12.11.2014

First Stop revists "The Myth of Innovation" on location in Brazil

Submitted by Sarah Iannarone
Assistant Director, First Stop Portland

In November 2014, I traveled to Brazil to share the Portland Story with an ambitious conference, UpWeek2014 hosted by Instituto Jourdan in Jaraguá do Sul, Santa Catarina (click to zoom in on northernmost yellow dot on the map, below).  This week-long exploration of the role of technology and innovation in social development brought together leaders from the state's university, public, and private sectors to discuss ways local governments can develop and implement solutions and promote economic development.

Like many places around the globe, Jaraguá do Sul and its neighbors hope to attract and retain tech-based companies (and the ever elusive "creative class") as part of their development strategy. Unlike many places, a contingent of local leadership (who are also First Stop Portland study tour alumni) understand the importance of civic engagement, placemaking, and public-private partnerships as central to their efforts. 

You can see, then, why First Stop Portland was invited to kick off UpWeek! with a keynote on urban innovation, Portland-style.

Now, it’s one thing sharing “The Portland Story” from a street corner in the Pearl District but another altogether to explain to an audience (many of whom had not yet heard of Portland, let along visited) why they should care how Portland transformed from “Stumptown” of the 1850s to the “Creative City” we are lauded as today. Alongside my fellow presenters, (many from the tech industry) who approached innovation as the capacity to capitalize on the next best idea or platform, Portland's “innovation” story felt anything but. With terms like “asset-light,” “synergy,” “solutions,” and “disruptive” flying from Prezi slide to slide, Portland's steady-as-she-goes narrative of  incremental change felt megalithic in comparison.

Tech start-up at Sapiens Parque
And while the real innovation in the Portland Story—figure out what you want to be and do it on purpose—may have been lost on some of the younger members of the UpWeek! audience (for whom the presenter from Facebook Brazil achieved near rock star status) it was well received the rest of my time in Santa Catarina, as I met with leaders from the public, private, and university sectors around the state who are struggling with a very different set and scale of problems than the young tech entrepreneur.

For over a decade now, Brazil has been hailed as a powerhouse of economic potential. The largest economy in Latin America and the 6th largest in the world (Brazil puts the B in BRIC along with Russia, India, and China), its rapid expected growth is due in part to its growing population and geography rich in natural resources and agricultural land, including fruitful export industries from sugar cane to textiles. Foreign direct investments in Brazil continue to increase ($76B USD in 2012). Brazil’s GNP and per capita incomes are also on the rise (albeit with growing inequality) and human health and quality of life around the country are undoubtedly improving [1].

In Florianopolis, educational institutions like SENAI and SENAC are implementing innovative programs for mobilizing Brazil’s industrial, commercial, and professional workforces. The government-funded innovation center at Sapiens Parque is successfully transforming business as usual, diversifying the local economy through support of startups in clean energy, biotech, information technology and even green building. In nearby Pedra Branca, a family-owned development company is transforming its defunct family farm into a compact, New Urbanist development of the highest caliber. (There's a slideshow of images from Pedra Branca at the end of this post.)

Rudy Raulino, SENAC Regional Director, explains deployment of mobile classrooms around the state.
With the resources at hand and innovative ideas in play, how could Santa Catarina--or Brazil for that matter--be anything less than economic juggernaut? 

Despite all the positive activity I witnessed during my short time in Santa Catarina, I also saw some fundamental issues persisting across municipalities and sectors which appeared to hogtie even their most enlightened plans. In many conversations, there was a focus on the lack of infrastructure as the bottleneck in their development plans. And while it was apparent throughout my visit that, like the US, Brazil has much work to do developing and maintaining its networks (roads, airports, distribution networks and telecommunication, power plants and energy grids), the issue of governance may play a greater role in Brazil’s long term success.

Public proposal for innovation center in Jaragua do Sul
The leaders of the mid-sized Brazilian cities I visited were actively seeking tools to improve urban mobility and reduce carbon emissions. Many understood the value of compact walkable neighborhoods like Pedra Branca. Yet many of them seemed frustrated trying to implement the innovative policies, plans, and practices necessary to bring about their desired goals. 

When the matter of intergovernmental relationships—especially between the federal level and municipalities—came up, I was always quite grateful that I do NOT speak Portuguese. Conversations were heated and even in English, Brazil’s tax and tariff system as explained to me was so complex I could not wrap my head around it. Apart from development policy, however, the impacts of political instability at higher levels of government were evident at the local level. Beyond anxiety about Brazil's economic future (Will Brazil go the way of Argentina? many were wondering), were very serious concerns about the federal government's relationship to cities and regions. While the local leaders I spoke with expressed satisfaction with the government's recent initiatives regarding private sector innovation, they were dismayed by a lack of support for public sector innovation and effective government collaboration across scales. Add to this a culture of political corruption (which, while decreasing, remains high) and it becomes clear why local governments are wringing their hands.

So what "innovation" lesson did Portland leave behind? Investments in "soft" infrastructure may be as important to local sustainability and prosperity as hard infrastructure:
  • Robust public-private partnerships have been a cornerstone of Portland's redevelopment activities. Trusting relationships are not built overnight!
  • Strong sense of place is the foundation of local activities.
  • Realizing a long-range view requires institutions that can withstand political turnover.
  • Courageous, visionary leadership has been a key element of many successes.
  • Complete, connected neighborhoods drive regional and urban design and public investments.
  • Shared governance between levels of government and across sectors helps us solve complex problems.
  • Civic engagement and public participation in planning does not happen by accident. Serious investments in processes and flexibility regarding outcomes are essential.

Slideshow from a tour of Pedra Branca with President Valerio Gomes Neto and Executive Director Marcelo Consonni Gomes

11.20.2014

Portland's Apparel Industry: Driving Meaningful Change

Remarks given by Nancy Hales, Director First Stop Portland to the 2014 International Textile Sustainability Conference, Monday, November 10, 2014

On behalf of our entire city, I welcome you to Portland!!

Right outside and across the street from where you’re sitting - is the Willamette River. In 1843, two men, William Overton and Asa Lovejoy paddled up that river to this spot and laid claim to the site of our future city.  The fee for filing that land claim was 25 cents!  And they couldn’t agree on the name of this new city so, in 1845 – they flipped a coin to determine whether the city would be named Boston or Portland - (here’s the actual penny)! Thank goodness I am not welcoming you to Boston, Oregon!!

Two decades later, in 1864, Thomas Kay started the first woolen mill in Oregon which, in 1909, his grandsons - the Bishop brothers - launched Pendleton Woolen Mills.Today, over one hundred years later, Pendleton is a 6th generation local textile and apparel company. I’m wearing a dress curated from their current Portland Collection.

Fast Forward.  At the turn of the 20th century, in 1912 – we Portlanders planted our first official public rose garden and thus became known as the City of Roses. Also during that decade - -one of our more famous forefathers, Simon Benson, began installing free water fountains all over the city.  Local folklore insists it was an effort to “keep loggers out of the saloons at lunchtime.” Others say that it was Bensons’ effort to assure that “decent and upright citizens of Portland didn’t have to enter a tavern for a drink.”  Today there are 126 bubblers and they’re all over town, in front of taverns, micro-breweries and even city hall. When you are out in our city this week, take a sip and enjoy this pristine water that has been free-flowing from the Bull Run watershed to Portland for over 100 years.

Columbia Sportswear's "One Tough Mother" Gert Boyle presents to First Stop Portland delegation from Langzhou, China

6.26.2014

The Myth of Innovation

Remarks given by Sarah Iannarone, Assistant Director, First Stop Portland to 1000 Friends of Oregon Tom McCall Gala, June 20, 2104.

I want to debunk for you what I'm calling The Myth of Innovation, the idea that anything other than the relentless hunt for the next best game-changing idea is synonymous with complacency, stagnation, and decline. As Wayne Gretzky put it (please forgive the hockey reference in the midst of the World Cup), the mandate that we must "Skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it's been." Don’t get me wrong, change is inevitable and we must continue looking for creative solutions to problems that arise. However, I’m here to tell you that--based on the feedback I’m getting--we’re doing something right here and we need to keep our eyes on the puck at our feet.

So, who am I to tell you this?

What I’m sharing with you is based on 5 years hosting over 5000 visitors who’ve dropped by Portland to see what’s so special about this place. As the Assistant Director of First Stop Portland, I occupy an interesting position in an important conversation--learning what matters to leaders from around the globe, hearing the questions they’re asking, the answers they’re getting, and capturing their sometimes very frank feedback about how things are working here.


Debriefing visiting leaders from DaNang, Vietnam

Like it or not, we’ve become a model for the world.

As I speak:
  • 6 Oregon mayors are in Dallas, Texas presenting to a conference of mayors from around the country on the transformative power of collaboration…. spreading the message "There are no republican forests to protect; no democratic jobs to create."
  • Brookings economist Bruce Katz is applauding how "weird and crunchy" Portland just happens to be one of America's most global regions with the third-highest export intensity in the US
  • College educated individuals under 40 (the ever desirable "creative class") are migrating here at remarkably high rates--in good economic times and bad--along with affluent empty-nesters and retirees
  • The New York Times' love affair with our artisan culture continues week in and week out they gush over our "rules-be-damned style…divorced from old-school notions of propriety, service and polish"
  • And I stay extremely busy at First Stop Portland hosting the hundreds of people—from the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to the Planning Czar of Auckland, New Zealand—who visit each year to see for themselves whether what's really going on here lives up to the hype
So, does it? 

5.09.2014

My afternoon with Auckland's Regional Planning Czar

Submitted by: Soleil Rowan-Caneer
First Stop Portland Student Ambassador

We meet in the lobby of the Marriott Waterfront and hit the pavement. I'm with Dr. Roger Blakeley of Auckland, New Zealand. We stroll down to Tom McCall Waterfront Park, seat ourselves on a bench overlooking the Willamette and open a window into the street level experience of Portland. After a quick intro about our interests and concerns, we walk south along the river towards the South Waterfront District, enjoying the teeming life and vitality of the park and the activity along the boardwalk on a beautiful, sunny day in May. Perfect Portland spring weather.

Roger came to Portland after participating in New York RPA's World Cities Regional Planning Workshop. He was one of 13 experts that were invited from around the world to advise on the most recent iteration of their regional plan. Roger tells us their goals were to “share world best practices on Regional Planning, give advice on the preparation of the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut Regional Plan, and be an ongoing international peer review group as the plan is prepared, and prepare a global manual on Metropolitan Regional Planning.”

In 2010, the Auckland region boldly merged all of their local governments into a single entity, The Auckland Council. Roger Blakeley is the Chief Planning Officer on the council, and one of his main roles is to develop a 30-year “Auckland Plan” before the end of the year. This is a visioning plan, similar to Metro's 2040 Concept Plan, that will guide future development for Auckland.



3.18.2014

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.



3.13.2014

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.

2.27.2014

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.