Patrick Mariru has a difficult task. He and other elected officials in Laikipia, a county in Kenya, are working to establish a brand new government. They're interested in urban planning, sustainabilityand citizen engagement, and they've come to Portland for ideas.
"The County Assembly is only one year old," said Mariru, the speaker of the newly formed County Assembly. "This city is established. We want to learn from this city."
Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010 that established 47 counties, which function like states do in the United States. The new regional governments are learning about the needs and concerns of their constituents -- issues that might never have been addressed at the federal level.
"You can do so many good things, but they must interact," he said. "You must have what I call a 'North Star.'"
Laikipia is larger than Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties combined. There is a need for organized public transportation, new buildings and other infrastructure, Mariru said. He got the idea to visit Portland from an American professor who was in Kenya studying the new counties.
Mariru and nine other delegates from Laikipia are participating in a week-long study tour with First Stop Portland, a program at Portland State University directed by Nancy Hales.
The mayor's wife said the delegation has had lots of questions about community engagement, transparency, and other big-picture democratic concepts. The Kenyan group is the first African delegation to participate in First Stop Portland, she said. Roughly half of groups that come are from US cities, she said, and many others come from the Pacific Rim.
"Portland is a wonderful place to share ideas," Hales said, and it is both "humbling and exciting" that the delegation turned to the City of Roses for a model in urban planning.
So far the delegation has visited the June Key Delta Community Center and The ReBuilding Center in North Portland and explored the parks and green spaces downtown. The group will visit Salem on Thursday.
The study tour also includes talks from Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. (Hales said the congressman helped the delegation get their visas after three failed attempts), Mayor Charlie Hales and the heads of various city and county departments.