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The Oregonian: Urban Sustainability Accelerator shares Portland's green expertise with cities around the country
Author: Becca Stanek
Posted: July 30, 2013

The original story is available here. View a gallery of Oregonian photos here

As cities across the country join the growing movement to go green, many are looking to Portland for help.

Representatives from eight cities across the U.S. convened in Portland last week for the first-ever meeting of the Urban Sustainability Accelerator. Over the course of Wednesday through Saturday, representatives met with sustainability experts, toured the city and had one-on-one consultations to learn from Portland's green expertise to plan their city's own sustainability projects.

This is the beginning of a year-long program of expert advice and support for participating cities to "get where they want to go with their city centers." El Paso, Texas, Elk Grove, Calif., Louisville, Ky. Portland, Maine, Rancho Cordova, Calif. Sacramento County, Calif., Waco, Texas, and Wichita, Kan. are this year's participants.

"The Urban Sustainability Accelerator was created to fill a particular niche, which is helping smaller and mid-size urban areas fulfill their building projects," Program Director Robert Liberty said. "So this program is different in a couple ways. One is we provide assistance over the course of a year. We're not about policy adoption. A lot of the cities already have good plans and good policies. It's really about policy implementation."

Portland State University developed the project this year to offer the region's expertise and assistance on green development in an innovative way. A group of participating cities was selected this spring through an application process. Each city then creates a participating team of leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

During the week's gathering, cities were to engage in discussion and education. By Saturday each group was to outline a plan and to draw up a preliminary list of the advice they anticipate needing over the next year.

"A lot of times people go to workshops and are inspired, but then they need help figuring out what to do exactly and to get continued assistance," Liberty said.

"Portland is like a peer to these cities that's a little older and that's already gone through this stuff. It's more like a partnership. The people of the world live primarily in cities, and the challenge of the century is sustainability. If we're going to address it, we have to address it in cities."

Wichita, for example, is assistance with its latest project. The city is redeveloping a 9.5-acre site containing two historic train stations. It hopes to integrate this downtown project with the sustainability goals of their Project Downtown Master Plan.

"We're here to learn from experts and other cities that have similar sized projects," Scott Knebel , Wichita's downtown revitalization manager said. "Portland State and urban sustainability experts brought in people to show us how to do projects in ways we hadn't thought of. It's fitting, we're here at Portland State, so we're here to learn."

The Wichita team is also interested in learning from Portland's multi-use, bicycle-friendly streets, and the city's incorporation of the river in city plans, as Wichita also has a river.

"I think some of the things we have in our different cities are similar, and so we want to look at that," said Lavonta Williams, a member of the Wichita City Council. "I'm also sure we have some things that other cities want to learn how we incorporated. I like the communication that this program allows. We can talk with those who have been there, done that and then we can possibly tweak that so it becomes something that Wichita can use."