Keeping Portland “Weird”

Hiking the gorge

I can’t begin to express how great it is to be back on the West Coast, not to mention in the great city of Portland, OR!  Over the years, Portland has grown in popularity, serving as a sustainable icon for the rest of the nation.  In a most recent study by Tufts University and the Canadian research company, Corporate Knights Magazine, the city of Portland has ranked #1 among the nation’s “greenest” cities for the past few years.

While serving as a primary West Coast port, and hosting some of the biggest corporations in the country (i.e. NIKE, Adidas, Intel, Boeing, etc.), the city strictly-enforces urban growth boundaries, maintains world-class public transportation systems and exceptional green streets programs, promotes public markets, and encourages efficient/regular coordination between community members, municipalities, and public/private organizations.  It’s no wonder the city of Portland has reached such admirable heights.  In addition, the people of Portland have a sustainable aura about them that I have yet to witness to such degree elsewhere in my travels.  If you don’t know what I mean, watch Portlandia.  I believe a large part of it stems from the city’s fortunate locale.  Portland is nestled in the Willamette Valley between Pacific Ocean/Coast Range and the Pacific Cascades–primarily publicly owned and protected land. You can visit the ocean, go hiking, mountain biking, or drive up for a ski day on Mt. Hood, all within an hour’s drive from the city.  People care about this place and the resources that sustain them because they are able to experience the environment’s direct benefits on a personal and accessible level.  I believe that is the biggest challenge our world faces when it comes to making significant strides in the sustainable development/environmental sector–the personalization part.  Which is why I chose to return to the city of my alma mater to further investigate the city as a whole–its movements, planning and coordination strategies, development plans, community programs, economy, and financial distributions.  Furthermore, I recognize that not every city in the nation can simply produce a flourishing rainforest around them, but the city of Portland incorporates much of its surroundings into urban development.  For example, utilizing solar and thermal energy through LEED design; managing the excessive rainfall the Pacific NW receives via infiltration technique and re-use systems; Farm-to-Fork initiatives encouraged by in-city public markets; green street development; and aesthetics, including art, landscape planning, and other visual techniques which enhance the surrounding natural environment, create jobs and opportunity, and establishes connections between society and it’s sustaining resources.

I thought, “what better way to experience this process than to be part of the planning, design and development phases.”  Here’s how it works, cities typically come up with big initiatives such as a sustainable development plan.  This may include improving infrastructural elements such as roads, communities, office buildings, public transportation, water quality management, etc.  But since state, federal funding, and technical expertise is limited in the public sector, cities contract out projects to private companies who possess the funding and expertise to develop efficient design solutions within budget.  Although the client (the city in this case) develops the project’s “general idea/goal,” the contractor is responsible for bringing that idea to fruition.  The high-caliber problem-solving, interdisciplinary coordination, and design opportunities available in the private sector was something I had not experienced before and had a keen interest in.  Which brings me to where I am today…

In June, I was hired as a civil engineer by Group Mackenzie, a renowned sustainable design company serving the Pacific NW.  Group Mackenzie’s field fortes include architecture, interiors, landscape architecture, structural engineering, land use planning, transportation planning, and civil engineering.  My primary task is to assist the Principal engineer and landscape planning architect with design plans, reviews, and submittals.  The opportunity counts towards my experience required to obtain P.E. and LEED certification.  For the past month, I have been brushing up on my AutoCAD drafting skills–a necessity for this kind of work.  I love coming to work, whipping out my scale and red pen, and jumping in to calculations and drafting!  Oh but I do remember my first week…it was incredibly intimidating.  I’ve never been around so many technically fine-tuned, brilliant individuals in one place.  EVERYONE had exceptional math skills and knew the AutoCAD software and various rendering programs like the back of their hand.  I had a lot of catching up to do since the last time I used the program was my sophomore year of college.  The job is fast-paced, and like many other private employees, I often find myself working well over 40 hrs a week.  But I’m learning SO much and I’m enjoying it.  Being young and single it’s definitely possible to have this kind of job.  However, I don’t know if I’d say the same if I had the responsibility of a family.  I also received a lot of motivation from a wonderful young woman named Megan.  She and I are the only female engineers in our department and she has been such a great mentor and inspiration…I want to be just like her when I grow up :)

And of course, like any good Portlander, I bike to work.  It’s the best 14 miles of my day spent, and well worth the 6 AM commute!

Outside of work I have been soaking up everything the city has to offer.  Hiking in the Columbia Gorge, floating the Clackamas River, berry-picking at Sauvies Island, biking around town, going to the farmers market, 1 AM donut runs to Voodoo, food truck lunches, hipster cafes, delicious food in general, waterfront events, and of course…beer! beer! beer!  Microbrewed…the best you’ve ever tasted.

Here are some photos from my most recent adventures:

River Float.  One of the best ways to enjoy the beauties of Mt. Hood

World’s Naked Bike Tour.  Portland does it right.

-Jonathan Maus

Fellow biker had the right idea!

Jonathan Maus

My daily lunch spot.

Blues Festival…and Beerfest to come! Love America. Love PDX <3

THE OLYMPIC TRIALS WERE AMAZING.  Can’t wait for the Olympics!

Until next time, I’ll be keeping Portland weird!

Photo cred: Jonathan Maus, Paul Moosen, and Amelia Hunnicutt of Portland, OR

About Marianna Hunnicutt