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Green steps can keep us ahead

A road map for pointing the Portland region forward in a robust and unique partnership between government, business and environmental interests was initiated Thursday. Too bad only 150 or so people were there to witness the birth of this effort, which has a chance to help Portland reclaim some of the regional leadership it once boasted as being tops in North America, but now has been overtaken by Chicago, Salt Lake City and Vancouver, British Columbia. Thursday’s event was called Connecting Green 2007 — and was billed as a summit on building a regionwide parks network. Maybe that’s why so few people were there. Not enough of us care about parks. That’s too bad. What others missed was an important and ambitious call to action by Metro President David Bragdon, who said it’s time for the region to expand its investment in urban parks and the preservation of nature. He said such an effort can leverage cooperation and investments by local governments, as well as businesses and citizens. And Bragdon said these partnerships can achieve important outcomes that are good for people, nature and the economy. In one of his best speeches in a long time, Bragdon called on the region to not squander Portland’s unique natural landscape and the local wildlife that lives here. But while praising past efforts to build and maintain local parks and natural areas, he said more needs to be done. “The way we are going, we are not going to get where we need to be.” He urged local leaders to stop being satisfied with the status quo and instead set an ambitious plan to be the best in the nation in environmental stewardship. “Other U.S. cities play to win. In Oregon, we often play to not lose what we have.” Alliances are needed to get the job done, he said. Fortunately for him, Bragdon had some unusual allies of his own on hand Thursday. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley offered Portlanders a vision of his own city — a once-rusting, decaying metropolis that now is being revitalized and is using sustainability and environmental initiatives to restore quality of life, expand the economy, improve parks and help care for the homeless by putting them to work. He said Chicago has done this by the leaders of 272 Chicago-area communities adopting and working on a regional “green” agenda. “But it’s not enough for local governments to work with each other,” Daley said. “They also have to work with business leaders, not-for-profits, interest groups and community organizations.” Such partnerships also were favored by another speaker, Tim Boyle, the president of Columbia Sportswear. But Boyle also said that vision and plans are not enough. Plans need to be achieved by being focused and successfully executed, he said. Focusing on the basics can help achieve success, Boyle said, adding that parks are a basic and important element of what defines the Portland area. We agree with Bragdon, Daley and Boyle. The Portland region must focus on sustainability and environmental stewardship to distinguish itself again as a national leader that not only talks about important values and beliefs but, more important, invests in and achieves significant outcomes. For the Portland region to excel in the future as a place to live, work and play, a new coalition of leaders needs to act, lead and invest now — in partnership. Thursday’s summit on parks opened the door to such a partnership and the chance for civic and economic success by appropriately caring for Portland’s unique urban environment.