When I travel to other cities I count two things 1) building cranes and 2) bikes. To me, building cranes mean economic activity, and bikes livability.
I know, it’s an imperfect measure. But by this metric the bustling Chinese cities I visited recently as part of a diplomatic mission from Portland--Shanghai, Suzhou, Kunming, Chenggong, Xi’an, Changsha and Huangpu River District--are exploding with activity... and opportunity.
|Street market, Shanghai|
Full disclosure – I am biased. China holds a special place in my heart. Ten years ago, my husband proposed marriage to me in China, on the North Wall of Xi’an. We married a year later in Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden, and another kind of crane, the great blue heron, flew auspiciously over our ceremony.
This year’s visit was our first trip back to China since that time. In addition to Mayor Charlie Hales and myself, several Portlanders joined for different portions of the trip: an ambitious contingent from our Portland-Suzhou Sister City Board of Directors (below); Lincoln HS Principal Peyton Chapman and one of her students; Charlie’s Chief of Staff Gail Shibley; NASEO Director Bill Nesmith; and company officials Raymond Chen and Rob Frederick from Thompson Vaivoda Architects (TVA).
|Taicang City Port, with Portland-Suzhou Sister City group|
|Streetscape in downtown|
|Night sky, Shanghai|
|Portland artist Grace Lim, left, with Cathy Chinn, center, and Mr. Zhang Lu|
|Rooftops of Kunming|
- Develop a Climate Action Plan for the city, including measurements
- Create a pedestrian and bike plan
- Clean-up Dainchi Lake (would PSU’s Dr. Pan consider advising, he asked?)
- Create an eco-tourism plan
- Build one TOD development by the end of 2014
- Host at least one joint “marketplace” event to meet Portland firms and learn of their expertise
|Chenggong presentation outlines Portland's tasks|
There is both clarity and momentum here. “We need to build this,” Mr. Zhou said, pointing to the scaled rendering of Calthorpe’s master plan. “Do you have firms that can do this?” Absolutely, we replied. First Stop Portland would happily introduce our green companies to Kunming. These are the same firms that built much of the internationally celebrated neighborhoods of Portland, I advised.
|Chenggong's master plan on display in city park|
|Party Secretary and Chenggong's leader Mr. Zhou (left) with Mayor Charlie Hales|
|Bronze of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King fairy tale (click image for story)|
Huangpu River District, Changsha: Our last two days were back in Shanghai, meeting with officials from the Huangpu River District and the city of Changsha. Our first stop was to Shanghai’s Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, a 6-story building, a teaching laboratory dedicated to urban planning. Imagine urban planning as a tourist attraction (I thought of Carl Abbott and Ethan Seltzer)! A giant scaled model of Shanghai covered an entire floor of the building. An employee updates it each month, adding new buildings and streetscapes by dangling from the ceiling in a trapeze.
|Scaled model of Shanghai in the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall|
The Huangpu River District is redeveloping one section of its waterfront at a time. The developers, Mr. Xu Ru Qing and Mr. Yu Li envision the next section (about 1.2 M square ft.) to be a transit-friendly, sustainable development. Would a streetcar work in this part of Shanghai, they asked? Absolutely, advised Charlie. It would spur development as much as provide connectivity. Come to Portland, he offered, to see firsthand.
|Discussing development strategies in the Huangpu River District|
|Presenting on Portland's regional land use plan|
Portland should embrace its place in the global marketplace, not just in China, but where we already have relationships and opportunity that fit with our city’s values. Arriving back home in Portland, I was struck with how little multi-lingual signage there is in our city. At a minimum, we should fix this (especially since we’re hosting an international sports competition in 2016).
Portland’s deep ties to sister city Suzhou (pop. 10M) could leverage additional trading opportunities. Portland’s assistance to Kunming could be a catalyst for other Chinese cities. PSU’s deep understanding in urban planning, environmental restoration, and public/private partnerships should be marketing opportunities for increasing PSU’s international student numbers.
Portland, seize the opportunity. First Stop Portland is ready to get to work.