From Nijmegen to Portland and Back

25 Aug

If you have ever witnessed a man in a kilt and a Dart Vader mask playing the bagpipes on a unicycle, you’ve most probably been to Portland, OR.

The city I’d never thought I would visit, I did not want to leave.

My story begins in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. On a sunny day in August 2011 I met my interdisciplinary think-thank for the first time to work on the project Urban Regions in the Deltas.  Together with folks from the Netherlands,  the USA, Germany, Sweden and Indonesia, I examined wicket problem and frameworks for sustainable development in urban delta regions. To finalize the project,  I was sent for one week to Portland in April 2012 by Radboud Honours Academy.

In Portland the think-tank was hosted by the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University. We spent our days at PSU’s Native American Student & Community Center where we discussed sustainability issues and assembled our work generated throughout the past year. I was impressed by the center as a place where Native Americans, Alaskan Natives and Pacific Islanders build up a community which strives for visibility. We stayed at the University Place Hotel whose beds were very comfortable, so that I could rest very well after the busy days and nights.

intensive group work

intensive group work

The working days were intense. We had several video conferences with the team from Sweden. Then the think-tank delved into diverse wicket-problems in the field of health, water-management, environmental science, psychology, law, politics, engineering, development etc. We had even video conferences with Robert Constanza, a specialist in ecosystem services, and Karl-Henrik Robèrt, a specialist in the Natural Step. The assembling of all pieces of the project was a challenging task, sometimes frustrating and time consuming, especially due to the fact we had to establish a common language and understand each other’s fields. Nevertheless, the project was interesting and fun. In the end, our work was presented and appreciated at the Sustainability of the World’s Deltas Workshop at Portland State University.

Urban Regions in the Delta think-tank after the workshop

Urban Regions in the Delta think-tank after the workshop

Not only did we work all days long, but we also entertained ourselves in the city of Portland and Oregon state. Consequently, we got to know better our new environment. One way to comprehend the city was to look at it from far and above as I did from Portland City Grill. However, I experienced the authentic sense of the city below on its streets, at various cafes, bars and stores. Also I visited several mesmerizing site seeing places.

Portland, OR - night top view

Portland, OR – night top view

I was firstly impressed by the big size of buildings, cars and streets. I was excited to ride a streetcar which had once disappeared from the American cities. Furthermore, I was glad to spot electric cars and bicycles. At several pubs and bars on campus or in downtown I drank hoppy beer and ate tasty burgers. The walls of the most bars were covered with numerous TV screens displaying various sports events. Also I tried a wild grilled salmon dish at a floating restaurant. The places which I visited had a cozy and hospitable atmosphere. Another place, which had an amazing atmosphere with adore mixture of paper, wood and coffee, was Powell’s. It is a book store with enormous collection of new and old books that cannot be explored in a day. I also browsed various places of consumption and entertainment like Pioneer Place without necessary buying something. While I was promenading in downtown, I was delighted to hear among the ambient city noises “pure” English, but also Spanish or even languages I could not recognize. Furthermore, it was not uncommon to stumble upon beggars or protesters.

Kelly, who was enthusiastically showing us Portland, tells about Benson Bubblers

Kelly, who was enthusiastically showing us Portland, tells about Benson Bubblers

Alongside my experience of the vitality of the PSU campus and downtown, I could visit some site seeing places. One of them was the Portland Japanese garden which is claimed to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. I was trilled with joy to be in this simulacrum created by various plants, bridges, and streams because I realized that the garden, although having its own exiting and spiritual sphere, is a mere copy and representation of a garden in Sapporo.

Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden

Thanks to the excursions organized by the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, I visited the White Salmon River after the Condit Dam demolition. Also I was at the Bonneville Lock and Dam where a ranger told us how electricity was produced and how the fish and ships made their way through the Columbia River Gorge.

the ranger telling about Bonneville Lock and Dam

the ranger telling about Bonneville Lock and Dam

On our last day the team traveled to the Oregon coast. We explored the scenic beauty of Astoria  – the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies on the Columbia River. We enjoyed the sunny weather, the rocky coast, the local beer, and the cold water of the Pacific.

Sarah´s just pulled me out of the water

Sarah´s just pulled me out of the water

It seemed that the time has stopped for a week. I reluctantly had to fly back to the Netherlands. I am glad and thankful I could meet so many nice people. I am looking forward to go back one day.

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