Redefining the American Dream
Hailed by Mayor Sam Adams as the largest gathering in the western hemisphere focused on neighborhood-scale sustainability, last week’s EcoDistricts Summit at Portland State University was a milestone in the field of urban innovation. The conference drew planners and delegates from across the United States as well as from China, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, and Vietnam, and offered visitors the opportunity to see how Portland has become one of the most sustainable cities in the United States.
Carol Coletta of ArtPlace gave the keynote address
at last week's EcoDistricts Summit at PSU.
Photo by Woody Udagawa.
Wednesday’s keynote speaker, Carol Coletta of ArtPlace—a national initiative to accelerate creative placemaking throughout the country—spoke with the tenacity of a seasoned community organizer. Currently living in Chicago, Coletta quickly recognize the diversity and fervor of Portland’s citizens, a factor that has helped pave the road toward the kind of small-scale urban development that has redefined our city.
Erin Flynn, associate vice president of strategic partnerships at PSU, elaborated on the significance of the EcoDistricts Summit being held at Portland State, “It reinforces the notion that Portland is on the cutting edge of urban sustainability. We’ve continued to push forward to be more innovative, more progressive, and more creative on addressing carbon and climate issues than any other city in America.”
Coletta spoke about nationwide indicators that show how the growing desire of young people to live closer to cities is a product of a changing America. People with a four-year degrees or higher are more likely to live in cities. They want to save money, commute less, and live more compactly—meaning closer to the core of the city. And as density rises, so does economic opportunity. New York City knows this better than most.
“All of this is in complete contrast to the American idea of wide open spaces and white picket fences,” Coletta said. “But if you look at what the market is doing, it’s totally out of step with the American dream.”
The idea of building more roads and bridges as the only means towards economic growth is beginning to change. With architects and city planners from around the world in attendance on Wednesday, Coletta reaffirmed the fact that sustainable urban innovation is quickly becoming a priority for cities around the globe.
Portland currently has five pilot EcoDistricts, including one based around the Portland State campus, called the South of Market (SoMa) EcoDistrict. “There’s a unique combination of the city, the University, and NGO’s working together here that you don’t see in a lot of other cities,” Flynn said.
The types of partnerships that helped make Portland’s EcoDistricts a viable community-led initiative is what Coletta calls personal agency; the idea that when people believe things can be different is the moment when things actually start to change. “How does something go from fringe to mass consciousness?” she asked. “It’s bottom up.”
Grant Neely is a senior English major at Portland State University.