Sitting in the train that will take me away from the West coast and inland to Montana, I have ample opportunity to write a bit about a city that has gone directly to my heart. Portland, ladies and gentlemen, is by far a beautiful and relaxed city, where green energy and the love of nature surpasses consumerism and advertisement. That is except from the fact that Portland, as a city in the state of Oregon, has no sales taxes, wherefore many come to the city to shop cheaply.
But except from the occasional shopper, Portland has a certain free spirited vibe about it. I suspect the development of this down to earth West coast city has something to do with the beautiful and lush nature of the region, not unlike Seattle and Vancouver. Portland which is not directly out to the Pacific, but placed near the meeting points of the Columbia and Willamette rivers, has to its east the majestic Cascades. The snow peaks of both Mount Hood as well as Mount St. Helen (on a fortunate day) are visible in the horizon. Mount St. Helen is particularly known for a major volcanic eruption on May 18, 1980.
Many people in fact move to Portland in order to get closer to nature. One of these is Mike who was so polite as to host me through CouchSurfing for my three nights stay. Originally from Delaware, Mike moved to Portland four years ago so that he could hike, bike and be closer to nature than what his home town would allow.
As an old seaport (old is relative), Portland used to be dirty and naughty, just like Seattle and Vancouver. I will write more on Portland’s bad-ass past in my next blog, but for now I want to concentrate on what really made Portland stand out in my eyes. And that is how this dirty seaport with 15 men to each woman, and seamstresses enough to supply the American navy with … shirts, has become a truly amazing example of how a city can implement and focus on developing green and low energy solutions. My favourites were the solar run parking ticket machines and the new solar run trash cans, which compress the garbage that mostly consist of Starbucks paper cups these days, into a third when it gets full. This it does three times, with help from a censor, until it is completely full with a compact mass of garbage. Then it sends a notification to the city administration saying that it is full. Not only is it using solar energy, it also cuts down the collecting of garbage by 80 %. That solar energy can contribute in this way in a generally cloudy city like Portland, is in itself an achievement.
Portland also has placed strategic energy hotspots throughout the city for free use (until the autumn when it will start to cost a bit of money) for the use of LEAF car owners. Many citizens of Portland drive around in energy cars, which they can load throughout the city while running errands. In general, cars do not fill that much in the city landscape. Many of the major parking garages have been constructed so that they look like houses and hence do not destroy the generally pleasant view of the downtown. At the same time, downtown is covered by a free rail zone, which means that it is free to use all public transportation that drives on tracks within the centre of Portland, while it in areas is illegal by city law to cruise around in a car at certain hours without a specific purpose. The public infrastructure is very well developed and the stops are not far apart and pleasantly looking. The intersections are very cleverly constructed. I even met a guy from Montreal, Canada who was in Portland to study the structure of these intersections. He claimed, he could stand for ten minutes or more and gaze at the share beauty of the way the intersections and the many cables were placed.
Both the bus stops as well as the invisible parking buildings are part of a Portland vision to have the city look open and friendly. The idea is called Clear Vista and generates that from each intersection, you shall be able to view at least five blocks in each direction. Except from the glass bus stops and the invisible parking buildings, this also results in a strict sign law, which however seems to be broken on several occasions. It is stated that no neon signs are allowed and neither any signs that hang further out than the fire escape on the front of the buildings, except on Broadway. Most of the buildings are painted in light colours which adds to the pleasant feeling of the city.
Being so focused on reducing energy usage, Portland has also done much for the promotion of biking as a way of commuting. 10 % of the cities population bike to and from work, which makes Portland the second-most biked in city. First price goes to Minneapolis, and as a tour guide dryly stated, if they in Minneapolis can stand biking through the Minnesota winter, then they deserve to be number one. I suppose I will see for myself the biking culture in Minneapolis when I stop there. But first I will spend a few days exploring the wonders of National Glacier Park.
Lots of green thoughts,