Portland Diaries : Getting Started

I am currently in Portland till August 2011, representing The Urban Vision as a Young Urban Leader. Portland is one of the greenest cities in the world and I hope to learn a lot of good urban practices while I am here that could be replicated or adapted for India.I must say that because of my usual adaptability, Portland was not hard to adjust to. I didn’t have a notable jet lag. I didn’t feel out of place, thrown in a different city in another continent (pause) on the other side of the world!

But there were things that struck me as unusual. A grid-pattern city; the simple logic of home addresses; the idea of blocks; cats as pets; people of all ages and races walking and bicycling on the road ready with a smile on their face; the general respect amongst car users for pedestrians/bicyclists; the on-time buses (even though you might have to wait 25-40 minutes for the next one); the government office that wasn’t dilapidated and in fact led the way in using recycled material and eco-friendly design; garbage recycling in every home and office; grills and breweries; street-side cafes along well-paved sidewalks and bike lanes; the line-up of huge forest-size trees along the street; over 50 blocks of single-owner houses (with yards) as against skyscrapers for living; and the amazing toilet flush technology!

Well, two weeks later, I think I am getting used to these novelties. I don’t find the water spout that squirts water against gravity right into your mouth uncomfortable or messy. I know exactly where to place my hands in front of the tap and soap dispenser with automatic hand detection to ensure a steady flow of water and soap respectively. I don’t get lost around office trying to find something as simple as a staircase or a colleague. I don’t keep waiting in amazement when a car stops for me to cross and instead thank the driver and move on to cross rapidly. I don’t find it odd to travel for over 40 minutes covering 2.3 miles to reach office on foot (I’ve got all the time in the world!).

The trimet website doesn’t seem to confuse me anymore, resulting in a lower reliance on Google Transit (sorry Google!). I don’t spend money on messaging or calling trimet for bus arrival info in real time because I have managed to get comfortable with my internet-enabled smart phone to access the trimet mobile website from anywhere. My struggles with the yellow wire on the bus which is pulled to indicate a stop request to the driver have exceptionally lowered. I remember to smile to the driver when I get on and thank the driver when I get off, without missing the idea of a bus conductor to issue me a ticket.

This city loves to talk, but I don’t feel totally taken aback now when a stranger at the bus stop or on the light-rail starts discussing the weather or the soccer match with me. In fact, I remember to reply to keep the conversation going. And of course, I don’t miss the constant honking of cars and trcuks that I could hear everyday in Delhi even from my home.

PS: I will be profiling a series of  Urbanists and urbanism best practices from the city!

Dip and Curve
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ian Sane

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About the Author

Ishani Mehta Ishani Mehta is The Urban Vision's Fellow at The Young Urban Leader Program. Ishani 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 and Architect Hafeez Contractor in India. Ishani has been working in New Delhi as an urban infrastructure analyst for the past three years. She has experience in writing articles, papers, reports and newsletters on urban infrastructure developments in India. Her areas of professional interest include urban transport, development policy and planning, civic infrastructure and basic services, and infrastructure financing. By background, she holds a Masters in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics, prior to which she graduated in Economics from the University of Delhi in 2006. Ishani has held various positions of leadership during her academic life. She was the Co-President (Campus) for ShARE-Global, a students' organisation spanning over 20 campuses across the world. During undergraduation, she was the Council Member and Treasurer of the college Economics Scoiety.