2009-04-21

Why I like Portland

There are a number of reasons I think Portland is an amazing city, particular for the United States. Recently, they have just put out a draft Climate Action plan which addresses a number of issues, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions in Portland by 80% by the year 2050.

The specific goals of the plan focus on 8 target areas of energy usage: Buildings and Energy, Land Use and Mobility, Consumption and Solid Waste, Urban Forestry, Food and Agriculture, Community Engagement, Climate Change Preparation, and Local Government Operations. Amongst a lot of great things like new building requirements for energy efficiency, incentives to update existing buildings, converting public buildings, infrastructure and services to more energy-efficient technologies, and promoting electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, here are a few of the things that really struck my fancy from the plan.

  • For each type of urban neighborhood, identify the land use planning changes, infrastructure investments, including public-private partnerships that are needed to achieve a highly walkable neighborhood and develop an implementation action plan.
  • Together with Metro and TriMet, develop a joint funding schedule for infrastructure improvements such as sidewalks and improved access to destinations beyond a reasonable walking distance.
  • Identify the steps necessary to create a world-class bicycle system throughout Portland and Multnomah County.
  • Fund the first tier of improvements identified in the City of Portland Bicycle Master Plan and adopt a schedule of funding to address subsequent improvements.
  • Implement appropriate pricing mechanisms on driving such as congestion pricing, tolls and parking pricing and direct these funds to infrastructure for non-automobile transportation modes and programs to promote their use.
  • Encourage businesses and residents to purchase new and reused goods with minimal packaging that are durable, repairable and reusable.
  • Complete the implementation of mandatory commercial food waste collection in Portland and begin collection of residential food waste.
  • Provide weekly curbside collection of food waste, other compostable materials and recycling. Shift residential garbage collection to every other week.
  • Acquire, restore and protect open spaces to promote functional forest ecosystems with high potential to sequester carbon dioxide.
  • Recognize trees as a capital asset to City and County infrastructure.
  • Establish joint City-County institutional capacity to support the development of a strong local food system. Provide policy direction and resources to significantly increase the percentage of home-grown and locally-sourced food.
  • Increase the viability of farmers’ markets, community gardens, community-supported agriculture farms and home-grown food through qualitative goals. Integrate these goals into all planning processes.
  • Provide educational opportunities for residents that will enable them to grow fruit and vegetables at their place of residence and in cooperation with their neighbors.
  • Encourage the use of public and private urban land and rooftops for growing food and remove obstacles to local food production.
  • Create 1,300 new community garden plots.
Particularly the transportation and food-related bits get me really excited. Not only are those things I'm particularly interested in myself, but I think they will encourage people to really think about consuming less, and about changing what they consume. It's incredibly exciting to me to think about a network of community gardens throughout the urban boundary of Portland producing fruits and vegetables for the neighborhoods they are located in, greatly reducing the amount that has to be shipped in, as well as giving people a closer connection to their food - and encouraging them to cook more often, spending more time at home, and again having a closer connection to their food. It's exciting to me to see the possibility of some real limits being put on car travel, to reduce the unnecessary usage of automobiles within the city. It's exciting to me to see the planning of neighborhoods as a community unit, with all daily needs arranged within feasible walking distance. This will encourage non-automobile transportation, community focus, and just allow people to spend less time traveling to the places they go on a daily basis.

Imagine neighborhoods in Portland where only 10% of daily trips are by car, where the neighborhood worked together to cultivate a community garden (or several) that supplied a significant part of the produce used in the neighborhood - or perhaps had small gardens themselves and pooled produce, and perhaps even chickens for eggs and eventually meat (since that's legal within Portland city limits). In this neighborhood would be at least one park, a school, a grocery store, perhaps a food co-op, retail shops, a mix of houses and apartments, a bakery, a coffee shop, a movie theater, a brewery (or two), restaurants, some specialty businesses, etc - all within easy walking distance.

That physical description isn't too far off from many already-existing neighborhoods in inner SE/NE Portland, now we just need to get the parts that encourage transportation and community changes down.

Anyway, the potential of this plan to really significantly change the city is exciting to me. Have a happy, sunny Tuesday, Portland! (and elsewhere, too)

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