Local Stories, Global Audiences: Sharing Ideas in Urban Sustainability

Cities are increasingly crucial players in the quest for human health and global sustainability. The long-popularized notion "Think Globally, Act Locally" has matured from inspirational mantra to core operating principal for many planners, designers, policy makers in cities across the globe who understand that human survival is predicated on cooperation and collaboration. How does this cooperation and collaboration occur? In part, global discourses on planning, design, and sustainable development are influential in expanding knowledge and integrating efforts at the local level.

Jay Coalson, CEO Green Building Services, meets with PSU's Planning Club 

Recently, First Stop Portland hosted a conversation among Jay Coalson, CEO Green Building Services, First Stop Portland Student Ambassadors, and PSU's Masters of Urban and Regional Planning students to discuss the opportunities and challenges of presenting local places to international audiences. In addition, they explored the potential role(s) for planners and programs like First Stop Portland in this global knowledge exchange.

Several important observations emerged from this discussion:

  • We must tell "The Portland Story" so observers better understand Portland's efforts in a broad context: historical, political, social, and economic. It's important that, as a region, we not be overly self-congratulatory, but rather share what has worked well for us (placemaking, scale, transportation options) and seek advice for dealing with our challenges (economic development).
  • A meaningful dialogue is an open conversation between diverse groups of interested people. Getting a range of people to the table to share "best practices" and "road test" new ideas is essential.
  • International development is always local: all development is essentially local, so understanding local context is always necessary. Sharing stories about local efforts that may not be directly transferable across contexts (for instance, what can Shanghai learn from Portland?)  is may seem futile, but can go a long way in expanding how local leaders undertake "business as usual" in their respective places.
L to R: Derek Abe, Sarah Iannarone, Jay Coalson
Special thanks to Alison Wicks (MURP student) and Derek Abe and Johannes Weber (First Stop Student Ambassadors) for sharing their ideas and helping organize this discussion.

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