Hales is in Rome for a two-day summit on cities and climate change hosted at the Vatican by Pope Francis and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. She'll be updating us on her experiences and observations as she meets with leaders from around the globe throughout the week.


You can follow her updates in real-time on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

SPQR is our PDX. It is stamped everywhere in Rome: on manhole covers, corners of buildings, even bar napkins.  Senatus Populusque Romanus means "the Senate and People of Rome," and is almost as old as the city itself.  How old you ask?  Rome was founded April 17, 753 BC.

One would think that a city founded 27 centuries ago would have little in common with one only begun in 1851. Ha! I found multiple connections for the civitas. Here are my top seven:

1. Claiming two founding fathers and legends: Rome’s founding fathers were Romulus and Remus. They also claim being nursed by a she-wolf. Portland’s fathers, Francis Pettigrove and Asa Lovejoy, don’t have such auspicious beginnings, but did have that famous coin toss.

2. Public drinking fountains: Freely flowing drinkable water fountains are all over downtown. Rome’s equivalent to our ‘Benson Bubblers,’ however are also individually carved and unique, such as this one of a scary dude.  

3. Colosseum/Coliseum: this one is is a little older - actually 21 centuries older; um, enough said.

4. Celebrated public spaces with fountains: We have Lawrence Halprin. Rome has Bernini. Pictured is the Fontana dei Quattro Fium or four Rivers Fountain.

 5. Street musicians: Portland’s however don’t come with guys dressed like gladiators.

6. Green buildings: Here is Rome’s equivalent to Edith Green-Wendall Wyatt.

7. And perhaps the most fun of all - both cities love food, particularly iced desserts. We have Salt and Straw. Rome has gelato, and gelato, and gelato…..

Are these interesting coincidences or do they suggest something deeper about cities? Maybe to be a authentic place, a city needs a founding story. Piazzas and public gatherings are also required to enhance civic life. People-watching, whether on the sidewalk in an evening passegia or at a street fair on Mississippi Ave., is something both visceral and necessary. Connection to food and the soil of the local farmland is an idea whose time has come back for American cities.

So maybe a young city like Portland and an ancient city like the Eternal City both illustrate truisms that stretch across time. 


Prepping for #PDXinRome: Advice, protocol, and a bronze rose

First Stop Portland Director Nancy Hales is in Rome for a two-day summit on cities and climate change hosted at the Vatican by Pope Francis and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. She'll be updating us on her experiences and observations as she meets with leaders from around the globe throughout the week.


You can follow her updates in real-time on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


How do you prepare for a meeting with the Pope? What to take, wear, say, and ponder before arriving at the Vatican? Charlie and I spent the last few weeks in a crash course on these and other questions, with the welcome help of many knowledgeable Portlanders.

We’re now on our way, our luggage packed full with briefing materials and extra copies of Pope Francis’ #Encyclical Laudato Si. Also included is a small gift from Portland for the Pope.

I’ve learned a lot about our city in this whirlwind of preparation.  This Pope, a Jesuit who took the name Francis is beloved by many, many Portlanders. Our students at PSU all call him “the cool Pope.” More than once I’ve heard him referred to as “the Portland Pope.” And it comes as no surprise that the Encyclical reads in many places like our own Climate Action Plan and other earnest efforts by our progressive city to be a good steward of the environment, and of people. 

Of the many preparatory meetings we’ve attended, one in particular stands out for me. It was our first, actually, with Portland’s Archbishop Alexander Sample.  What was scheduled as a brief “official meet & greet” became an almost two hour session of serious and thoughtful conversation.  He and Charlie covered everything from homelessness to mountain biking in Forest Park.  “Wow,” I thought quietly, “He gets it.”    

As we were leaving I asked Archbishop Sample the question I would ask everyone, “In your mind, what is the most important thing Charlie should bring to the Vatican?”   

“Bring humility and love,” Archbishop Sample answered. “If you bring your humility and love, you will be open to whatever Portland needs for you to bring back home.”

A Gift from the City of Roses

Choosing the right gift to commemorate Portland’s place among the world’s cities invited to the Vatican, weighed on me. It should be simple; it should represent our city; it should be made here; most importantly it should carry the sentiment of humility and love. 

The hand-crafted bronze rose, below, has been designed and cast for Pope Francis by local Portland artist Kendall Mingey.  Pope Francis, we have learned, has a special fondness for white roses, so Kendall lightly flocked the flower with white.  The mold was broken after it was cast.  Look closely.  The bronze rose is actually a “reliquary,” which means a small vessel carrying precious items. There is a little secret compartment in the bud at the center.  In this compartment, she placed several seeds from Portland’s white rose bushes.  “Seeds symbolize hope,” she told me, “and the Pope is all about hope.”  

The Rosarians always say “for you, a rose in Portland blooms.”  Now this will be true for a man who has thought deeply and written passionately on the twin subjects of care for the planet and for its people, especially the vulnerable ones.  

The Mayor and I go to this historic meeting prepared, with love, humility, and a Portland rose.


Waste no time! Eurasian waste management executives study Portland's best practices

Submitted by: Sarah Iannarone
Assistant Director, First Stop Portland

The last time the U.S. Department of Commerce brought its SABIT (Special American Business Internship Training Program) to town, a delegation of construction company executives were wowed when they kicked the tires on the then-under-construction Edith Green Wendell Wyatt Federal and OHSU/OUS Collaborative Life Sciences buildings, among others. (To refresh your memory, here's the blog post on that visit.)

This time around, the Feds brought eighteen Eurasian executives from the public and private sectors to study Portland's policies and best practices for managing and reducing municipal solid waste. They met with Portland companies, industry associations, and government reps to gather intel on trends, innovations, standards, and regulations relating to collection and transfer, landfill management, material recovery, reprocessing, and waste to energy systems.

It's a good thing "Waste not, want not" is gospel to these experts, whose visit to Portland coincided with the American Memorial Day Holiday, which forced First Stop compact what would have several days' material into little more than a day. How did we cover the breadth of Portland's waste management activities in such a short time frame? We, of course, relied on the knowledge and wisdom of our local experts.


Reflections from "The Magic City"-- Miami, Florida

Submitted by: Sarah Iannarone
Assistant Director, First Stop Portland

Last week, I traveled to Miami to discuss with urban scholars from around the world the dynamics of placemaking in the global city. This included a presentation on lessons from First Stop Portland about how cities learn. The audience feedback was resoundingly positive!

View of downtown from Sunset Harbor, Miami Beach
Throughout the week, I had a chance to explore Miami, a city remarkably different from Portland--culturally, geographically, and economically.

Esperito Santo Plaza, CBD
What hit me first, apart from the tropical humidity, was the diversity—people of many colors and languages and social classes moving through a shared space in a manner that seemed choreographed, as if co-habitation had been negotiated over time such that it was no longer contested but almost embraced. Wandering the streets, the Miami I experienced was likewise diverse, composed  of a wide variety of urban forms.

There was the mirrored glass and steel high-rises of the powerhouse Financial District, “Gateway to the Americas,” where the typical American central business district ethos (and street population) reigns, including the mass exodus of automobiles from parking garages, followed by an eerily quiet street life after 5pm.


Student Report, Day 2: Upplands Väsby, Sweden

Submitted by: James Alexander
First Stop Portland Staffer

Last week with First Stop Portland, I had the pleasure of hosting a group of urban and regional planners from the municipality of Upplands Väsby, Sweden. They travelled to Portland to learn more about our best practices in building neighborhood greenways and bikeways as well as exploring how Portland has transformed social, economic, and ecologic strategies through an urban design framework.

We started our morning touring the North American headquarters for Airbnb, one of the more recent additions to Portland’s "Flat White Economy-- that creative, internet-driven new wing of the economy." Airbnb recently expanded to Portland from the Bay Area and now occupies three floors of the historic Blagen Building in Old Town with over 200 employees. Their creative, open floor plan incorporates actual replicas of Airbnb listings throughout their offices.

Meeting room at Airbnb HQ in Old Town, Portland


A city with no limits? The paradox of Houston

Submitted by: Nancy Hales
Director, First Stop Portland

CEO Angela Baker welcomed us to Houston’s celebrated Baker-Ripley Neighborhood Center. “Big is the only standard we have,” she told our Portland delegation. “Houston is a city with no limits.”

 Neighborhood Center CEO Angela Baker tours Marc Jolin, Multnomah County (center) and Dave Nielsen, Home Builders Association (right) through their 'wrap-around services' facility
No limits?  That’s an understatement, I thought, smugly.  No UGB, no zoning, no urban density commitments, no design review standards.  Sacrilege to everything a Portland urbanist holds dear.

But after three days of Randy Miller’s recent “best practices” trip to Houston, I had to privately eat a little crow.  No limits? Well, in Houston I also learned, it means some positives – like no limits to the size of philanthropic gifts annually contributed to hospitals, art museums and universities.  And, according to one Houston expert, it means no limits on vision or bold ideas. “We experiment a lot more here than you (Portlanders) do.” Ouch!  Did he just call Portland parochial?

James Koski (left) Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Annise Parker opens morning  plenary alongside Randy Miller (right)