Sustainable Business Oregon: PSU program could bridge gaps between Portland and Waco (and others)
Author: Andy Giegerich
Posted: July 23, 2013

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Municipal leaders from an array of cities are hitting town this week to learn more about adding sustainable development within their own environs.

The six cities — Louisville, Ky., Portland, Maine, Sacramento, El Paso and Waco, Texas and Wichita, Kan. — are part of Portland State University's Urban Sustainability Accelerator, a year-long program.

The "sustainability incubator" program aims to share Portland's expertise in such areas as reducing greenhouse gas emissions (down 6 percent below 1990 levels, whereas the rest of the nation posted a 12 percent increase).

The program is just as noteworthy for its city participants. Waco, for instance, may not be known for its green building strategies, per se.

"I can’t speak to other’s perceptions of cities like Waco, particularly as it relates to sustainability: It’s such a loosely defined concept and means so many different things to different people," said Chris McGowan, director of urban development for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

McGowan added that 1,000 people move to Texas every day, making it the nation's fastest growing state.

"Framing a conversation related to the opportunity to maximize the return on that growth seems to resonate well," he said.

Along with helping cities reduce their greenhouse gases, the program is training municipal representatives on transportation mores, responsible land use, green infrastructure strategies and curbing urban sprawl.

Wichita, for instance, is seeking advice on redeveloping a 9.5-acre site that would serve as a catalyst for bike lane improvements, pedestrian access and in general, U.S. Green Building Council-certified work.

In Waco, McGowan and others want to better connect both sides of the Brazos River in the city's downtown. The team will also work on connecting Baylor University and the downtown while coaxing "catalytic development activity on the river which makes the green infrastructure, river connectivity and waterfront activation priorities."

Said McGowan, "Urban redevelopment is an entirely sustainable practice in that it preserves green space, reduces infrastructure expansion costs (there are no urban growth boundaries in Texas) and minimizes non-point source pollution by limiting compacted and impervious surfaces."

The city isn't without its green credibility. Waco s home to the country's first LEED- certified Chamber of Commerce building. The Mars candy company's plant in the city, which produces most of the company's goods, utilizes methane piped in from a city landfill to power its furnaces. And the city's Imagine Waco plan wants to, among other plans, preserve between 60,000 and 80,000 acres of green space over the next 40 years.

"From Portland to Waco, it's a pretty diverse group of places, and some of them, you wouldn't necessarily associate with sustainability," said Robert Liberty, director of the Urban Sustainability Accelerator. "We're telling them, We don’t want you to be like Portland we want you to be yourself. We have 40 years of experience working on this, we want to help you accelerate what you're doing. That's why we call it 'the Accelerator.'"