Conference Update: 7th Annual International Association on Planning, Law, and Property Rights tours Portland

When most people think of First Stop Portland, they likely think of study tours which connect world leaders with local experts for on the ground learning experiences via mobile workshops, field studies, presentations and debrief sessions. No wonder why-- we've hosted over 1800 visitors as part of 150 delegations since our program came online back in 2009.

Most folks probably don't know that First Stop Portland also develops customized field studies for conferences meeting here in Portland. From our first, the 27th International Making Cities Livable Conference in the Spring of 2009 to our most recent, the 7th International Association on Planning, Law and Property Rights Conference (PLPR) this February, First Stop has shared the Portland Story with over 1200 people attending 18 different national and international conferences.

Unlike our usual study tours, in which First Stop develops programming based on the delegation's expressed goals or interests, our conference programming must connect Portland's experts and experiences to the specific conference theme--usually for a diverse group of people in a very limited time.

Our most recent conference, PLPR, was focused around ways that planning tools--both traditional and innovative--might be implemented toward more efficient, fair city planning. Accompanied by local site host Al Burns, a Senior Planner with the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, the group spent the afternoon touring South Waterfront by streetcar with FSP Program Director Nancy Hales. Then they headed to the Pearl District for a site visit and discussion with GBD Principal Bruce Brown, who shared his experiences from the Brewery Blocks development. It's a matter of enlightened self-interest, Brown explained. Putting together a project in which multiple interests hold stake can be challenging. The lesson from the Brewery Blocks came when everyone realized they would have to give a little to achieve a win. The win, in this case being one of the most successful mixed-use urban development projects in the country to date.

With PLPR tour participants hailing from a range of fields and locales as disparate as Afghanistan, Germany, and The Netherlands to Michigan, we wrapped up our afternoon with a debrief session that addressed how tools and strategies learned in the field during their visit might be adapted in response to current urban trends and challenges back at home. Conference-goers also had a chance to comment on what they found most surprising or remarkable during their time in Portland.

  • "Portland is Jane Jacob's dream come true..."  answered one tour participant. The city is pretty, clean, and beautiful and has some of the best fountains in the world, another remarked. The question loomed: what will take in the future to maintain "Portland-style"  urban form and development?
  • It can be hard to discern through on-the-street observation what's contextual and what's universal," offered another. "How will we translate 'smart growth' policy to shrinking cities?"
  • The changing nature of the urban landscape--politically, economically, and geographically, was on everyone's minds. The impact of global climate change on urban areas will mandate near constant innovation in  environmental planning methods.
  • Portland continues to excel at placemaking and fostering civil society through maintenance of the commons, but it should not take these processes or the relationship between them for granted. What strategies will we use to sustain our commitment to this ethic over time.
  • Despite all the wonderful things happening in the city, Portland  really needs to do something about all the homeless people sleeping in the streets, a German visitor offered. 


  1. "Portland really needs to do something about all the homeless people sleeping in the streets" could be misunderstood. No police, please!