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Urban Sustainability Accelerator hosts first class of cities

Their visit to Portland coincided with a spectacular spate of summer weather, the Oregon Brewers Festival and the achievement of an electric counter tallying one million bike commuters crossing the Hawthorne Bridge. In other words, Portland put a good foot forward when representatives from seven U.S. cities arrived in town for the PSU Urban Sustainability Accelerator’s inaugural convening. 

The accelerator announced in April its first cohort of cities, which will spend one year working with PSU’s assistance on a specific sustainable development project within their city limits—El Paso and Waco, Texas; Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova, Calif.; Louisville, Ken.; Portland, Maine; and Wichita, Kan. 

On July 24, leaders from those cities descended on Portland for an intensive three-day convening to learn from Portland State faculty, from other Portland-based city experts, and from each other some new approaches to greener urban infrastructure. Following the visit the cities will continue to interact with the accelerator through next spring, getting support and input as they work to implement sustainable approaches to their development projects. 

Their needs are varied. Rancho Cordova has 30 miles of county-maintained bike trails but no downtown core. Portland, Maine, needs to keep its eye on the affordable housing needle while it redevelops a swath of its already dense downtown. Louisville is struggling with the urban heat island effect and the fact that cars—lots of them— dominate the transportation picture. El Paso? “About as sprawled as you can get,” said Marty Howell, the city’s director of economic development and sustainability.

“We will learn as much from this process as you will,” said PSU President Wim Wiewel as he welcomed the group that gathered in an Urban Center classroom. 

Wiewel emphasized PSU’s heritage as an upstart urban university with a tradition of applying research and learning in the community.

“For the first time in our species’ history, we live predominantly in cities,” said Robert Liberty, director of the Urban Sustainability Accelerator

The rapid urbanization of the world’s population is adding urgency to efforts to make cities operate smarter—with fewer carbon emissions, more job and housing opportunities for all citizens, increased transportation options, better stormwater management and more low-energy buildings. 

As Liberty put it: “This is the enterprise of our century.”  

City representatives spent Friday touring the Portland region’s urban infrastructure, traveling by foot, bike, transit and minivan to see different aspects of city planning. 

In its coverage of the convening, The Oregonian captured a tour of Portland's Brewery Blocks district in an online photo gallery