Sustainability in Portland and New York

Returning from the C40 Large Cities Summit in Sao Paulo this week, I visited transport, energy, development and public domain projects to learn from two cities that are leaders in sustainability and innovation. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Portland Oregon's Mayor Sam Adams provided access to local experts for invaluable site inspections and information.

New York Transport Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn, who last year presented at our CityTalks, has expanded public space for pedestrians and bike riders across Manhattan, while simultaneously improving traffic flow. Assistant Commissioner Andy Wiley-Schwartz walked me along the transformed Broadway, where people have enthusiastically welcomed the new spaces.

I was impressed by the active business participation in the project and will explore with Sydney's Retail Advisory Panel opportunities to adapt the New York approach as we work to transform Sydney's George Street with light rail, expanded public space and new retail opportunities.

Hudson River Park along Manhattan's western edge and The High Line on a disused raised rail line are two other exciting and spectacular public space projects that demonstrate New York's innovation and distinctive partnership between community, government and business.

NY Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, Acting President of Hudson River Trust Noreen Doyle and Landscape Architect Signe Nielsen, walked and talked with me about the planning, design, financing and management of these parks, which established needed new green space from disused industrial infrastructure.

As the City of Sydney is developing its strategy for low-carbon local energy, heating and cooling (trigeneration), I also took the opportunity to see two different local energy plants in operation in the Bronx. While the technology is uncommon in Australia, New York has relied on local energy and heating systems for over a century.

Across the US, around 100 cities are looking into light rail, with Portland, New Orleans and Seattle actively expanding their networks, particularly to provide workers and shoppers with easy access around their central business districts. Other cities, such as Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Los Angeles are due to begin construction soon.

Streetcar and Light Rail in Porltland

To experience Portland's cycling facilities, I took a four hour bike ride through the city centre and inner suburbs with Mia Birk, author of "Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet". From a low cycling rate of one percent in the mid-1990s, Portland now has over eight percent of trips by bike, demonstrating that people embrace riding when the routes are accessible and safe.

As my last official engagement in Portland, I presented to a diverse group of government, business and cycling advocates on the City of Sydney's bike network. Participants told me that they are watching Sydney's cycling growth with interest as we build this healthy and sustainable transport option and establish a new, enthusiastic cycling culture.

In Portland, my site visits were organised by First Stop Portland, a unique program jointly created by the City of Portland and run by Portland State University. Over the past year, they have hosted delegations from Australia, including Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania, to learn about Portland's economic development, multi-modal transport, land use planning and community involvement.

First Stop Portland's intensive approach helps visiting elected representatives and business leaders learn quickly about Portland's sustainability practices. It's a model I will put to our local universities so that Sydney can better share our innovation with visiting city leaders.

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