Tuesday, 26 June 2012

7 days in Rio

I was in Rio for a week or so and it seemed to largely pass in a blur, this could have been a combination of the Rio nightlife, beaches, humidity, or coming hard up against, in the form of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the working world. 

During my time in Rio I was based in a hostel far removed from such a world, a few blocks back from the beach in the laidback and surprisingly leafy Ipanema. When the weather is sunny and hot it's a myriad of the tanned and fit, and even more tanned and fitter on the white sands. 

Copacabana and Ipanema beaches
The Summit on the other hand was based in the ironically named, RioCentro, which in good traffic was about an hour out of the city in a swamp. I’ve been told it was built by the military dictatorship in 1977 as a stronghold and located so that if there was an uprising the military would have time to organise against the populace, although this doesn't appear to be a fact widely advertised. 

It was bemusing each day to share the free shuttle bus with suited and booted delegates staring wistfully out the window at Copacabana, Ipanema and lesser known beaches on the way to the conference.

While all the national leaders or delegates were in town for three days, the Summit actually commenced on June 13th, with an overwhelming list of side events to attend from 9am to 9pm each day put on by a host of NGOs and national governments.  In addition to these events there was a whole area dedicated to national pavilions. There was more Summit to be had than even the most diehard could ask for.  Three I picked at random give a flavour of the variety.

  • The Delegation of the Republic of Armenia, Sustainable Development Index Methodology - Possible Options
  • WWF, The financial Sector, agriculture, cattle ranking and Natural Capital: from Rio 92 to Rio +20 with a prospective vision of the Rio 5.
  • The Rio de Janeiro State University, Culture The 4th Pillar of Sustainability.
My access to the Summit was as a delegate of the United Nations Association of Victoria which I was very grateful for. In terms of my role, I, as opposed to the vast majority of delegates, actually didn't have one, except for the never ending search for the perfect caipirinha.

Nick Clegg
The tension between by holiday and working life was highlighted when I awoke worse for wear one morning to an email that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK would be at the UK Pavilion and could I attend to represent my firm Arup that had a display.  I’d previously declined the generous offer of standing by the display during my leave, but this seemed like an interesting opportunity. 

Donning my suit I headed to the Summit and with the hot and humid conditions combined with mine, I was soon sweltering. When Nick arrived it highlighted something that I've been vaguely aware of, shooting with my camera and mic makes it very difficult to meet people and take decent footage. So Nick passed within hugging distance of me and I never met him.  I liked his impromptu speech however lamenting the lack of vision within what was the draft text at the time. His speech constrasted strongly with the managed presentation by Julia Gillard for the Australian Delegation later that day.

This feels uncomfortably like work...
The tension between this experience and that at the hostel was highlighted later in the evening when I went for a drink with others from the hostel, who’d already been drinking for a while. All was good as I retired for the evening until just before falling asleep I realized one of the girls who was on the top bunk opposite me had bought home a guy. 

Trying to pretend this wasn’t happening I closed my eyes for a while, but gave up, looking across I realised it was the hostel owner, Chris.  This was pretty annoying as he sets the rules that there’s no guests in the dorms after hours. Eventually I looked over and caught the eye of the girl and all movement seemed to stop after that. As you can expect I didn’t get much sleep that evening. The next morning I subtly prompted Chris about the rules for guests in dorms. Duly embarrassed he was profusely apologetically then and for the days following, which was kind of awkward, and in the end gave me the nights accommodation for free and knocked off my laundry bills from the total bill. The day seemed to contrasts the differences between the two worlds I was wandering between.  

People's Summit
In addition to the Earth Summit I spent a few days at the People's Summit that was actually based in central Rio. There was a stark contrast between the vibrancy mixed with simmering anger of the mainly South American indigenous representatives at the People's Summit at a daily basis and the drawn and tired suits from all nationalities at the Earth Summit.

With the Summit over I spent my last day in Rio hiking up through rainforest and monkeys to Christ the Redeemer with an Irish guy who'd just flown in, a great hike that hardly no one does and a rewarding way to see the big man. 

In terms of Summit outcomes there seems to be almost universal disappointment from the major groups represented at the Outcome document. There is also suspicion regarding the prominence of the green economy and whether this is a trojan horse to continue to promote the current economic model. 

Those more pragmatically minded feel it's built on the previous Earth Summit text.  Personally I don't think it goes far enough, but then having worked for the national government and the private sector I can understand the outcome that has eventuated. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Sao Paulo favella revitalisation

Sao Paulo is a monster of a city. It's as if someone decided to see how many roads and buildings can be continuously built from the city centre as far as the eye can see in every direction with no particular rhyme or reason. The population in the greater area is around 20 million, or just under the population of Australia in one city, which is kind of mind boggling. 

Prior to November last year the only fact I knew about Sao Paulo was that Nick Cave had lived there in 1994 and as a fan the period had produced one of my favourite pics showing a side of Nick rarely seen, enjoying water sports, as opposed to this more typically stylised photo from this period. My knowledge exponentially increased last year however when colleagues and I presented to the City of Sao Paulo Department of Housing on the work we'd been undertaking for the City of Melbourne.

City of Sao Paulo chaperones
During our meeting the Sao Paulo Secretary for Housing opened his presentation by saying that each day the Secretary for Environment should pray daily to the Secretary for Housing for the success of their favella rehousing program. The reason for this is the city has grown to such an extent that not only has much of the remnant vegetation disappeared, but housing is now built on the banks of their two major water catchment, and as I witnessed, not only does it serve as the sewer system, but also as the local tip which includes all types of domestic materials and the odd stolen car, which has contaminated and threatened the water supply of the city.

I'd kept in contact with the City of Sao Paulo and arranged to visit one of their favella revitalisation programs. Meeting in the city centre I was met by four officers of the City who'd arranged a car to take me to Cantinho do Ceu on the far southern edge of the city. Cantinho do Ceu is a favella on the banks of one the cities two major water catchments.

Cantinho do Ceu soccer pitch
After a long journey through dense traffic, nine lanes banked up either way at one stage, we arrived at Cantinho do Ceu where the City of Sao Paulo had arranged for me to tour the favella redevelopment project and meet the community leader.  Gingerly taking out my camera gear I spent the next hour or so touring the redevelopment. 

A key strategy of the redevelopment was to turn the area adjacent to the water catchment into a park with a walking and cycling track, soccer pitches, common amphitheatre where movies are shown and recycling bins. It was clearly evident that the park had been embraced by the community and a comment that sticks in my mind is that before the redevelopment the community members weren't even aware that there was such an activity as walking in a park and the pleasures associated with it.

Cantinho do Ceu community plantings
The success of the project had unexcited side effects where people are now attracted to unimproved favella's on the knowledge the City of Sao Paulo is planning to undertake redevelopment over the coming years, thereby exasperating the issues in terms of impacts on the water catchment in the short term.

Following the visit we slowly made our way back to the centre of the city where the City had arranged interviews with three officials involved in the project, including the City of Sao Paulo Secretary for Housing.  At the end of the day I was exhausted and overwhelmed by how much the City had organised for me over the course of the day.

Existing and soon to be revitalised favella across the lake

Sunday, 17 June 2012

A slow descent

Just to the south of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the Ano Nuevo State Park that provides access to the largest colony of northern elephant seals.  Access to the beaches where the seals bask in the sun is through a pleasant walk via coastal dunes and heath vegetation. As I learnt the seals are only on shore for two periods per year, once to mate and then the catastrophic malt for 5 weeks at the start of summer, which luckily is when I was there.  

As it was the weekend there were  informative volunteer rangers present to provide insights into the lives of the seals. When not on land the seals undertake a 10,000 mile round trip ftp feed rom the Park to the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska. Even more impressive is that using 3D tracking devices the seals have been recorded to a depth of 6,200 feet at which point the tracked seal had hit the ocean floor.  

They descend to this depth by turning on their backs, entering a stasis like state and gradually spiralling downwards like a falling leaf, in turn slowing their heart rate to 2 beats per minute.  They do this  to hunt the oily fish found on the ocean floor. This sounded very impressive, but what I couldn't, and still can't understand is, if they'd slowed their heart rate to 2 beats per minute at the ocean floor, how do they then catch any fish or crustaceans, surely the seal is moving very slowly at this heart rate, maybe they hunt only the slowest of fish in a slow motion game of life and death? I was also wondering how they withstand the pressure at these depths, but unfortunately I only thought of these questions on the drive back to San Francisco.

It was strangely comforting coming back to San Francisco as having been there previously I knew my way around and felt free of the need to see any sights.  By chance I ended up spending a fair bit of time in The Mission area to the south of the city centre, which characterised by its ethnic diversity, an artistic vibe and as a hipster stronghold. I'd been there previously on a walking tour of the numerous murals painted through the area by Latin immigrants depicting the struggles of their home countries.  

Mission Mural
This time through friend of a friend I ended up at an Indian bhangra nightclub one evening and then a day or so later to interview Danielle from Urban Air Market about her sustainable fashion fair.  Danielle lives in a fascinating building where all the apartments are rented by artists, or with a connection to art. To live in the building requires an interview process and as I saw most renters decorate the common area outside of their entrance for with examples of their work. For some reason the experience reminded me a bit of MONA in Tasmania, maybe it was the odd banging and clanking noises in the background as I wandered around.

Mission Mural Artist
I've now left the US having made my way to Brazil via Toronto, a slow descent indeed. On reflection I had couldn't have asked for more in terms of my experience. From a sustainability perspective there is so much going on in San Francisco and Portland that it's inspiring, I found out for example that a number of corporates in Silicon Valley are installing Bloom Boxes as the latest trend in clean distributed energy. You only have to drive off the coast however and these fertile grounds dry up. In towns like Susanville the hybrids disappear and the F250 trucks and larger dominate the landscape. That was one aspect I couldn't get my head around, the need to have a small truck as a personal vehicle.

On that note I thought I'd finish with my favourite highly varied radio moments while driving around, of which I endorse none, well maybe cool sculpting which I first thought was an ad for ice sculptures.

- Cool sculpting

- Veil of Thoughts

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Jack, Santa Cruz and me

Like quite a few guys I'd gone through a Jack Kerouac stage in my early 20's, novels such as 'On the Road', 'Lonesome Traveller' and 'The Dharma Bums' with their ingredients of hard drinking, travel, striking out in the world on your own, fast driving, wild music and beat poetry, it's easy to see why they appealed. I devoured all the Kerouac books and even moved on in desperation to the selected letters once I'd exhausted his novels, something only matched by the earlier Che Guevara phase. 

So it was through Kerouac and his novel 'Big Sur' that I first became aware of the stretch of forest and coastline between Cambria and Monterey that is now regarded as one of the finest coastal drives in the world with its high cliffs, shoreline forest and winding roads. My hazy memory of the Big Sur novel is that Kerouac borders on insanity while spending time on his own in the Big Sur forest, drinks a lot and refuses to jump into a hot tub of floating sperm, fair enough.

Big Sur drive

So I approached the drive with much anticipation (floating sperm excluded), and liked it and was impressed, but I'd seen similar, although not quite as spectacular coastline on the drive on Highway 1 north of San Francisco. The main difference being on one road I had almost the road to myself, the other I was part of a long chain of cars 'doing' the Big Sur drive. After pulling over for a few forest walks I continued on up Highway 1 to Santa Cruz for the evening.

Santa Cruz is described as the place where Southern California and Northern California cultures meet. It's a surfing town, but is only 60 miles from San Francisco, and the water, as I found out, is very cold. I spent a night in Santa Cruz and then two in the Pigeon Point Hostel 30 miles or so up the road. Santa Cruz has a great surf museum inside it's lighthouse that documents it as being the first place on the US mainland where surfing occurred in 1885 after three Hawaiian princes who were stationed nearby surfed the river mouth. 

Pleasure Point Line Up @ Santa Cruz
Given the historic significance of the location I hired a board and paddled into the line up for a very pleasant afternoon out at Pleasure Point. Showering at the beach and changing from boardies,  I then donned a shirt and jeans for dinner with Allan Hoover, the ex President's grand nephew, and his wife who'd I'd met in Mendocino weeks earlier.  

Pigeon Point Hostel
Californian Pigeon?
Allan and Suzanne live on a property overlooking a golf course on the outskirts of Santa Cruz. The house is piled high with books on all sorts of subjects and a over a home cooked meal (a rare and appreciated treat at the moment) and milk we discussed for various aspects of Allan's career as an aeronautical engineer for NASA and the US military, the state of the US and the rise of China. A common theme that has arisen through my travels is the almost sombre mood of Americans regarding the state of their economy at the moment. I almost want to grab their cheeks and tell them it's not all bad, but I suspect it may be.

Saying my farewells I drove madly through the night back up the coast to my Pigeon Point Hostel where I'd booked a 10pm steaming hot tub, perched precariously on the ocean, open to the freezing wind coming off the sea. Hot tubs have to be done in pairs for some reason and I was partnered with a guy who's name I no longer remember but we'll call him 'Bob', who was a portly train driver from Orange County and regaled me with tales of entering the first class cabin, the proximity of hostels to mainline stations across the US and several times, that he wished I was a girl. Sadly for Bob I'm not, but that not withstanding it was an apt way to end a highly varied afternoon.

I also managed to pick up a pair of hiking hitchers who've written me a very nice Couch Surfing reference as a thank you. 

Rob rescued my girlfriend and I off the side of the road on the California coast. Nice guy and good conversation. Happy travels!!!

I'd like to say couches here I come, but Brazil and the Rio Earth Summit is looming on the horizon, and as my inbox will testify to due to the number of side event invites I've received it's likely to be a very busy and structured time while I'm there, and the couches will have to wait for now.

Monday, 11 June 2012

24 hours

Sometimes you have a 24 hours that typifies the twists and turns of travelling.

When I left Yosemite I had a week or so left on my trip. I'd planned to take the last week easy, slowly driving back up the coast to San Francisco and hanging out in the Santa Cruz area for a couple of days.

On the decent from Nevada Falls however I'd been inspired by the party from San Diego who indicated they were going to drive back to their home in a day, a trip of about 7 hours. I've never been to San Diego, but the people I had met all seemed laid back and the reports of the town from other backpackers positive. So I decided to alter my plans and at 10am set off for San Diego from Yosemite, TomTom telling me I'd arrive about 5-ish. 

Perth with RV's?
Prior to this I'd studiously avoided the large interstate highways, but this time I wanted to move fast and had no choice. Prior to arriving my vision of California was a dry deserty climate with endless fast food joints all selling variations of the same cheeseburger and a concrete jungle of highways, and that's exactly what I found driving to LA on route to San Diego, with the addition of endless advertising signs and a highway surface in various states of decay. The State of California is in apparent disarray in terms of its budget deficit and through my travels this has been evident through the reduced hours of operation, or closure in some instances, of state parks. The road network also seems a fair indication, that something is not right and there's a certain Mad Max feel to it all as the 2 lane highway became 5 and the average speed of the other drivers edged up to 80mile / hour as I neared the edge of the LA city limits.

I'd been driving for a number of hours and was starting to really tire, which isn't that surprising as I'm the guy who gets tired on a two hour drive to Ballarat and hands the driving over to someone else, and like a surfer staring down the face of a big wave was just before take off, I peered down the face and saw LA, Orange County and San Diego traffic and baulking at the vision, pulled out at the last moment, turning the car towards the sun and sea in the form of Ventura and Santa Barbara. 

Reaching the sea I looked out at the white caps on the sea, the sand and sea breeze and thought, this reminds me of,...ah, where I grew up, Perth. Hmm, this isn't very interesting...so at 5pm I decided to revert to my original plan and head up the coast to San Siemon, halfway between LA and San Francisco...due to arrive at 7pm.  Settting off on the wrong side of the road and being alerted by blaring horns, I jerked the car back into the right lane and headed north

The last 2 hours I just wanted to stop driving, but even more so I just wanted to talk to someone after the hours of driving and singing to myself just wasn't cutting it anymore. So I stood up my Sam Siemon accommodation further up the coast and headed to the Bridge St Inn hostel in the sweet town of Cambria.

On arrival the owner Brandon asked me if I liked beer and music, which oddly I do, and was soon at the Cambria Ale House sipping some fine local brews and listening to an acoustic base played by a wispy guy from Idaho, I don't know exactly what he was singing about, but he seemed to like cats and puppies. The next artist Darcey Hile was very different and her melancholic folk tunes held the audience spellbound. It turned out Darcey was staying the same hostel and we hung out for the short time I was there.

The Bridge St Inn has a range of sustainability features embedded, from the grey water system to the water flush reuse system built into the toilet. While I photographed these features Brandon struck up an impromptu performance of his two environmental tunes after breakfast to add to the ambience to an audience of two French interns and me. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip to date.

I'd set off 24 hours earlier chasing another place to see and out of desperation had randomly experienced a great evening and morning in a small Californian town, highlighting that it's more often than not the people make the experience rather than the place.

Brandon performing @ Bridge St Inn

Brandon @ Bridge St Inn, Cambria

Friday, 8 June 2012


Over the years I've attended training courses on all manner of subjects.  Much to the chagrin of training professionals, like most, over the long term I probably remember about 5% of the material explained to me.  One term that has stuck with me however is 'generous listening', that is devoting 100% of your attention to someone when they're speaking.  I think this term stuck with me because I'm a bit rubbish at focusing on what people are saying without my mind wandering off and thinking about a whole of range of other matters that bounce around my head. 

I've tried to improve and be a generous listener, but when my fellow travellers told me how amazing Yosemite National Park was and how they wished they could have stayed longer my generous listening was obviously slipping as it wasn't until I arrived there that their conversations came flooding back and I appreciated how stunning the landscape is. From every direction there are amazing landscapes, from outcrops of granite to surging waterfalls and dense groves of pines and giant sequoia. 
Half Dome from the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Yosemite is nestled within the Sierra Nevada range and I entered from the Nevada side over the Tioga Pass and then descended on a windy road to the Valley floor where the majority of people stay. Yosemite seems to hold a special place for Americans in terms of its relationship with the Sierra Club, partly formed in 1892 by John Muir to campaign against the reduction by 50% of the extent of the Yosemite National Park, and regarded as first 'environmental' organisation.

Checking in to my canvas tent for the evening I was provided with a guide on the many trails accessible from the Valley floor.  I chose the Upper Yosemite Falls trail which takes you from the Valley floor to the top of the highest waterfall in the US. 

I was to read later that the Lonely Planet describes it as gruelling, and I could not argue with that. At the commencement of the hike is the very helpful Mountain Lion warning sign, with the final insightful advice of if attacked, FIGHT BACK!

I personally would have preferred a bit more advice on the best fighting style when going toe to toe with a mountain lion, two left jabs followed by a right round house, a half nelson, or the preferred approach of a cornered Australian, the squirrel grip?

With one eye on the ground and the other on the rock face scanning for mountain lions ready to pounce (and the odd bear) I ascended the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail.  There were times ascending on the 11.5km round trip that I forgot about the waterfall altogether such was the relentlessness of the journey up, but the views along the way, and at the end were worth it. Even better, being able to put my aching feet in the water before it tumbles to the Valley floor.

I woke the next morning sore and intending to take it easy and check out the Vernall Falls, but after reaching Vernall Falls I was feeling pretty good, so kept climbing to the Nevada Falls that are located just up stream.  Descending I met a party from San Diego who preceded to tell me that 80% of injuries occur on the way down and then all the ways people have perished over the last year on various Yosemite trails, from being swept over waterfalls to struck by lightning and plummeting to the Valley floor. I was grateful for this information, and fortunately did not to suffer anything except for a slight increase in my fitness and to witness a series of exhilarating views

It did make me think further about the Hetch Hetchy (or Hetchy Hetch) discussion at the start of my trip and even having been to Yosemite I feel the long term benefits of keeping the existing dam outweigh those from creating an additional valley within the existing National Park.

Yosemite Falls

Monday, 4 June 2012


Since leaving Portland a few days ago I've been gradually making my way south, this time inland, heading towards Yosemite National Park. In doing so I've been impressed time and again, driving round bends in the road or over hills, by the dramatic and changing landscape, and the almost constant presence of snow covered peaks.

My final venture prior to leaving Portland was a drive an hour and a half north to Mt St Helens in Washington State. Having downgraded to the Northwest Hostel I found that my level of attractiveness to other backpackers increased significantly with possession of a vehicle. The cost of a tour to Mt St Helens is around $80, Rob’s Northwest Adventure’s slashed that to a once only offer of $10 for fuel.

So with two 19 year old Germans, Felix and Jan, and Melissa from the UK, who would accompany me south for the next few days, we set off. I was headed to Mt St Helens as one of the soccer Moms I’d been sat next to at the Portland Timbers FC game was a biologist and indicated it was an interesting day trip, i.e. I didn’t know anything about it before I went.

Mt St Helens with rainbow cloud
As I was to learn however it’s famous for erupting in 1980, having been triggered by an earthquake.  There had been signs in the previous weeks that an eruption was imminent and as such teams of scientists and observers were watching when it exploded.  Unfortunately 57 died as a result of the eruption, including some of the observers.

Today it still remains very much a lunar landscape.  The motley crew assembled for the day selected 'The Hummocks' as our hike, a word I had to explain to my German friends, and a word I think in general is not used often enough. The hike wends its way through a series of hummocks and then up the side of an adjacent mountain to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, and saved us all $8 as we effectively walked around the payment point.  

In a scene reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings the assembled group hiked up and up, around bends, over former molten rock, surrounded by the stumps of flattened trees and patches of vegetation still trying to establish a foothold 32 years after the explosion, and me thinking all the while, this is indeed hummocky and aptly named. 

The synergies to LoR were even more so with my German companions. Now I love the Germans as much as any, even more some might say, but Felix and Jan displayed an amazing degree of impassivity through the day we spent together, silently and relentlessly covering ground, never breaking stride to smile or bother with emotion. A fine representation of the teutonic stereotype. Melissa on the other hand liked to chat away, which I was very grateful for, what the Germans thought was anyone's guess.

Leaving Portland with Melissa we headed back through Bend, and then onto Mt Shasta. On the drive to Mt Shasta we stopped off at Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the US set inside the remnants of a former volcano. The colour of the water is the deepest blue and looks stunning with the surrounding snow.

Crater Lake
A sensible car and Mt Shasta
I was driving to Mt Shasta as Tul Khoo way back in Mendocino had said the town had a special aura, with the giant snow covered mountain, the largest in California at approximately 14,000 feet, providing an impressive backdrop. I think the town did possess a special aura, but it certainly didn’t exist at the Alpine Lodge on the hot afternoon we rolled in.  The other guests were the type of freaky yokels I wanted to spot, but not necessarily share the same accommodation with. The wifi was only available adjacent to the main office and as I sat on a balcony outside someone’s room skyping an angry and drunk service guy mumbled something to me each time he shuffled back and forth.  If only Tony had stepped in, but he was otherwise occupied.

Saying adieu to Melissa at the Weed bus stop I headed to my final destination before Yosemite, Lake Tahoe…a place with a special aura and a lovely hostel right by the banks of the Lake where I would spend the next two nights.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Portland, Episode 2

So how did Portland come to be a mecca of sustainability? I could have used 'the Google' to quote George dubya, but thought it was easier if I paid someone to tell me.  

The Best of Portland walking tour runs for about 2 hours and highlights...the best of Portland....with about 50% of the tour focused on how sustainability thinking became embedded in the DNA of the city and has assisted it cope with economic downturns.  My guide for the day was a big fan of how Portland has developed, having no car and being an avid bike commuter.  He also appeared to be an out of work comedian / actor, I suspected this as he often quoted obscure roles he'd been in through the tour, and was pretty amusing.

The story goes back to the early 1970s, before even I was born, when the Mayor at the time Tom McCall, was concerned that the downtown area of Portland was unliveable and suffering from the donut syndrome, where the centre empties out at the end of the day. In response he (and I'd assume a range of faceless contributors that time has forgotten) developed and implemented The Downtown Plan.

The Plan focused on defining a holistic vision for the city - setting stringent urban design requirements (building heights, set backs, activated frontages, line of sight requirements and a overarching urban growth boundary), defining a sustainable transport approach to how citizens would move about the city, and setting out how to integrate environmental considerations into city planning.  While a number of plans have set such a vision it's a credit to Portland that it's been implemented, and the guiding philosophy behind it has been reinforced by ensuing generations of governing parties.  In addition to the Downtown Plan, Portland was the first US city to use and convince the Federal Government to use its allocation of highway funding to develop a light rail system that hubs through the centre of the city.

Today Portland prides itself on being innovative and at the forefront of sustainable thinking.  Like a German automobile there's a whole range of initiatives or elements to the city that are clever, but not obvious on first inspection.  Examples include city recycling bins that are transparent and have openable backs so that the homeless can extract recyclables of value without putting their whole body in the bin, or solar powered waste bins that automatically compact the waste when 80% full and send a message to a central area about when the bin needs to be collected.  There are also initiatives that are becoming more common, such a electric vehicle charging stations (even more exciting a family with a Nissan 'Leaf' actually using it) and free wifi in public plazas, with power outlets built into the brick work.

My feeling is that without the Plan, Portland would be a very different place to what it is today, with the 11 steel bridges crossing the Willamette River, and, from what I could gather, traditionally leaden skies, it had the potential to be a grim place indeed.