3.22.2013

Uzbekistan observes Portland's "Habits of the Heart" on Whirlwind Study Tour

Uzbekistan lies at the heart of the Central Asia. One of only two doubly-landlocked countries in the world (the other is Liechtenstein) and a gateway to Iran and Afghanistan, this country is of strategic importance to Russia, China, and the United States. An independent nation since 1991, Uzbekistan’s emergence on the world stage compels it to think independently about the long-term effects of its decision-making.

This, we learned, after we received a request from a TV producer with the US Department of State and the
Office of Broadcast Support. He would be hosting three TV journalists from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, for a two-week study tour of US to document stories on "ecological advances in the US." The delegation would be attending the Better Living Show at Portland's Expo Center, he explained, and wondered if First Stop might be able to share some of Portland's sustainable innovations with the group. It wouldn't be enough to talk about what's happening in Portland, he insisted. First Stop would nee to help the crew bring Portland's policies and best practices to life for 30 million cable television viewers in Uzbekistan--in a single day!

Despite the threat of heavy rains and 40 MPH gusts, the crew started the day early on the Hawthorne Bridge for the morning commute. They met with BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky who shared the story of America's first bike counter with the visitors. It collects all sorts of data that helps us make the case for bicycles, he explained. When asked how groups like Cycle Oregon and the BTA are connected to Portland's government, Rob explained the important role that Portland's citizen activists play in the city's sustainability innovations.

(Click the images to view full size.)

The delegation then headed to Metro for a talk with Councilor Bob Stacey and Senior Policy Advisor Andy Cotugno who outlined the region's smart growth strategies. First Stop Student Coordinator, Yelena Sasin, a fluent Russian speaker and Community Development undergraduate at Portland State, helped translate some of the more complex ideas. When asked if there were any drawbacks to their region-wide integrated land-use and transportation approach, the Metro experts explained that there were controversies, of course, but disagreements force us to come together to arrive at workable solutions.


Following a brief stop at the City Repair Project street mural at 8th and Holman, the group arrived at the ReBuilding Center where Executive Director Shane Endicott explained that although the place looks like it's all about keeping building materials out of landfills (a really important function, he emphasized) the true purpose of the ReBuilding Center is to provide sustainable funding stream for Our United Villages' community development activities like the Community Legacy Project.

Hungry for information, of course, but also ready for lunch, the crew arrived at the new Local Choice Market in the Pearl District, where owners Don and Georgeanne Sader shared a local, organic Halal meal and their company's green ethic with the Uzbekistanis seated around the large, locally sourced communal tables. Don shared his epiphany about the importance of local food which came when, while living in Italy, he tried (unsuccessfully) to buy a cucumber in November. Following the meal and a tour of the facility, Eric Loebel of B-Line Urban Delivery stopped by to share how B-Line's low-carbon inner-city food distribution model was in line with Portland's goals to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The afternoon focus turned to Portland's urban landscape where innovations in green building and urban design contribute to a livable, walkable city. Jonah Cohen, Principal, THA Architecture, met the group at Historic Ankeny Square in Old Town where he walked the TV crew through the process underlying the redevelopment of Mercy Corps' World Headquarters as a catalyst for neighborhood redevelopment and explained the importance of Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland's history and civic activities.

Following a flash hailstorm that scattered the delegation to doorways and beneath bridges, the group hopped the streetcar to Portland's first green redevelopment effort, The Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center (aka Ecotrust Building) where landscape architect, Charles Brucker, PLACE Studio, explained Portland's rich parks system and the rationale behind the Pearl's parks sequence before walking the group through Jamison Square and Tanner Springs Parks.

The team wrapped up the day with a trip to Alberta Arts District where the Community Cycling Center's "Transportation Trivia Night" fundraiser was underway. The Uzbekistani's were slightly taken aback by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd that had come out to flex their transportation chops in support of the non-profit's efforts. They were also surprised that people from across sectors, including Mayor and First Lady Hales, would participate in such an event. "Where we are from the mayor would never go where 'ordinary people' are gathering. Or if they did, it would only be when the cameras were rolling and as soon as they stopped, they turn their backs on the people. It is interesting to see that in Portland the mayor is with the people--even at an event like this."

L to R: Mukhammadjon Bekmukhammedov, Journalist, NTT TV, Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Aazam Abidov, Press Assistant, US Embassy, Tashkent, Uzbekistan; George A. Santulli,  Senior TV Producer, US Department of State, Washington; Azizjon Akhmedjanov, Cameraman, NTT TV, Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.
Below, a slideshow of the whirlwind day's activities 

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