Portland the Green
What we can learn from one of America’s greenest cities
Being the green-fiend that I am, I am always on the lookout for environmentally friendly innovations. I love to incorporate this into my travel and see what I can learn. Recently, I felt the itch to get out of California. My sister and I picked a location that we could get to on a cheap flight and that has good public transportation. We landed in Portland two weeks later.
You know a city is committed to sustainability when its light rail train runs directly from the airport. One train and a bus ride in the wrong direction later, we found ourselves sitting on a suburban retaining wall, waiting for a bus to take us back towards downtown. While waiting, I noticed a surprising amount of Portlanders out on their bicycles, running and walking but hardly any cars.
This became even more surreal when I made it into Downtown and there were still hardly any cars to be seen. San Diego’s Downtown is beautiful, but it is just about always congested.
Portland really earns it’s self-declared title of America’s Bicycle Capital. According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s 2011 Bicycle Counts Report, there are approximately 18,257 trips taken each weekday across the four most bike-friendly bridges that cross Portland’s Willamette River.
In addition to there being so few cars on the road, there was also a greater emphasis on electric cars. I even saw a charging station on the street where electric cars could plug in. It was occupied by a Chevy Volt and a Smart car getting powered up and ready go. Interestingly, there were no owners in sight.
I have never seen such a station before so I got extremely excited. Catering to electric cars is a great step towards a more environmentally friendly planet.
Restaurants and food carts advertised food that was locally and sustainably grown. I struck up a conversation with a woman from Seattle and she noted that this town of “aging hippies” –and their direct descendants the “hipsters”– doesn’t just want free range chicken; they also want to know exactly where the chicken lived, what it ate and what it’s daily activities were, exemplified in this skit of the cult IFC show Portlandia. The analogy was… ridiculously similar.
Food is important in Portland and it is ingrained into the alternative lifestyle. The local food truck, craft brewery and artisanal coffee roasting culture is immense there and a staple of Portland. If it is small, made by hand, by locals then it is Portland approved. Portlanders relish into the authentic and sometimes push it too far.
Taking a Leaf from Portland’s Book
While the city was far from perfect (there weren’t nearly as many vegetarian options as I would have liked and the there is an astoundingly large homeless youth population), cities around the world could learn a thing or two from Portland about being a metropolis with a soul.
It’s a piece of America where you can really get in touch with nature and feel down to Earth.