How the USA Program Works

The Urban Sustainability Accelerator (USA) is a joint program of Portland State University’s Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning and the Institute for Sustainable Solutions.

USA was created to help communities implement sustainability projects. Our unique approach brings together teams from different communities into one cohort for a full year of support and expert assistance.

Our focus is on the implementation of adopted sustainability policies, plans, and goals. The assistance we provide is broad: technical, strategic, administrative, legal and political.

The expertise we provide is based primarily, although not exclusively, in the Portland, Oregon region. Portland is internationally recognized for its more than four decades of experimentation and success in the implementation of various urban sustainability efforts. Our experts come from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

The USA program's Five Core Elements

  • Annual theme: Each annual program focuses on a theme, a common set of sustainability goals or outcomes.
  • Multi-sector implementation teams: An implementation team is formed, made up of elected officials, government staff, representatives from businesses and nonprofit groups and which may include University participation. The team can operate at a local, regional or state level.
  • Teams execute work plans: The team develops and carries out a work plan to help implement a sustainability goal or program that is part of the theme.
  • Collaboration and concurrent learning from other teams in the cohort: Together three-five teams from different areas form a single cohort for the year-long program. Cohort members meet at an initial convening in Portland and benefit from the expertise and experiences of the other teams throughout the year.
  • USA administers the program and provides one-year of tailored expert help: The USA administers the program and provides tailored expert assistance over the course of a year to help the teams carry out their work plans.

We have worked on projects across the U.S., from Portland ME, to Wichita KS, to Sacramento CA. The geography of communities we have assisted has ranged in scale from the state of California to a single site in a small rural community.

Over the course of five years we have continually improved our program model, based on evaluations provided by our participants. Here are some participant comments:

"Wichita’s participation the Urban Sustainability Accelerator has been extremely rewarding.... The sessions attended, tours, and contacts made with members of other cohorts have proven invaluable, in particular related to food trucks, bike lanes, adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and complete streets." - Scott Knebel, Wichita, KS

"The USA has been of tremendous value to Elk Grove. With limited staff time and dollars, the City could not have afforded to pay for the expertise and experience available through the PSU staff and the private sector advisors they made available through the USA. We would have never been able to find them let alone pay for their time and expertise!" - Randy Starbuck, Elk Grove, CA

Learn how you can apply to the Urban Sustainability Accelerator here.

Benefits of Participation

The cohort model – in which 3-5 teams from different areas participate in the program at the same time – allows for shared costs; therefore, the value of assistance each team receives over the course of the program year exceeds each team's actual participation cost. This professional assistance may include:

  • An initial three-day convening in Portland, OR.  Includes tailored consultation sessions with USA Experts to address specific issues and field trips to show example projects related to participants' work plans. 
  • Visits by and/or consultations with USA Expert Advisers to assist your community, as needed by your team.
  • Webinars and seminars specifically for cohort members (audiences might include a single team, multiple teams, and/or invited members of the community).
  • Research briefs, literature reviews, and strategy memos from USA Experts and staff as commissioned by your team.
  • A mid-year meeting (optional) to learn from other teams, receive expert assistance, share progress toward goals, and revise work plans as needed for the remainder of the program.
  • A concluding convening in Portland. At this reconvening, team members report on progress in implementing their projects, discuss opportunities for receiving continued USA expert assistance, welcome/advise members of the incoming cohort, and provide feedback to USA staff on the program.
  • Assistance from USA staff in writing proposals to your team's local or regional foundations to secure funding that will help defray costs of participation or project implementation.  

Forming a Team

Each year, teams from interested cities and/or regions are selected to work on implementing projects that are part of their plans for smart growth or sustainability. Team members come from all sectors - government, business, or nonprofit - and work collaboratively to achieve the goals of their work plan developed at the start of the program.

Team Members

Each city’s project implementation team should include entities with the authority to implement the project and should include partners from the private and nonprofit sectors whose participation is important to a successful implementation effort. These partners may include representatives of government entities, business associations, nonprofits, higher education institutions, and community leaders.   

Responsibilities of Teams

Individual team members and their agencies or organizations must make a good faith commitment to implement the sustainability project that is the basis for their participation. This includes a commitment of their own time as well as the time of colleagues and associates, and the necessary institutional resources.

Team members are also expected to lend their knowledge and share their experience with the other teams in their cohort and, as requested, with their peers in the Portland, Oregon region.


Robert Liberty, Director: 503-725-8989,

Molly Baer Kramer, Project Manager: 503-250-2223,