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Bloomington’s “Big Sister Cities”: Portland (OR) and New Orleans

What we can learn from them…and what we can give them

Stephen Volan

Member, District VI, Common Council

City of Bloomington, Indiana USA

March 7, 2007

I want to echo CM Sabbagh’s words about [the passing of] Mary Oliver and Elia Harik, and about [Indiana University]’s new president Michael McRobbie. I have had a chance to speak with him before, am more than impressed with his credentials and abilities, and hope that he will be IU’s next great leader.

Supplementary congratulations also to Monroe County Commissioner Iris Kiesling’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Monroe County’s Woman of the Year 2007, Bloomington City Clerk Regina Moore. I’m very proud to have served with them the past three years, and have learned so much under their tutelage. I look forward to more years of collaboration with such inspirations. Today’s Women’s History Lunch was a demonstration of the power of sisterliness, what with the Girl Scouts of Tulip Trace Council playing such an important role in today’s ceremonies and in the lives of girls all over Bloomington.

Speaking of sisterliness…

Recently the “Council Commission on Pin Demolition” bowled for kids’ sake. The beneficiary of the Edward Jones’ Bowl for Kids’ Sake is the not-for-profit that sets up one-on-one mentoring programs between adults and kids without the benefit of a surfeit of adult influences in their lives. That organization is called “Big Brothers Big Sisters.”

I presume most of you are familiar with the concept of “sister cities.” We have brethren, if you will, in Santa Clara, Cuba, and Posoltega, Nicaragua, with whom we have cultural exchanges and agreements of goodwill. The sister cities program is run by Sister Cities International.

What if you were to combine the two? If Bloomington could be said to have a Big Sister City here in the US, which would it be? Which cities that are larger than us do we look to for inspiration, for mentoring? If I were combining BBBS and SCI, to create a program that you might call “Big Sister Cities of America,” and I had the opportunity to nominate candidates for our Big Sister Cities, in the 20 years I’ve been in Bloomington, I’ve found that there are two cities that seem to be the ones that the people of Bloomington look to more for inspiration, ideas and cultural exchange than any other. They are Portland, Oregon and New Orleans.

Portland is, in the words of most people I know who know anything about it, “Bloomington Times Ten.” I just had the privilege of visiting there last week, and an opportunity to meet with high-ranking officials in their department of transportation, and I learned a lot about how they do things, how they compare to us, what we could do better, and what we do better. My thanks to Buff Brown for making the meeting possible, and to Paul Smith, Steve Iwada and Ramon Corona, as well as Greg Raisman, for the enlightenment about how Portland came to be the way it is, and how it does what it does to make Portland a friction-free multi-mode transportation mecca.

I first encountered Bloomington’s fascination with New Orleans as far back as my first year here in 1986-87. As a newly minted 21 year old with a new credit card and a car. I can’t tell you how many times through the eighties and early nineties that friends of mine, usually underage, usually much fonder of alcohol than me, and usually much less advantaged of wheels or credit than me — wheels and credit being in much shorter supply to young whippersnappers like us back in the eighties — would beg, beg! me to drive them to Mardi Gras. [Comment about how musicians traveling northwards to Chicago would stop in Bloomington and Indianapolis, strongly influencing musicians like Hoagy Carmichael here and Wes Montgomery in Indianapolis.]

[More comments about how important NO is to us, so that’s why I share this urgent letter from Bart Everson, ex-Bloomingtonian and half of the team that produces the show still viewable on CATS called “J & B on the Rox.”]

From Bart Everson:

“See, it’s like this. We’ve known for a while that coastal Louisiana is disappearing at an alarming rate. But scientists are now saying we’ve got much less time than we thought. They’re saying ten years or less before the land loss becomes irreversible. We’re now losing the equivalent of a football field every 45 minutes. In short order, we will have an ecological disaster of epic proportions, not just for those who live here, but for America as a whole. As the paper says:

“‘The entire nation would reel from the losses. The state’s coastal wetlands, the largest in the continental United States, nourish huge industries that serve all Americans, not just residents of southeastern Louisiana. Twenty-seven percent of America’s oil and 30 percent of its gas travels through the state’s coast, serving half of the nation’s refinery capacity, an infrastructure that few other states would welcome and that would take years to relocate. Ports along the Mississippi River, including the giant Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana in LaPlace, handle 56 percent of the nation’s grain shipments. And the estuaries now rapidly turning to open water produce half of the nation’s wild shrimp crop and about a third of its oysters and blue claw crabs. Studies show destruction of the wetlands protecting the infrastructure serving those industries would put $103 billion in assets at risk.’

“The fix is mind-bogglingly expensive. Of course it is peanuts compared to what we are spending in Iraq, but the obstacles to spending this money here are enormous. We need to come together as a nation to do this. And that’s why I’m asking you to check out the above links, and share them with others. We need to get evangelical about this.”

[Comments about how important this is to Bloomington, how raising awareness is the first step, and please share it with others.]

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Links about New Orleans’ ten-year countdown to ecological and economic disaster

First, when you’ve got a few minutes to spare, take a look at this interactive multimedia presentation. It requires Flash and you’ll want to have your speakers turned on.

(For extra credit, you can read the three-part series from the Times-Picayune.) Then, please share that link with others.