3.08.2013

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.

Coming from what they referred to as "The Land of 10,000 Reasons Why Not," the delegation members expressed that they felt inspired by Portland's green growth aspirations.
  • They hoped to translate the regional ideals of long-range planning, intergovernmental cooperation and region-wide collaboration back home, where, they said, sustainability projects are often undermined by short-range thinking and end up promoting interurban competition. 
  • They viewed Portland's culture of civic engagement and formal structures for public participation in governance as a potentially viable solution for dealing with conflict and corruption in some of their more challenging projects back home.
  • They observed a strong connection of people to nature and to place--from bioswales, net-zero houses, and bicycle boulevards in neighborhoods to the renovation of Harbor Drive into Tom McCall Waterfront Park. 
  • And as for the food carts? "They feel just like home, only much more formal." 
We'll keep you posted about the group's efforts to convene a regional conference to share the ideas learned in Portland back at home.

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