PORTLAND, Maine — A half dozen municipal leaders from Portland flew to Portland, Ore. Wednesday to emerge themselves in sustainable, urban practices. When they touch back down on the East Coast Saturday they expect to be armed with change.
“We think this can help us with India Street,” said Portland’s Director of Planning and Urban Development Jeff Levine, who is leading the group that includes City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, several urban planners and a public services department employee.
The “sustainable incubator” run by Portland State University is part of the school’s new Urban Sustainability Accelerator. This is its inaugural event.
The program seeks to unite small to medium-sized cities that are redesigning their urban cores. Portland joins teams from Wichita, Kan., Louisville, Ky. and Waco, Texas, among others, that are grappling with the same issues: maintaining character while innovating for the future.
Robert Liberty, who heads the accelerator, selected Portland, Maine for a myriad of reasons.
”It’s a charming city with a wonderful city center. There’s nothing like it in the United States,” he said. “We looked at cities with good policies and plans. Portland has a well defined project with a set of objectives.”
Levine said he hopes to glean ideas for areas at a crossroads such as India Street, a section of downtown that’s “a neighborhood in transition [with] a lot of balancing that needs to be done in a sustainable way.”
For the next few days, team members will convene in small sessions and tour Portland, Oregon’s newly developed neighborhoods. Themes include green design, integrated stormwater systems and bike friendly streets. For the latter, city officials will don helmets and tour its sister city on two wheels to see how a bike-friendly hub thrives.
Though this growing West Coast city, named after Maine’s largest, is by all accounts on the rise, Liberty told participants “our goal is not to help you become like Portland, our goal is to help you be who you are and set out these policies to learn from each other’s mistakes.”
Funding for the four-day trip came from the Summit Foundation in Washington, D.C. and the university. Visiting cities are paying for lodging.
Though the excursion is condensed, this is only the beginning. For the next year the Forest City will get assistance from The City of Roses through the network. There will be more workshops and next year they will return to Oregon to hand the baton to the next group, Liberty said.
“This will help us develop a working plan. It’s about how we can use their experiences, learn a little bit and talk with other cities,” said Levine, who is live tweeting the sojourn under the city’s planning and urban development handle @PortlandPlan. “We feel very fortunate to be included.”