Name: Sonal

Bio: Sonal Kulkarni is The Urban Vision's Fellow at The Young Urban Leader Program. Sonal is working in Portland as part of the program. The program is aimed at facilitating knowledge transfer between cities known for their progressive planning policies and rapidly urbanizing India. The YUL Portland Fellowship is supported by Portland State University and Portland Metro. The Program in Portland was made possible due to the support of Nancy Chase , Independent Planning Professional in Portland .Sonal worked as a Planning Intern at the City of Los Angeles, in the Department of Planning and in the Council District 14 of the City of Los Angeles gaining experience in overall planning and policy implementation in the second largest City in the United States. She has successfully completed several internships and externships in Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, Port of Long Beach (Long Beach, California) and worked as a full time Architect in Architecture Paradigm Pvt. Ltd (Bangalore, India), one of the reputed and award winning architecture firms in India. Outside of her work as a planner, Sonal is an architect, designer and a social thinker, and wants to dive into opportunities to alter some of the social, physical, health and food policies in India. As an urban planner, she has worked on various academic projects and done research and case studies on issues such as food deserts, transit oriented development, and sustainable urban development in Los Angeles (Smart Growth, New Urbanism). Sonal holds a Master of Planning degree from University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from M.S. Ramaiah Institute of Technology in Bangalore, India and is a LEED Accredited Professional certified by USGBC. She will be working on a couple of projects related to Transit Oriented Development at Metro, Portland, while trying to reflect policy and planning principles existing in United States greenest metropolitan, Portland back to Indian City context and helping build bridges between urbanists in India and the United States as well as serving as an ambassador to Indian Urbanism while at Portland.

Posts by Sonal:

    Portland: Nature in the City

    August 26th, 2012

    It was a conscious effort by the planners and citizens of Portland and Oregon to not become sprawling like its southern neighbors or be completely rural like its eastern neighbors, and hence the city is an effort to keep a middle ground between these two extremities of urban development.

    The Senate bill 100, created an institutional structure for statewide planning. It required every Oregon City and county to prepare a comprehensive plan in accordance with a set of general state goals. While preserving the principle of local responsibility for land-use decisions, it established and defined a broader public interest at the state level.

    which mandated an urban growth boundary to restrict development and sprawl outwards, and preserve farmlands in the outskirts of the city’s boundaries. This bill helped restrict the size of the city to a manageable level where transportation investments would be faster and easier to implement.

    This was supplemented by the disapproval of the Robert Moses plan for the freeway (east-west connector), which would gentrify and divide communities. Instead Metro, TriMet and local jurisdictions to plan out its light rail system connecting the heart of the city used this Federal Highway Administration (FHA) money.

    As Oregon grew in the 1960s, Willamette Valley residents began to view development as an environmental disaster that wasted irreplaceable scenery, farmland, timber, and energy. Metropolitan growth was explicitly associated with the painful example of southern California. Governor Tom McCall summarized the fears of many of his constituents in January 1973, when he spoke to the Oregon legislature about the “shameless threat to our environment and to the whole quality of life—unfettered despoiling of the land” and pointed his finger at suburbanization and second home development.

    The results of this effort by both the residents of the state and the government is that, there are a lot of urban trails for hikers and nature lovers in this part of the country, which is due to the urban growth boundary, one of Portland Metro’s major planning achievements to keep a check on sprawl as well as for conservation of farmlands and forestlands that lie beyond the boundary. The UGB’s also promote the efficient use of land, public facilities and services inside the boundary. There is natural resource conservation that is done on both the local level as well the regional level, one such effort is the Forest park located northwest of the downtown, which is an 8-mile long forest in the middle of the city.

    About Metro, Portland:

    Portland Metro[i] is a Metropolitan Planning Organization[ii] that invests its time and resources in activating existing corridors and making connections between cities, nodes within a city, and counties. Metro as a regional government body has several responsibilities, which are listed below:

    • It puts its resources into Transportation Research and Modeling, Long Range Transit Planning, Active Transportation Planning, Transit Oriented Development studies and investments within the realm of Transportation Planning.
    • It also provides land use planning regionally and is responsible for the urban growth boundary (UGB).
    • Metro also manages several park facilities within its jurisdiction.
    • It is responsible for maintaining a closed landfill, and owns and operated two garbage, hazardous waste and recycling transfer stations.
    • It owns and operated the Oregon Convention Center, Oregon Zoo, and Portland Center for Performing Arts, and Portland Metropolitan Exposition Center.
    • It is responsible for planning for regional fish and wildlife habitat protection.
    • It has the authority (un-exercised yet) to take over operation of the regional transportation authority, known as TriMet.
    • It is responsible for the region’s Geographic Information System (GIS) and maintains the Regional Land Information System (RLIS).

    In summary, what works for Portland, is its Urban Growth Boundary, which not only allows Portland to restrict growth and sprawl outwards, but makes the city more accessible and fiscally advantageous for the government to get grants for transportation improvements, the very active and role playing community and good governance by the regional and local partners.


    [i] As the elected regional government for the Portland metropolitan area, Metro works with communities, businesses and residents to create a vibrant and sustainable region.

    [ii]metropolitan planning organization (MPO) is a federally mandated and federally funded transportation policy-making organization in the United States that is made up of representatives from local government and governmental transportation authorities.

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    Getting Started :Urban Innovations in Portland City

    August 26th, 2012

    As the Young Urban Leader Fellow 2012, I have the opportunity to study the metropolitan of Portland and the brilliance achieved by Portland Metro in planning, for the next two months. The intent of this fellowship is to take back some of the best practices in policy and planning in the United States and see how it could be applicable in the Indian context.

    Urbanism is about designing a phenomenon that is constantly changing and policy is the framework you attach to this dynamic process. American urbanism is a very structured and regulated phenomenon, as we know it, with a very strong framework of policies. Indian cities are multi-faceted, complex, and regulation in its policies could give them a better framework to rest on.

    Whereas, the American cities face a problem of lack of densities in their cores, Indian cities have congestion issues, mostly because of lack of infrastructure growth in the same pace as urbanization of the major cities. American urbanization was in some way dictated by the idea of “The American Dream”, where there was a hope for prosperity and happiness, symbolized by having a house of one’s own, and suggests a confident hope that one’s children’s economic and social conditions will be better than one’s own.

    The Industrialization and World War II had a lot of effects on the way American cities turned out to be. A lot of freeways were built during the World War, which led to suburban sprawl away from the core.[i] This then dictated most of the way the American’s lived post World War. A few of the cities in the country try to limit the sprawling bug from killing the city cores early on in the game, one such city was Portland.

    Coming from the land of sprawl[ii] – Los Angeles to the Rose City – Portland, the first thing that will strike anyone is how green the city and its neighborhoods are, and how short the distances are in comparison to the city that eats, walks and sleeps in its automobiles (Los Angeles).

    The Irvington Neighborhood, where the fellow is placed during the length of the fellowship is predominantly a single-family neighborhood planned for upper/ middle class families and now placed under the National Register for Historic Places[iii] since 2010. If there had to be a comparable place in Bangalore, it would be Sadashivnagar or Jayanagar area.

    Some of the features that make Portland a city revered by planners in the United States, is its intensively connected transit system, the recycling policy for better waste management and to reduce landfills, urban design interventions on streets and in the form of plazas and pocket open spaces throughtout the City and its progressive planning approaches earlier on in the race of sustainability and growth.

    The City is known for its Public transit system (TriMet is the primary transit provider with their buses and MAX light rail systems, supplemented by the Portland Streetcar in downtown Portland). Entering into a very vibrant downtown during lunch time, the sight is of people coming out of their offices, to get their palate satiated with Portland’s “Cartopia”, the city’s very own food cart pod (a fleet of food carts in a parking lot is called a food cart pod) culture – hundreds of food carts are set up all around the city’s parking lots. The downtown is abuzz with activity, aroma of food, music and well-connected transit, which drives many into the heart of the city. The downtown internally works efficiently due to dense transit connectivity.

    Some of the features that supplement the transit system are:

    • SmartPark are City-owned parking garages in downtown Portland that provide affordable parking, it also partners with some downtown businesses to offer validated parking with qualifying purchases.
    • The Pioneer Courthouse Square, known, as the living room of the City is a parking structure converted into an urban park and square, this was followed by Director Park, which was also converted into a public square in 2009 from a parking lot.

    Subsidized parking lots and interactive urban plazas/open spaces are the best way to supplement a good transit system in downtowns and dense urban cores. Not only do the parking lots incentivize people to come and shop in downtown (increasing the economic value of the space), the urban plazas and open spaces give the much-needed breathing space within the density (giving the space an urban design and aesthetic value).

    Portland’s win was really, during the 1970’s when they had the foresight of rejecting investments in building massive freeways (Robert Moses [iv]plan for Portland) that would cut across neighborhoods and instead used that money to retain the pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, to connect the city using good public transit (light rails, streetcars and buses).

    Through this discussion, the point was to make the readers aware as to how India can leapfrog development by learning from some of the mistakes Americans and other western cities have committed during their period of rapid industrialization and urbanization and avoid them as we step into an era where good investments can go into good infrastructure improvements.


    [i] The Story Of Sprawl: How Cars Ate America, Watch the video by Planetizen, with commentary by Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, John Norquist, Neal Peirce, James Howard Kunstler and Robert Cervero: http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/04/21/new-video-series-tells-the-story-of-sprawl/

    [ii] Sprawl (Urban) is a phenomenon of haphazard growth and expansion of low density development outside a City (auto-dependent development)

    [iii] National Register for Historic Places is an official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation, authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Source: http://www.nps.gov/nr/

    [iv] Robert Moses was a master builder of the mid-20th century whose advocacy of highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and his ideologies were seen profitable to run the economy during the great depression of the 1930. Article: http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-4212-highway_to_hell.html

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