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PSU Urban Sustainability Accelerator hosts new cities in Portland as kick-off for a year of work
Author: Christina Williams
Posted: July 9, 2014

Representatives from a dozen U.S. cities are gathering in Portland, Oregon, this week as part of a yearlong program with Portland State University’s Urban Sustainability Accelerator (USA) that helps cities implement sustainability projects.  

“There is no shortage of plans for sustainability projects, but implementation is the challenge,” said Robert Liberty, director of the Urban Sustainability Accelerator, which is housed at PSU’s Nohad Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. “Our program helps turn urban sustainability plans into reality by assisting cities with the implementation process.”

The five-day convening is actually two events in one: a reconvening of the first cohort of cities to complete USA’s year-long program, and a first meeting of the next group that will begin the program. The gathering takes place at Portland State, with expert-led consulting sessions and field trips to see examples of sustainable development around Portland—from green infrastructure and streets designed to accommodate transit, bike, pedestrian, and vehicle traffic, to energy conservation efforts encompassing entire buildings and districts, to sustainability-focused neighborhoods such as the SoMa EcoDistrict, south of downtown Portland’s Market Street and encompassing Portland State’s campus.

The inaugural cohort includes 20 participants from eight urban areas across the country plus a California regional planning agency.  They are reconvening in Portland after a year in the USA program to celebrate their project successes, compare notes and ideas, and meet the cohort of new cities.  

“Waco has benefitted tremendously from our participation in the USA,” said Chris McGowan of the Greater Waco Chamber, who is attending the gathering. “Robert, his team, and the resources made available to us over the past year have been invaluable to our community’s effort to advance our downtown revitalization initiatives.” 

Portland, Maine, another of the eight cities in the USA’s first class, enjoyed seeing the “innovative development that has taken place in the ‘younger’ Portland,” according to Jeff Levine, Portland Maine’s director of planning and urban development.  He also praised USA for access to national experts, which he said helped his city to “work on issues related to urban living and growing sustainably.” 

The 2014 cohort of cities will focus on a theme of joint city-university sustainable redevelopment projects. Participating cities include: Duluth, Minnesota; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Auburn, Alabama, with their respective university partners: University of Minnesota Duluth; New Mexico State University; and Auburn University. 

“The partnership between Auburn University and the city of Auburn has always been strong, and I’m excited for this chance for us to work together to improve downtown Auburn as the gateway to both the city and the Auburn University campus,” said Auburn Mayor Bill Ham Jr. 

Also attending the convening are representatives from cities interested in the program and eager to get a taste of what it’s like.  

“We’re pleased with the attention that our theme of city-university collaboration has received,” said Judy Walton, USA program administrator. 

The USA’s inaugural theme—sustainable downtown redevelopment projects—will be carried on by a group of cities from the Sacramento region who will begin to work with the USA as part of a second cohort this fall.