First Stop Portland Director Nancy Hales is in Rome for a two-day summit on cities and climate change hosted at the Vatican by Pope Francis and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. She'll be updating us on her experiences and observations as she meets with leaders from around the globe throughout the week.
SPQR is our PDX. It is stamped everywhere in Rome: on manhole covers, corners of buildings, even bar napkins. Senatus Populusque Romanus means "the Senate and People of Rome," and is almost as old as the city itself. How old you ask? Rome was founded April 17, 753 BC.
One would think that a city founded 27 centuries ago would have little in common with one only begun in 1851. Ha! I found multiple connections for the civitas. Here are my top seven:
2. Public drinking fountains: Freely flowing drinkable water fountains are all over downtown. Rome’s equivalent to our ‘Benson Bubblers,’ however are also individually carved and unique, such as this one of a scary dude.
3. Colosseum/Coliseum: this one is is a little older - actually 21 centuries older; um, enough said.
4. Celebrated public spaces with fountains: We have Lawrence Halprin. Rome has Bernini. Pictured is the Fontana dei Quattro Fium or four Rivers Fountain.
5. Street musicians: Portland’s however don’t come with guys dressed like gladiators.
7. And perhaps the most fun of all - both cities love food, particularly iced desserts. We have Salt and Straw. Rome has gelato, and gelato, and gelato…..
Are these interesting coincidences or do they suggest something deeper about cities? Maybe to be a authentic place, a city needs a founding story. Piazzas and public gatherings are also required to enhance civic life. People-watching, whether on the sidewalk in an evening passegia or at a street fair on Mississippi Ave., is something both visceral and necessary. Connection to food and the soil of the local farmland is an idea whose time has come back for American cities.
So maybe a young city like Portland and an ancient city like the Eternal City both illustrate truisms that stretch across time.