Green Cities

Green City Spotlight: Portland, Oregon Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Nick Fish

By Sebastian Rosemont and Cam Wejnert-Depue

By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Increasing urbanization without responsible stewardship is a threat to local flora and fauna. With cities growing at a rapid pace, they play a critical role in protecting biodiversity and educating the public about the importance of species and biodiversity in regard to community health and well-being. Earth Day Network’s new city series highlights the important work cities around the world are doing to support innovative environmental advances, including biodiversity initiatives to help protect our species. To launch the 2019 interview series, Earth Day Network turned to Portland, Oregon City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees Portland Parks & Recreation and the Bureau of Environmental Services, and Mayor Ted Wheeler, who oversees the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Portland is a city with a rich environment and beautiful nature that is well-protected. Current challenges: increasing habitat for existing flora and fauna, as well as supporting the return and growth of previously declining species. What’s the biggest success story in your city about increasing biodiversity? What is a biodiversity project that you are particularly proud of? Fish: Portland is proud to be a city where nature is celebrated and enjoyed. Portlanders value the trees, green spaces, and wildlife that make our city healthier and a great place to live. Both my bureaus are working to bring salmon and other wildlife back to our city and to increase our urban tree canopy. We’ve completed two “Salmon in the City” projects — restoring the full-length of an urban stream, Crystal Springs Creek, and restoring a vital wetland, Oaks Bottom. Today, salmon are found in 125 of Portland’s 300 miles of streams and rivers and we’ve seen salmon spawning in the city. Are there any other initiatives the city has developed to protect the environment? Fish: And we’re proud to be a leader in creating a cleaner, greener community. The Bureau of Environmental Services launched an innovative venture to turn waste into clean energy while earning money for ratepayers. We call it “Poop to Power” — turning methane gas into renewable natural gas. How do natural habitats add to character of the city and how are you working to protect them? Do you have a favorite natural “haven” in the city? Wheeler: Portland is lucky to have lots of natural habitats present in our community. Building and developing around green spaces is a priority for my administration. Ensuring the safety of and biodiversity of our species is paramount to looking towards future sustainable development in cities. Portland can continue to lead on this issue by protecting natural spaces. My favorite natural haven in the City is Forest Park, one of the largest urban natural areas within the city limits of a major metro area. It also connects the city to the forested Pacific Coast Range. In Forest Park’s more than 5,000 acres exist more than 100 kinds of mammals and more than 100 kinds of birds, in addition to hundreds of species of flowers and shrubs. It’s a serene, beautiful place to hike. What role do green spaces play in your city for species and humans alike? How is the city working to expand them? Fish: As our city continues to grow and become more dense, we’re also working to increase the number of parks and natural areas, especially in underserved communities. Parks oversees 11,000 acres of parks and natural areas, including one of the largest urban wilderness areas in the country. What is your city’s plan for Earth Day? Wheeler: Our plan for Earth Day 2019 in the City of Portland is to issue a Proclamation to raise awareness and encourage people to get involved with the City and community events. We’re working on a “Dark Skies Day,” where the City turns off non-essential lights to help educate people about energy conservation.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler: As Mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler has focused on sustainable development, meeting City Council’s 100% Renewable Energy Goals and continuing Portland’s leadership around environmental initiatives. Nick Fish, Portland City Commissioner: Nick is passionate about protecting the environment and connecting people to nature. He is proud to oversee Portland Parks & Recreation and the Bureau of Environmental Services. With Mayor Wheeler, he coordinates the City’s work to clean up the Willamette River. He has made significant investments in green infrastructure to protect our rivers, creeks, and natural areas. In 2011, under Nick’s leadership, Portland Parks & Recreation won the National Gold Medal for the best-managed parks system in the nation.
This interview is part of Earth Day Network’s Green Cities interview series with local officials. The series will highlight success stories and innovative environmental initiatives in cities around the world. If you have any comments or if you are a city official interested in participating in the interview series and sharing your city’s initiatives, please contact Sebastian Rosemont, Green Cities Coordinator, at [email protected].