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Program Description

The Urban Sustainability Accelerator provides a year-long program of expert advice and assistance for participating cities in implementing an important sustainability project or program. Each city creates an "implementation team" with leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. The implementation teams form a cohort group for mutual learning and support during the year. The year begins and ends with a convening of the teams each summer in Portland, Oregon.


Attend USA's Transportation Investment Symposium (Sept. 21-22)!

The goal of the New Thinking for a New Era Symposium is to help transportation officials and their collaborators understand how transportation investments can combine multiple approaches, marrying cost effectiveness with environmental protection, social justice, and economic development. In other words, how to use practical solutions to get the best value for taxpayers in this new era.

The symposium is designed to challenge current practices and assumptions and promote new thinking and new approaches to the wise investment of public dollars. Learn more.



The Urban Sustainability Accelerator was created to help urban areas implement their sustainability projects.  Our focus is on implementation of adopted sustainability policies, plans, and goals.  The assistance we provide is of every type: technical, strategic, administrative, legal and political.

We include in the category of "sustainability projects" a wide array of efforts that reduce materials consumption, reduce or avoid environmental damage, and restore and protect natural systems.  We believe urban sustainability projects should naturally and logically incorporate economic development as well as social justice dimensions. 

The expertise we provide is based primarily, although not exclusively, in the Portland, Oregon region. Portland is internationally recognized for its more than four decades of experimentation and success in the implementation of various urban sustainability efforts.  Our experts come from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. 

Program Overview

The Urban Sustainability Accelerator offers a year of tailored implementation assistance, in a variety of forms, to a cohort of project teams from different cities working on similar projects. Members of project teams not only receive assistance from our expert advisers but from each other.

We deliver substantial assistance at a modest cost to participants since program expenses are subsidized by national and regional foundation grants as well as Portland State University.

Elements that Distinguish USA from Other Assistance Programs

The Urban Sustainability Accelerator has a number of elements that, in combination, make it different from other such assistance programs:

1. Focus on implementation

Today, good sustainability ideas are abundant but many of them remain nothing more than recommendations in a report or a goal statement in a plan.  Our focus is on the implementation of the sustainability projects that urban areas have adopted and now want to implement.

2. Sustained assistance over a year or more

USA assistance will be sustained over the course of an entire year, not just at a single workshop or convening.  Depending on the availability of resources, additional guidance may be available for a longer period. 

3. Strategic advice in addition to technical advice

The USA program recognizes that the implementation of sustainability projects requires not only technical assistance but strategic advice on how to overcome different types of political and administrative challenges.  This is one of our program's strengths in fact.

4. Ongoing, mutual learning and support network that benefits all

The Accelerator creates a learning and morale-building network among participating teams, as well as within each team.  We encourage the cohorts to continue to support each other’s efforts after the conclusion of the program year.

5. Reliance on cross-sector teams - comprised of individuals from government, business and nonprofits - for more effective implementation

USA emphasizes joint participation on the implementation team by elected officials, government staff, and leaders from business, nonprofits, and educational institutions.  The success and speed of implementation is enhanced when it is part of a broader effort to create social and political capital in the private and nonprofit sectors, including among community groups, in support of sustainability projects.

6. Emphasis on peer-to-peer advising

The Accelerator emphasizes peer-to-peer advising to enhance source credibility.  This means USA business experts providing advice to other business leaders, elected officials advising other electeds, and developers learning from USA expert developers. 

7. Taps knowledge and resources of universities

USA draws upon the skills and resources of faculty and graduate students at Portland State University (an urban-serving university) and other higher education institutions.  When appropriate, faculty and students from these institutions are linked with project teams to present relevant research or carry out specific research.   

Example Schedule & Activities


This is our recruitment and application period.  During this time, interested cities meet with USA staff and prepare their applications.  USA staff review applications, provide feedback and suggestions, conduct an initial assessment of each team’s implementation needs, and begin shaping a cohort around similar projects.  For the current cohort, winter is time for a mid-year convening to share progress with each other and with their senior leaders.


In spring, the selection of cities for the next cohort takes place, and cities begin sharing information with others in their cohort as they plan for the summer convening.  For the current cohort, spring is filled with final implementation activities as per a detailed work plan and preparation of a project report for the summer reconvening.


A convening of teams in the new cohort (and a reconvening of teams in the existing cohort) is held in July each year. At the summer convening, teams become acquainted with one another in person, and engage in discussions on technical and strategic topics. Some of these discussions are peer-to-peer, while others involve the entire group. Field trips and site visits in Portland to see relevant examples are also part of the convening. During the event, implementation teams work with USA staff and expert advisers to discuss, develop, and refine their implementation work plan for the year.  During a day of overlap, the exiting cohort advises the new cohort, provides tips and suggestions, and answers questions about their experience of the program.  They also participate in a detailed program evaluation, and may be asked to share their new knowledge with peers and interested persons in the Portland region.

By the end of this convening, each team has an outline for an implementation plan and a preliminary list of anticipated strategic and technical advice that might be required over the next year. 


After the convening, the Accelerator begins providing direct and shared technical assistance through virtual meetings on topics of common interest to the cohort, as determined by participants.  Monthly check-in calls with each coordinating team begin in September, and the teams share progress with each other and with their senior leadership on bimonthly calls.  Any team may also give a presentation or lead a training on a successful sustainability project in their region that is relevant to other members of the cohort. 

To learn more about the current cohort's projects, visit the Meet the Cohort page

To contact the USA:

Mailing address:

Urban Sustainability Accelerator
Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning (USP)
Portland State University
P.O. Box 751
Portland, OR 97207-0751

Physical address:

Urban Center Building (URBN)
Rm. 320B, inside Suite 350
506 SW Mill Street
Portland State University
Portland, OR  97201