A plethora of transit options at the South Waterfront campus of Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
Can our ability to live healthily, prosperously and durably over multiple generations (my rough definition of sustainability) be gauged by simply totaling up new construction and how many gizmos it features, dollars spent, and the new kilowatt-hour reducing technology we build? Or should our analysis be a little more complex? Should we explore our actual behaviors, i.e., the actual effectiveness of the programs we incent, the way our buildings - LEED or not - get used and the type of demands we place on our power grid? Wouldn't that be the real measure of sustainability?
My un-scientific, un-journalistic assumption is that Portland would probably end up pretty far ahead on that sort of scale as well, but we -- everyone, but particularly journalists reporting on the environment -- might be well served by asking these sort of questions.
Hundreds of urban planners, architects, developers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs and policymakers danced around this question last week as they convened on Portland for the second annual Ecodistricts Summit.
Hosted by the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI), the event complements a maturing experiment to make five of the Oregon metropolis's neighborhoods into "Ecodistricts," neighborhoods designed to be more sustainable.
The day takes shape slowly. Getting out the door just happens. Once you do the bus is ten minutes late. Then, so is the MAX, but you don't mind. You've been quietly extricating yourself from time. You wait in the chill beneath an interstate, listening to teenagers gossip. Staring at the spikes lining the steel beams beneath the roadway you think perhaps a bit too long about pigeon deterrence.
For years, though, as I hinted in a post last Spring, I've danced with another city. Over the past week, the motions became more certain, thanks in part to the energy I tapped into at the We Make the Media Conference at the University of Oregon's Turnbull Portland Center. When it comes to Saturday's conference, I've had to take some time to digest, get back home, and prepare my next steps. They include returning to Portland very soon — and more permanently — in part to join the community of mediamakers who emerged at the conference.
I want to reiterate this word “community.” For whatever it's worth, however hokey it might be dismissed as, I found community on Saturday. In a way I haven't been able to say for quite some time, I've found my people, at least my people for this moment. Perhaps I'm just famished, but I just haven't found these people in Los Angeles.
I'm emphasizing this for a reason. For all the critiques I have of We Make the Media, and all the many more already so eloquently articulated by other thinkers (Click here for a list of the reflections I've found, some of which I'm responding to here), I'm stunned by how, a few days later, I remain invigorated by the event. Like Abraham Hyatt and many others, I left the event quite drained, but now feel energized. Though the event may not have gone in the direction organizers hoped, perhaps it was a success anyhow.