I was fortunate enough to help out during last weeks workshop on moving the East Bayside neighborhood of Portland toward a more sustainable future. The Muskie School of Public Service led by Alan Holt with the support of the city of Portland and the East Bayside Neighborhood Association applied for and received a highly desirable grant from the American Institute of Architects. Only 6 or so places a year receive this award which consists of sending a team of national experts in various specialties to a place for a few days to develop a vision and report to make a place more sustainable from a sociological, town planning, and environmental viewpoint.
The Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT) arrived on a Monday night and left on Friday morning. The team met with neighborhood leaders and residents, had a 225 person multicultural meal, worked hard on concepts and strategies, fleshed those out in drawings and positions and presented a preliminary powerpoint report at the Portland High School auditorium on Thursday night.
The team focused on interventions which are completely practical and can be accomplished quickly without years of bureaucracy or high costs. This meant leaving a remade Franklin Arterial out of the equation as a far in future reality to make suggestions such as pedestrian crossing bermed up path with crossing warning lights over Franklin where kids already cross often. Something as simple as extending the curbs at intersections where parallel parking is not allowed anyway makes a HUGE difference as the crossing distance becomes 10 feet shorter and vehicles slow to turn the intended proper radius. Street trees also make a huge difference.
Other members of the SDAT team were experts in community relations and they presented ways of developing inter-resident relations and youth development which challenged people to step out of their comfort zone and interact. Youth who are given short tasks to allow them to take ownership of the neighborhood mature rather than remain outsiders. Another aspect of inter-relations is working from a 'cloud' model of forming groups around common interests that draw from uncommon cultural groupings rather than a 'clock' model that uses fixed parts to move in a linear fashion.
For info: http://www.eastbayside.org/
In some ways this is our future- one that forgoes the urge for grand gestures from above for small interventions that grow from within.