By Kyle Curtis
First Stop Portland
In April 2010, First Stop Portland was pleased to host a visiting delegation of developers, architects, planners, politicians, and students from Puerto Rico. During their week-long stay in Portland, this delegation examined Portland's sustainable urban infrastructure; transit options and policy; how Portland has been able to reduce its carbon footprint in the central business district; and how Portland's Climate Action Plan influences land use policy. Besides learning about such various organizations as Metro, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and Ecotrust, the Puerto Rico delegation was also treated to both a guided tour of the Columbia Gorge as well as a dinner provided by chef Leather Storrs on the eco-roof of Noble Rot restaurant.
A debrief session was held on the final day of the Puerto Rican delegation, in which First Stop staffers and ambassadors solicited feedback regarding the delegates' perception of Portland. Feedback and insights--both positive and negative, though mostly positive--were shared by delegates at these around-the-table discussions. In turn, First Stop ambassadors considered the urban sustainability issues being faced in Puerto Rico, in an attempt to see whether successful models from Portland could be successfully applied to a different cultural climate.
When the week with Puerto Ricans had wrapped up, First Stop's most ambitiously detailed Study Tour had come to a conclusion. From an administrative perspective, First Stop asked the questions it always asks after a longer and more involved stay by a delegation: What were the positive take-aways of the knowledge exchange? Would there be any long-lasting effects by the Puerto Ricans' stay in Portland? Would the examples provided in Portland have any influence development in Puerto Rico at all?
First Stop Portland is constantly struggling with the ability to quantify the effect and influence it has on visiting delegations- both on return to their home locations, as well as the influence of delegations upon the organizations and individuals they meet with in Portland. In regards to the Puerto Rico delegation, the impact of First Stop Portland was made obviously clear.
The Puerto Rico delegation was accompanied by a reporter from El Vocero de Puerto Rico, who diligently took notes on the numerous interactions the delegation shared with Portland's politicians and planners. These notes were compiled into a multi-part series inside the pages of the newspaper, highlighting Portland's success in sustainable design and development. First Stop was pleased to have copies of thse stories arrive at its office at the Institute of Metropolitan Studies. (Although the lack of Spanish speakers on First Stop's staff made the newspaper articles more of a novelty then anything else.) However, what was even more pleasing news for First Stop was the announcement of San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini's "Walkable City" plan, which would pedestrianize and make Old San Juan "car free"- as one of the oldest cities in the Americas, San Juan's "streets" are barely wider than the sidewalks in Portland- while also building a 5.3 mile Tren Liviano (light rail) line which Mayor Santini believes will result in the development of 16 million square feet of new buildings as the population of the city's isleta increases from 8,000 to 25,000.
Obviously, any public policy that embraces the Portland ethics of sustainable development, walkability, and a transit system that emphasizes the use of alternative modes of transportation will be celebrated by First Stop Portland. But is it really too much to suggest that the week First Stop Portland spent hosting the Puerto Rico delegates had any sort of direct impact on the unveiling of Mayor Santini's "Walkable City" plan? Certainly, this plan had been in development for some time, and it was jsut a coincidence that it was unveiled a few months after the Puerto Ricans spent a week in Portland- correct?
Was the unveiling of the Mayor's walkability plan a response to the Puerto Ricans' visit to Portland? "Well, in part, yes," replied Maria Juncos Gautier, the Director of Sustainable Development Studies of the Gradaute School of Environmental Affairs, Universidad Metropolitana (UMET). "They have been planning this for a while but the Portland experience helped to finally push the initiaitve." San Juan's mayor and his staff had visited Portland prior to last April's delegation, and Mayor Santini's Assistant to the Director of the Land Use Planning Office of San Juan was a member of the delegation hosted by First Stop Portland. It appears that the week spent in Portland had some influence on the ability of the mayor's office to unveil this plan, comfortable in its successful reception and eventual implementation.
First Stop Portland welcomes the news of Mayor Santini's "Walkable City" initiaitve for Puerto Rico's capitol. While First Stop obviously can't take credit for this initiative, we do feel like we played a teeny-tiny role in helping it get publicly presented. For any role First Stop has played in Mayor Santini's Walkable City plan, First Stop is proud and excited to be associated with it!