Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?

October 10, 2015  

Native plants at Don's Edge

All I could think when I looked down at the Don River mouth was “well, they are native plants at least!” Photo by PlanGreen

In 2007 when I wrote Greening Waterfront Development: Toronto, I was highly impressed with official plans for greening Toronto’s waterfront.  Our two day tour with Greater Portland Inc, had Waterfront Revitalization on the agenda, but we didn’t get to the area that I wanted to see–the re-naturalizing of the mouth of the Don River.

So after our debriefing on Sept. 30, I rented a bike at HI Toronto  and headed towards the Waterfront Trail then east towards the Don River. I wanted to document the progress Toronto had made in their plans to transform the mouth of this highly channelized river that I had written about in my 2007 article. I soon ran out of separated bike trail and plush new development and came to a channel with a short bridge over it.  With a bit of incredulity in my voice, I asked “Is THIS the mouth of the Don River?” of the fellow who turned out to be the drawbridge operator.

Don River Mouth and Drawbridge

I had already crossed this drawbridge when it opened for a barge carrying dredge materials. Photo by PlanGreen.

He assured me that it was. Then I asked “What about the re-naturalization they were going to be doing?”  He told me that volunteers had been doing some planting in the park down the way so I headed into the  industrial area along Villers Street making a first stop at a small public pier to capture the drawbridge opening. I was crestfallen to see the mouth of the river was still in its concrete channel and brown from sediment. Active dredging was still taking place.  In fact, the drawbridge was opening for a barge carrying dredge material upriver in what is called the Keating Channel.

I'm passionate about community ecological restoration efforts, but what I saw was not at the scale that needs to happen. Photo by PlanGreen

I’m passionate about community ecological restoration efforts, but what I saw was not at the scale that needs to happen. Photo by PlanGreen

I did find some native species and a sign corroborating what the drawbridge operator had told me. But the scale of the ecological restoration that needs to be done there came nowhere close to the scale of the earth moving and skyscraper building that is taking place nearby. In fact, it seemed to be the proverbial drop in the bucket.

I found it disappointing that any city with 180 towering cranes in its core area alone was not making equally fast progress with the ecological restoration of one of its major rivers. It leads me to ask what kind of public benefit is the City extracting from each of these developments?

Barging Dredge up the Don

I certainly hope that the planned restoration includes removal of this ramp along the Don River too. Photo by PlanGreen

Recommendations to re-naturalize the mouth of the Don River have been in existence since 1991.  According to a Wikipedia article on the DonIn 2007, the Toronto Waterfront Development Corporation (now WaterfrontToronto) held a design competition that looked at four different configurations for the mouth of the Don. The winning bid was made by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.[16] The environmental assessment is expected to be complete in 2008 and construction is scheduled to begin in 2010.[17]  That Environmental Assessment was only passed by the province January 26, 2015–a 7 year lag!  This was not because of the economic “recession.”  We were told that did not phase Toronto.

MVVA Plan for Re-Naturalizing Mouth of the Don

This 2007 award-winning plan by Michael Van Valkenburg associates can be found here http://www.mvvainc.com/project.php?id=60–along with many other tantalizing images.

When I reviewed the plans by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, I was reminded that Instead of creating naturalized banks along the straight course of the existing channel connecting the Don River with the lake, as was originally suggested in the project brief, MVVA’s design keeps the Keating Channel as an urban artifact and neighborhood amenity and creates a new mouth for the river that flows logically from the upstream source, bypassing the abrupt right turn created by the channel. A large new meandering riverfront park becomes the centerpiece of a new mixed-use neighborhood.

October 12, 2015

An interesting explanation for the delay of the re-naturalization of the Don River that I was expecting to see can be found in Planning Nature and the City: Toronto’s Lower Don River and Port Lands  by Gene Desfor and Jennifer Bonnell:

. . . in the fall of 2011 Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford, their right-wing allies, and competing development agencies, attempted to hijack current waterfront planning processes and radically alter plans for the Port Lands. Those sympathetic to Mayor Ford’s vision see these lands primarily as a way to ease budget woes by selling prime waterfront property to international developers. As the Toronto Star editorialized, “The Fords’ ludicrous vision for the future – complete with a megamall, monorail and giant Ferris wheel – was so abysmal that a tide of Torontonians rose up in protest. Most city councillors broke with the mayor’s program and quashed the takeover [of Waterfront Toronto].”31 At the time of writing [no date provided], a political solution is being sought in which Waterfront Toronto, the City, and various special purpose government organizations are working to design a compromise between Ford’s “ludicrous vision” and the plan based on the MVVA proposal.

Don Lands Map

There are three distinct plans for revitalization around the Don River:: West Don Lands (pale plum), Lower Don Lands (lime green) and Portl Lands (turquoise blue and light turquoise). Map courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

According to Waterfront Toronto website, construction of the Lower Don Lands Plan and the Port Lands Plan is yet to come.  There is no mention of the above controversy on their site.

A Waterfront Toronto newsroom article announced that on July 14, 2015 it, along with federal, provincial and city government partners, came up with $5M to take the next steps on the proposal to naturalize the Don River:

The due diligence work being primarily undertaken by Waterfront Toronto will provide governments with additional assurance on the estimated $975 million cost of this project, which includes rerouting the Don River to the middle of the Port Lands between the Ship Channel and the Keating Channel, remediating the area’s contaminated soil, creating new parks, wetlands and resilient urban infrastructure that will remove the flooding risk, unlock a vast area for revitalization and development – including the creation of a new community called Villiers Island – and create billions of dollars of economic development opportunities.

New Precinct Map

These new precincts are estimated to bring $3.6 billion in value, 7,672 person years of employment and $346 million in tax revenues. First partners must reroute the Don River, remediate the area’s contaminated soil, and create new parks, wetlands and resilient urban infrastructure that will remove the flooding risk. Image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

The first phase of this due diligence work is scheduled to be completed by November of this year [2015],  and “will enable government funding of the project by providing confirmation of the cost of the project, strategies to mitigate the risks associated with the project, and an implementation strategy.”

The project would be ready to start by 2017 and take approximately seven years to complete.  An independent study by PwC done for Waterfront Toronto in 2014 estimates that “the project will generate $3.6 billion in value to the Canadian economy, 7,672 person years of employment and $346 million in tax revenues to all levels of government.”

So, to answer the question my title asks, “Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?”–LOOK FOR IT IN 2024!  That estimate, of course, will depend upon continued economic progress–progress that seems a bit uncertain right now.

Mycoremediation: Testing Results In The Field


Jordan Weiss

Jordan Weiss demonstrating the mixing of myceliated Oyster mushroom straw at Dharma Rain Zen Center–photo by PlanGreen

August 6, 2015

When Jordan Weiss set out to use mushrooms to help clean up the soils and filter the water at the former landfill/brownfield site purchased by the Dharma Rain Zen Center (DRZC), he did so based upon the mycoremediation research of others such as Paul Stamets and his team at Fungi Perfecti.  He didn’t set up the effort as a research project.  He didn’t have funders to answer to as he volunteered his time and even many of the materials. He taught workshops that brought in the  volunteer labor from the Zen Center, the Oregon Mycological  Society and neighbors and friends.

Now, to take the project to the next level as a mycoremediation model for the Portland area, Jordan and others involved with the project, like myself, would like funding.  Funders always want  data–not just university lab data or even other people’s field data, but data from the project they are asked to fund.  I’m working with Jordan to figure out what baseline data is out there re: water quality and soils and what more data we need to collect to prove that mushrooms are removing toxins on this site and can do so throughout the Portland area.


This plan shows the rain garden (9) to the west of the meditation hall and the food garden (3) to the south–from Planting Zen, DRZC


Clean Soil to Garden Boxes

Soil testing revealed high levels of PAHs in the underlying soil so clean soil is being delivered for garden boxes–photo by PlanGreen

The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment for the DRZC site is of little help with regard to pollutants in water or stormwater. Essentially, its conclusion was: No analytical testing of shallow groundwater has been reported to ODEQ.  In the Phase II ESA, eight soil samples were tested in the area where the food garden is now.  High levels of PAHs were found in this soil, causing DRZC to build boxes and import clean soil for vegetable gardening.  The area where the raingarden is does not seem to have been tested.

Garden w/Berms

There are large berms (barely visible in the photo) at the north end of the garden where mycobags were placed on July 1, 2015–photo by PlanGreen

The best place to do future myco-remediation installations may be in the food garden area at the edges of the boxes since that soil had already been tested prior to any mycoremediation efforts, . After the mushrooms get established, DRZC and its partners could continue to test  the underlying soils for levels of PAHs.  The hypothesis is that the mushrooms and their mycelia will reduce or eliminate the PAHs.

PAHs (such as acenaphthylene’s, anthracene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, fluorine, phenanthrene and pyrene) are listed by the EPA as possible carcinogens and maximum allowable standards are set for them.

BES Water Quality Chart

BES Water Quality Chart from Appendix A of 2008 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report

We will want to do stormwater testing too.  The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Reports for both 2008 and 2010 tell us what water quality data BES monitors for in its stormwater facilities. From the chart in the Appendix of the 2008 report, we see that they monitor for oil,  grease, E. coli, metals, total phosphorous and orthophosphate phosphorous, ammonia-nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen in water.

Here’s what they test in the sediments:

BES Sediment Testing Chart

HCID/TPH is a screen to determine the presence and type of petroleum products in the soil

That HCID/TPH is a way to screen for PAHs and other petroleum products in the soil.  We do know that BES also does separate soil sampling. Some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil levels were higher than the background soil sample sites located nearby–but outside of the stormwater facilities. Metal and PAH levels found in stormwater facilities were generally similar to those found in background sample soils.  While these results show that soils in green street stormwater facilities (bioswales, raingardens) are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, we hope to show that with the use of mushrooms, soil results could be cleaner than the background samples in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs.

Raingarden Work Party

Since toxins in surface water was not found t be a problem, the largest source of future pollutants may be from runoff from the parking area in the background of this photo–by PlanGreen


Since the only water sampling that revealed toxins at DRZC was the seep in the northeast corner of the site², our approach for monitoring the raingarden could start with the first rains of Fall 2015.  We would largely be monitoring for pollutants from the parking area west of the raingarden. Parking lots are well-known for contaminating stormwater with PAHs when it rains.

Jared Kinnear

Jared Kinnear, Recycled Water Program Manager at Clean Water Services–photo by PlanGreen

The Portland area is fortunate to have a second mycoremediation project underway in our region. In July 2015, I set up a meeting with Clean Water Services  Jared Kinnear and Pacific University toxicology professor Deke Gunderson to learn from their project to test mushrooms for cleaning street sweepings.  They hope to get the street sweepings–what appears to be the compost I buy in bags at Ace Hardware– to the point that it is judged safe for farmers’ fields.  They set up their project in conjunction with Fungi Perfecti which provided both the protocols and the mycelium inoculated wood chips for the research.

The project has evolved from what was originally conceived.  Because of time and labor constraints and the preliminary results, the project was modified from the original one that would have tested five species of fungi to just testing Stropharia rugoso annulata (King stropharia) and Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster mushroom).  Then it was narrowed down again when the researchers found that the oyster mycelium stayed on the wood chips rather than spreading throughout the mixture of wood chips and street sweepings.

King Stropharia with a small portion of its mycelium

King Stropharia with a small portion of its mycelium growing at DRZC–photo by PlanGreen

So they are now testing the ability of King stropharia mycelium to eliminate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or at least reduce them to a level that they are safe to spread on farm fields.  The levels of PAHs are tested on a chromatograph at Pacific University. Since once the inoculated wood chips were added to the street sweepings, the levels of PAHs were so low that they were difficult to fully measure, the team decided to spike the experimental samples with PAHs in order to measure the effectiveness of the mushrooms.

Hailey Jongeward and Prof. Deke Gunderson

Hailey Jongeward and Professor Deke Gunderson in discussion over a box of street sweeping material–photo by PlanGreen

The EPA has recognized 7 PAHs as priority chemicals due to their persistence in the environment.³ The most common way to be exposed is by breathing contaminated air but exposure can also come from  eating contaminated food. While we were there we met one of Dr. Gunderson’s students ,Hailey Jongeward, who has since shared with me her PowerPoint report on the project.

“Of the 7 priority chemicals we found traces of all 7 in the starting material, increasing the importance of this project” she wrote.  Those chemicals are: acenaphthylene’s, anthracene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, fluorine, phenanthrene and pyrene.

Street Sweepings box

This box of street sweepings is being colonized by mycelia that were added as spores on wood chips–photo by Hailey Jongeward

Street Sweeping Box 2

This box has greater colonization of mycelium throughout–photo by Hailey Jongeward

Hailey also shared the photos of the subject material to the right.  Boxes get different ratios of wood chips to spores so that may account for the difference in the two boxes.  Both show that the mycelium is spreading, but the lower one more than the upper one.  Hailey also told me she is working in partnership with fellow Pacific University students Jake Prevou and Natalie Kimura.

I believe that the monitoring of the Dharma Rain Zen Center project needs to take on some similar elements as the Clean Water Services project and monitor soils for reduction of PAHs.  It would also be useful to test the water flowing into and back out of the raingarden, but that may prove more difficult because it was not designed for doing such testing.  Our best bet may be one identified in the Phase II ESA: “a location south of the seep had water discharge from piping, which was traced to a stormwater surface drainage feature.”

It is exciting to be part of the initiation of a technology–or rather a protocol for utilizing an ecosystem service from the seen and unseen mysteries of the natural world.  As we enter an era of climate change, such services will become more and more critical for adapting to changes, mitigating the impacts and healing our past wounds to the earth.  I want my business, PlanGreen, to be at the forefront of utilizing the services that nature provides for free.

Please see my previous four posts on mycoremediation on http://plangreen.net/blog/.  You may want to FOLLOW this site for the latest news. And do post your comments and questions below.

UPDATE, Sept. 21, 2015 

Dharma Rain Zen Center started an Indiiegogo campaign http://igg.me/at/PlantingZen/x on Sept. 21, 2015 that allows you to contribute to their restoration and community building work.  Your dollars will be matched dollar for dollar.  I hope you will help if you can!


¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report

²Levels of arsenic slightly higher than allowed for drinking water standards was found in the northeast corner seep.

³See fact sheet on PAHs from the EPA Office of Solid Waste at http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastemin/minimize/factshts/pahs.pdf

Mycoremediation with “Spongy Parking Lots”

Aug 2, 2015

Portland’s Old Town China Town neighborhood has an abundance of surface parking lots.  In fact, it has far too many to be a vibrant neighborhood much less an expression of the eco-city that Portland purports to be.  I’ve joined with five other professional women to try to change that.  If we can’t see these central city lots immediately redeveloped to higher and better uses that house people and businesses, we at least want to see them become better parking lots–SPONGY PARKING LOTS.

Spongy Parking Lots Video image

Image borrowed from PDX Downtowner You Tube site.

My friend, Ruth Ann Barrett coined that term and even made a video about Spongy Parking Lots to share with her neighbors in Old Town/Chinatown.  She has friends who visit from California and she’s embarrassed to show them how much we waste water here in Portland.  When it rains, the water from those parking lots heats up and captures whatever pollutants vehicles leave behind on its way to the nearest storm sewer.  The surface parking lots are paved in asphalt and are major contributors to the urban heat island effect that raises the temperature as much as 10° over areas with open land and vegetation.  In turn, the extra heat increases the energy needed to cool interior spaces, and puts an extra strain on the grid by exacerbating peak energy loads and hence carbon footprint/climate change. It also contributes to smog formation adding even more public health impacts resulting from excessive outdoor temperature.

Spongy trail in an old growth forest. Photo by PlanGreen

Spongy trail in an old growth forest. Photo by PlanGreen

We’ll return to all that in a moment, but I first want you to remember walking on a trail in the woods where your feet just seemed to bounce on the earth beneath them.  That’s because that soil was kept porous and, yes, spongy, by the mycelium forming a thick mat that was turning wood to soil under your feet.  Those mycelium have fruiting bodies that we call mushrooms–which may or may not be visible during your walk.

Mycelium on log

The white stuff in this photo is mycelium. It will spread throughout the log and ultimately decompose it–creating spongy soil. Photo by PlanGreen.

That mycelium looks a bit like a very dense spider web criss-crossing to create quite a network.   It gets its nutrition by decomposing the cellulose in the log.  The ability of mycelium of mushrooms in the category of “white rot fungi”  to decompose cellulose is related to their ability to decompose numerous other substances as well: bacterial toxins such as e-coli and fecal coliform as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAHs).  Research also shows their ability to transform  bunker fuel oil, explosives, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and organochlorine pesticides–substances we hope we won’t find in OTCT parking lots.

Ecotrust Parking Lot

Built in 2001, the parking lot at Ecotrust is an outstanding model of a “Spongy Parking Lot”. It probably even has a few mushrooms by now. Photo by PlanGreen

We do have models for Spongy Parking Lots nearby.  My favorite is at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center (aka Ecotrust) in the adjacent Pearl District neighborhood.  Often on a summer day, the cars are kicked out of this pleasant parking lot for an array of fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets.  If you enlarge this photo, you will see that the lot is paved with light colored porous pavers and that those trees are planted in bioswales that also hold an array of mostly native plants.  You will see that  the parking spaces drain into those bioswales. which are about 2.5 feet deep.  Not only do the soils and plants in  the bioswales infiltrate the water from the parking lot within 24 hours, they also cool the water and filter the pollutants that come from our vehicles and pets.

BES Sediment Testing Chart

HCID-TPH is a screen to determine the presence and type of petroleum products that may exist in water or soil. Table from BES 2010 Stormwater Monitoring Report referenced below.

What could be better?  Well, Portland monitors the effectiveness of its bioswales and some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil results were variable, but levels were higher than the background soil sample sites located nearby but outside of the stormwater facilities. Metal and PAH levels found in stormwater facilities were generally similar to those found in background sample soils.  While these results show that soils in bioswales are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, soil results could be CLEANER THAN THE BACKGROUND SAMPLES in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs.  If mycelium running through the bioswale made the soil spongier and more absorbent and if those same mycelium could help the plants thrive by “eating” more of the pollutants, then I maintain we would have an even spongier parking lot.  A spongier parking lot could better utilize and clean the water running off it into bioswales.  As its trees and plants grow better with less pollutants in its soil, the spongier parking lot will decrease the urban heat island effect even more and become an important strategy for both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

I hope you will read my previous three short blogs on mycoremediation/mycofiltration (http://plangreen.net/blog) to better understand the technology I am proposing.  I plan one more mycoremediation blog on monitoring.


¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report


PDX Climate Action Plan 2015 Needs Urban Design

June 24, 2015  Testimony of Mary Vogel, PlanGreen to Portland City Council

There is a great deal to like in the Portland/MultCo Climate Action Plan 2015 and I applaud it as far as it goes. But one of the things missing is attention to URBAN DESIGN not just Urban Form. It needs to include implementation actions on evaluating existing land use policies that shape urban design for impact on climate change. That mandate could be included on p. 80, Urban Form and Transportation Chapter under either Decision-Making or Planning Scenarios Evaluation.

Here’s one example!  We need to change a policy that:

NW Townhouses w/short driveways and garages that dominate the sidewalk. The trees are on the wrong side of the sidewalk and will not last long in their present location.

NW Townhouses w/short driveways and garages that dominate the sidewalk. The trees are on the wrong side of the sidewalk and offer no protection or additional shade to the pedestrian. They will not last long in their present location. Cars parked in these driveways will block pedestrian passage altogether. Photo by PlanGreen


Promotes private automobile use


Leads to less community interaction


Makes our sidewalks less safe and useable for pedestrians



NW Townhouse w/van blocking sidewalk

This NW Portland sidewalk is partially blocked by this van. Note the driveway apron that usurps 1.5 public parking spaces on the street.

Displaces on-street parking spaces that make pedestrians feel safer

Usurps public parking space

Makes sidewalks less useable by pedestrians





SW Hamilton Townhouses - No street trees

This SW neighborhood street is adjacent downtown. It has the requisite off-street parking, but no street trees or landscaping to protect residents from the freeway above–or give them incentive to walk anywhere.

Disrupts the look and feel of the neighborhood

Displaces street trees that both protect and add comfort for the pedestrian

Displaces garden space that could be used to grow food





That is the requirement for off-street parking for every new house more than 500’ from a transit stop. Please make sure that a review of this policy and other existing policies is part of the Climate Action Plan.  That will greatly strengthen the plan!

I’m adding  a couple of examples that were not in my original testimony in order to show both the worst and best of Portland’s central city urban design with regard to parking.

NW 24th Ave Garages - Abominable Streetscape

I know you’re thinking this is the BACK of the property but its the FRONT on a street in one of the densest neighborhoods in Portland, OR–NW 24th Ave. Similar streetscapes are not uncommon in NW Portland.

                                                                                                    Even Portland’s numerous graffiti artists don’t seem to find these garage doors compelling places for their art–even though the doors front a street in one of the densest and most popular neighborhoods in Portland.

Most pedestrians don’t find this wasteland a compelling place to be either.  In fact, they cross the street in order to avoid them.  How does such awful urban design continue to exist in one of the most popular neighborhoods in Portland?


NW Pettygrove Condo Garage with single curb-cut

This NW Pettygrove condo building w/garage has a single curb-cut and is an example of how off-street residential parking should be handled–if it is necessary at all.

Okay, we can keep some off-street parking.  In really popular neighborhoods that folks from the suburbs flock to on evenings and weekends, residents with cars can really benefit from off-street parking.  This 12 unit condo building with it’s single driveway and garage exists immediately adjacent another abomination like the one above at NW 23rd & Pettygrove in Portland.  This building is an example of how off-street parking should be done–if it is done at all.


Let me know your thoughts!  I will pass them on to Portland policymakers and planners.

King Stropharia w/mycelium

Mycoremediation: Dharma Rain Zen Center – Part 1

UPDATE, Sept. 21, 2015 

Dharma Rain Zen Center started an Indiiegogo campaign http://igg.me/at/PlantingZen/x on Sept. 21, 2015 that allows you to contribute to their restoration work.  Your dollars will be matched dollar for dollar.  I hope you will help if you can!

May 6, 2015, Portland, OR – updated May 18, 2015

It would be useful to read my Jan 2014 Mycoremediation: Cleaning Soils and Water along the Willamette River! blog in conjunction with this blog.

I was once quite active in the Oregon Mycological Society, but the need to be more focused on my profession of urban planning saw me let my membership lapse.  I recently renewed it and, to my delight, I’ve discovered a new wave of young members who share my interest in mycoremediation–using mushrooms to clean soils and water.

Dharma Rain Zen Center Mycoremediation Biobags

Dharma Rain Zen Center Mycoremediation Biobags

One OMS member,  Jordan Weiss, recently lead a workshop at the Dharma Rain Zen Center in NE Portland.  In the 2.5 years that this Buddhist group has owned this 14 acre former landfill, they have made a remarkable start to its ecological restoration as evidenced by the dried Himalayan blackberry canes lining the ravine that they are now planting in native plants and trees–and in mushrooms.

Turkey Tail, a whte rot fungus, decomposing a fallen log in forest

Turkey Tail, a whte rot fungus, decomposing a fallen log in a forest in Astoria, Oregon. It leaves the log feeling like a wet sponge ready to be wrung out.

Jordan gave a bit of a lesson in mycology withan emphasis on white rot fungi because they are such fast soil-builders and because they are particularly effective in breaking down aromatic pollutants (toxic components of petroleum), as well as chlorinated compounds (certain persistent pesticides).  A number of species fall into the category of white rot fungi, including three that we dealt with at the workshop:  Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) and Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) and King Stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annualata).


The below ground part of some mushrooms–the mycelia–have been shown to consume chemical toxins such as PAHs and bacteria such as E-coli.  Of the eight species of mushroom Paul Stamets team tested in an EPA funded study, “one clearly demonstrated resilience to harsh environmental conditions and a second showed promising characteristics. These species may therefore be considered as technically feasible for stormwater treatment applications. “

The below ground filaments (mycelia) of King Stropharia form a thick white net that filters pollutants and consumes them

The below ground filaments (mycelia) of King Stropharia form a thick white net that filters pollutants and consumes them

The most resilient species referred to in Stamets team’s study is King Stropharia (aka Garden giant).  Its mycelia form a thick web that would filter stormwater in the range of 0.07 to 0.10 cm/sec—roughly equivalent to medium grain sand.  So, the Stamets team judged it to be an appropriate filter media for meeting EPA specifications for stormwater management.  Workshop participants found King Stropharia growing along the west-facing hillside of the ravine at the Zen Center where  naturalized spawn on wood chips in a burlap sack was installed two years ago and fruited this spring.  After advocating mycoremediation with the City of Portland for over a year, it was great to see some land stewards actually doing it!

The workshop team then moved on to innoculating cottonwood logs with two species of white rot fungus–Turkey Tail and Oyster (but just one species per log).  This consisted of drilling some quarter-sized holes to a depth of about 0.7 inch, then scooping some mycelia that had been growing on cardboard into the holes and closing it off with wheat paste and a patch.  Jordan said that a best practice is to use inoculated sawdust and/or plug-spawn–but we were making do with what we had.

Drilling holes in cottonwood logs to inoculate them with Turkey Tail and Oyster fungi.

Drilling holes in cottonwood logs to inoculate them with Turkey Tail and Oyster fungi.

In his article, “The Petroleum Problem”,  Paul Stamets envisions the future of mycoremediation in Mycological Response Teams. These teams would consist of knowledgeable and trained people who would use mycoremediation techniques to recycle and rebuild healthy soil in the area. [1]

Jordan cautions that “fungi is a powerful tool in the remediators tool kit, but these and other nature-based technologies will not work if frivolously applied.”  He encourages us to familiarize ourselves with the ecological role fungi have in their natural environment.  I try to teach about such roles every time we see fungi on the Sierra Club outings that I lead.

Oyster mushroom on rotting log in Forest Park--close to NW Industrial District

Oyster mushroom on rotting log in Forest Park–close to NW Industrial District

In the Sttamets’ teams study, the second most successful species found to take up storm water pollutants with some vigor is the Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus sp.).  They grow in some abundance in nearby Forest Park–even in the winter with a hint of snow on the ground when only the toughest are out: English ivy, Swordfern and Douglas fir.  (Yes, I pulled that piece of invasive English ivy immediately after taking its picture!)


Oyster mycelium inoculated straw.

Oyster mycelium inoculated straw.

A Portland-based edible mushroom business produces Oyster mycelia inoculated straw as a by-product of its main business. The three recent college graduates who started this business have expressed interest in having their by-product used  in mycoremediation. Their straw is already becoming popular with gardeners and farmers and an important source of income for the business.

Along with Jordan Weiss, I am adding Mycoremediation to what PlanGreen offers.  I plan to work with Jordan’s Mushrooms and other businesses in the Portland area to offer a full range of mycoremediation services from design and planning to installation and maintenance.  We might start with Portland’s NW Industrial District. where students in the Masters in Urban and Regional Planning program at Portland State University are just now completing their project “Getting Green to Work in the NW Industrial District.”  We’re lucky that in the Portland area  green streets with bioretention facilities, green or eco-roofs, green walls, permeable pavement, etc. can now be considered  almost commonplace. This is the green infrastructure the students referred to when I attended their open house in April.  Right now, almost none of our built green infrastructure has mushrooms and their mycelia growing in it.  My team is proposing to change that.  If you have a mycology-based business in the Portland, Oregon area and want to be part of that effort, write me, Mary Vogel, at mary at plangreen dot net.

1.”The Petroleum Problem”. Fungi Perfecti. 3 June 2010. Retrieved 8 May 2013.

Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees Proposal

I’m happy to announce that the Urban Greenspaces Institute will be the Fund’s fiscal sponsor. Go to https://www.urbangreenspaces.org/support-our-work  and put “Gretchen Fund” in the comment box.

March 15, 2015 – Portland, Oregon

Gretchen Kafoury, one of my heroine’s and neighbors here in downtown Portland, died Friday, March 13, 2015 at the age of 72.  Two weeks earlier she had testified before Portland City Council on the need to get more affordable housing into South Waterfront, part of an Urban Renewal Area that started while she was in office.  I, for one, expected many more years of her deep wisdom and boundless activism.

GKC SWColumbia

Treeless SW Columbia St. side of Gretchen Kafoury Commons, built by Housing Authority of Portland (now Home Forward) in 2000.

I am proposing Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees on SW Columbia Street–starting with the building that bears her name at SW 13th Ave. and Columbia.  Gretchen Kafoury Commons has no trees on the Columbia St. side.  Street trees here could block for its residents the view of !-405–and maybe some of its air and noise pollution too.  They could also calm the traffic on the all too wide SW Columbia Street.

I propose to set up a memorial fund controlled by the Kafoury family or their designee. That fund would work with Portland Urban Forestry and its Bureaus of Transportation and Environmental Services and Home Forward to do the necessary infrastructure work to put in the street trees.


SW Columbia residences between SW 11th & 12th Avenues that need memorial trees

Depending upon the amount of money the fund is able to raise, it would move eastward on SW Columbia to install street trees in front of other buildings along the street that house low-income people.

Says Jeff Speck in  his book Walkable City:. . . Often the first item in the budget to be cut, street trees are key to pedestrian comfort and urban livablity in so many ways. In addition to offering shade, they reduce ambient temperatures in hot weather, absorb rainwater and tailpipe emissions, provide UV protection, and limit the effects of wind.  Trees also slow cars and improve the sense of enclosure by “necking down” the street space with their canopies. Speck points to a study of street trees in Portland that found that the presence of healthy street trees likely adds $15.3 million to annual property tax revenues–a 12 to 1 payoff on what Portland spends for tree planting and maintenance.

NW corner of SW Columbia & 12th Ave. low-income residence that needs memorial trees.

NE corner SW Columbia & 12th Ave low-income residence that needs memorial trees

NE Corner SW Columbia & 12th Ave needs memorial trees

That data makes Portland sound progressive with regard to street trees, but these photos hardly make Portland seem like the  eco-city it advertizes to the world.  After all, these buildings are NOT in some recently annexed part of the city that has not been brought up to standards. Rather they are in the residential part of the oldest part of our city–DOWNTOWN.



SW Columbia and SW Jefferson are part of Portland’s move towards one-way couplets that, back in the 70s, turned downtown streets into car sewers for suburban commuters to  get to their jobs and back out again quickly.  Everything was done for the convenience of the suburban commuter.  Little thought was given to those who didn’t have the means to move out.

Now, the tide has turned and we need to narrow overly wide streets and widen too narrow sidewalks–AND PLANT TREES..  As more and more people are interested in living downtown, cranes are going up on many streets, closing all but one lane of streets that are two to three traffic lanes wide.  Somehow, commuters make do. For example, drivers leaving downtown are now getting by on one lane on SW Jefferson as lanes are closed for construction between SW 11th and SW 12th Avenues (and also on SW 12th)–making me think that we could re-configure this roadway and that of its couplet street SW Columbia to accommodate wider sidewalks, street trees, green street (bioretention) facilities and a bike lane.  Let’s make it happen!

Addendum 3-25-15

While wider sidewalks with street trees on SW Columbia and Jefferson would be my ideal, I had to re-think my vision last week after talking with Andrew Haliburton, PE, at KPFF who generously donated his time to estimate costs based upon previous projects. Andrew said that to widen the sidewalk would likely cost on the order of $180,000–and that’s just for one side of the street!  (Do you ever wonder where the term “Highway Robbery” came from?)  So, in order to accomplish this project in the next year or so, the best option seems to be to install the trees on the current sidewalk. More recently, Cevero Gonzalez from PBOT told me that in order to widen the sidewalk, the City would have to move a water main and that would take millions.  We should all be asking why, when TriMet dug up the streets to put in bus pads a couple years ago, that didn’t trigger the water main move. It seems that its only needed for wider sidewalks!!!

The Mexican Consulate at SW 12th & Jefferson added four street trees to the Jefferson St. side in late 2010. They make a great addition to the street!

The Mexican Consulate at SW 12th & Jefferson added four street trees to the Jefferson St. side in late 2010. They make a great addition to the street!

The Mexican Consulate at SW 12th & Jefferson seems to have added trees on SW Jefferson in 2010 when it made other improvements to its property.  SW Jefferson has sidewalks of similar width as  SW Columbia in the blocks in question.  Already, the consulate’s trees are making a world of difference in both the pedestrian experience and the visitor/occupant experience.  I expect that the money for both the sidewalk removal and street tree–about $1,000 per tree according to Andrew–will be privately raised.

Addendum April 12, 2015 – After three intense weeks of work and some nail-biting, it looks like it is, in fact, possible to plant at least one tree in front of Gretchen Kafoury Commons on the SW Columbia side within the current narrow sidewalk.  First, I had to check with utility companies to assure that a tree would not interfere with their underground infrastructure.  Comcast (I think) and NW Natural painted their response on the street, Century Link emailed and Portland Water Bureau called.  I called Comcast specifically to verify with them as that was the utility line Portland Urban Forestry’s Rick Faber had mentioned as a potential problem.  And they verified good to go!

Rick Faber had already confirmed two spots in front of New Avenues for Youth, a non-profit next door to Gretchen Kafoury Commons.  I talked with Sean Suib, Executive Director there.  He said he is happy to seek the cooperation of his board.  And he expects to cooperate on the paperwork when the time comes.

Tomorrow I meet with Stephen Kafoury–hopefully about setting up the fund.  Then it will take some folks who are really great at social media and marketing to get word out there.  There certainly was an impressive turnout at the memorial service on April 4.  I’m hoping to reach everyone who came–and more.

April 13, 2015 – I’m happy to announce that the Urban Greenspaces Institute will be the Fund’s fiscal sponsor. Go to https://www.urbangreenspaces.org/support-our-work  and put “Gretchen Fund” in the comment box.  I also hope that you will join Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees on Facebook.

June 12, 2015 –  As a low-income business owner who has spent well over a month of pro bono work developing the Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees Fund with the encouragement of the Kafoury family, I was both delighted with the State of the County speech today at City Club Friday Forum and depressed that I was not able to get my effort to create this fund any attention. This would have been the perfect venue to raise the measly $3500 we need to plant trees in front of the low income housing in downtown Portland bearing Gretchen’s name.  I fault myself especially. Instead of asking permission, I should have used a Gretchen strategy:  Don’t bother with permission, just get up and make your announcement in the Q&A session before they can stop you!  You can ask forgiveness afterward.

PLEASE CONTRIBUTE to the fund to make a green buffer against the air and noise pollution from I-405. Residents of Gretchen Kafoury Commons also need the slower traffic and more pleasant walking experience that street trees bring.

July 14, 2015 – There are many more buildings housing low-income people downtown that need street trees.  I’ll post a few more, but feel free to post your own too.  Dowtown is everyone’s neighborhood!  Let’s make this into a tactical urbanism project and get something done.

Carmelita overlooking I-405

The Carmelita overlooks I-405 Freeway and the too wide Jefferson St.


Chaucer Court photo by PlanGreen

Chaucer Court and adjacent parking lot have no street trees. Many residents sit outside on SW 10th Ave.

The Pinecone on SW 11th Ave. has no street trees though it does have some nice cedars on the north end of the building.

The Pinecone on SW 11th Ave. has no street trees though it does have some nice cedars on the north end of the building.

Ongford on SW 11th has no trees.

Ongford on SW 11th has no trees.

11th Ave Lofts by PlanGreen

11th Ave Lofts on SW Columbia has no trees.

A Perspective on Riverwalks

Feb. 18, 2015
Image courtesy of RediscovertheFalls.com

Image courtesy of RediscovertheFalls.com

Oregon Metro has a Request For Proposals open for a Willamette Falls Riverwalk Schematic Design that has attracted attention from design firms around North America.  I must admit that I haven’t been attracted to the “riverwalk” concept as most of its purveyors ignore the need to restore any habitat.

But Willamette Falls is different.  Right at the start, prospective proposers are informed of four core values that this riverwalk partnership has established. And Healthy Habitat–riparian, shoreline and in stream–is one of them!

After trying for two weeks, I haven’t been able to get onto anybody’s team–and it’s getting to be so late in the process that my chances are waning.  I feel that with the right team, this project  could be a near perfect fit with the mission of PlanGreen.  It has creating multi-modal linkages (transit, foot, bike and car), public participation, habitat restoration, cultural and natural history interpretation–all rolled into it.

Before & after photos by JD.  She says "The top photo shows the view into what was then the Southeast Federal Center in April 2004; the bottom photo, in February 2012, reflects how things have changed in eight years."  I'm no fan of turfgrass, but is this what we want our rivers to look like?

Before & after photos by JD. She says “The top photo shows the view into what was then the Southeast Federal Center in April 2004; the bottom photo, in February 2012, reflects how things have changed in eight years.” I’m no fan of turfgrass, but is this what we want our rivers to look like?

I was involved in the early stages of planning another “Riverwalk” –along the Anacostia River in Washington DC.  Jacqueline Dupree’s jdland web site provides some of the best photos of what is happening with it today.  Apparently 12 of its 20 miles is now built.  I must admit that it’s a bit painful, though not unexpected, for me to see the photos.  I feared having a trail that did little for most wildlife and little for pedestrians.  I feared a trail with too little habitat and too little shade.

I’m sure I sounded like a broken record in the early Anacostia Riverwalk planning process, but at every opportunity, I called for three things–all related:

  • Habitat restoration
  • Native trees along the length of the trail to provide shade for pedestrians
    ​ [walking outside in hot humid DC summers can be​ a pretty miserable experience without shade]
  • ​Bioretention of stormwater​ utilizing native plants

Jaqueline’s photos show that I was not highly successful. However, one of The DC government’s web pages on the Riverwalk maintains:

Key design elements throughout the trail include the following:

  • Inclusion of rain gardens and bioswales
  • Installation of shared-use paths and educational signage
  • Enhancement of trail viewsheds to bring users closer to the water’s edge
  • Minimize impacts of paving on other trail infrastructure on the natural environment.

So, maybe I got one out of three–if their rain gardens and bioswales are constructed using native plants.  With regard to their fourth design element, the only “natural environment” is in the Kenilworth Gardens portion of the trail–scheduled to be completed this spring.

I wanted–and still want–to see more ecological restoration along the rest of the trail where there is little natural environment.  I hope that the design team selected for the Willamette Falls Riverwalk will put the needs of Mother Earth over their need to make a design statement.

I hope that those involved with Willamette Falls will do so well with ecological restoration that they will inspire the people of Oregon City to rid their own trees and parks of English ivy, Himalayan blackberry, clematis, and myriad other invasive species that plague Oregon City and the Portland Metro region.  I hope they will restore healthy habitat.

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Downtown Portland 2035

Posted January 28, 2015; Updated February 3, 2012

These are my comments to Portland City Council on the West Quadrant Plan of the Central City 2035 Plan–which will in turn be part of the updated Comprehensive Plan.

The Implementation Actions and Timeline Matrix for the West End is wholly inadequate re: Environmental.  In fact, it has only ONE item in it:  Encourage the continued improvement and expansion of the Brewery Blocks’ district energy system!  We, in the West End deserve better! Here are my suggestions for a better one:

Implementation Actions: West End – Environment

  • EN1 Strategically install native vegetation and trees within public open spaces, including the South Park Blocks, Portland Art Museum, Portland Center for Performing Arts, Burnside “jug handles”, Portland Central Library, Trimet turnaround. PPR, PAM, Metro
  • EN2 Reduce the impacts to neighbors from I-405 noise and air pollution by installing green walls and ecoroofs on new/redeveloped buildings. Develop a program for existing buildings as well. BPS
  • EN3 Reduce the impacts to neighbors from I-405 noise and air pollution by installing street trees—especially on SW Columbia, SW Jefferson, SW 12th and on every other street where possible to achieve a tree canopy of at least 30% PBOT, BES, BPS
  • EN4 Work with ODOT to replant I-405 with dense NATIVE trees and shrubs and improve its vine coverage of canyon walls. ODOT, BES, PBOT
  • EN5 Connect Goose Hollow with the West End and Downtown by capping I-405. Potential locations include: W Burnside, SW Yamhill/Morrison, SW Salmon/Main and SW Jefferson/Columbia. The caps could support retail or open space. As capping occurs, improve the pedestrian environment (including more trees) on SW 13th and 14th Avenues to support cap access and development. BPS, ODOT, PBOT, Private
  • EN6 Landscape SW Salmon Street with native plants and trees to achieve stormwater management, wildlife habitat and active transportation facilities to better connect Washington Park to the South Park Blocks and the Willamette River and improve the quality of water discharged into the Willamette. PBOT, BES, BPS
  • EN7 Develop SW Jefferson Street as a “Green Main Street” with stormwater facilities. PBOT, BES, BPS
  • EN8 Explore opportunities for consolidating and/or redeveloping Burnside’s “jug handles” into public spaces that also absorb stormwater. PBOT, BPS
  • EN9 Incentivize modest redevelopment of existing surface parking lots into “Parking Forests” (parkingforest.org) that achieve stormwater management while awaiting redevelopment. One idea is to institute a land tax that might be reduced if the Parking Forest is installed. BES, Private
  • EN10 Explore opportunities for one or more community gardens. If such gardens are within building courtyards or rooftops, they should be available to West End residents who apply, not solely the building occupants. PPR

Some of the above suggestions build upon the Urban Design Implementation Actions.  I’ll explore a few of them in a little more depth below, starting with TREES!

Well-maintained, but forlorn and HOT in summer with no shade

Apartment building on SW 12th Ave. at Columbia needs trees! Well-maintained, but forlorn and HOT in summer with no shade.

Considering our need to adapt to climate change, the West Quad Plan should call for a far larger tree canopy–30% in the West End.  And it should show more specifics about where those trees need to go, e.g.,  SW Jefferson and Columbia west of the South Park Blocks where there are a number of older apartment buildings that currently have no shade and on SW 12th Ave. too. Trees here would give those low-income residents needed cooling in summer and also help protect all West End residents from I-405 emissions. The sidewalks on SW Jefferson and SW Columbia should be widened to accommodate these trees.  As the warming that we have set in motion takes hold over the next decade or two, every tree will become ever more precious.

These streets should also get bioretention facilities planted with a diversity of native plants to turn them into Green Streets.  I support an early idea from BPS to make SW 12th Avenue a Greenway St. and to make SW Jefferson a Green Main Street—with priority given to nature, pedestrians and bikes.

Tiny alien spruce sapling to replace 40 yr. old tree. We need a forest of NATIVE conifers instead!

Tiny alien spruce seedling to replace 40 yr. old tree.  Tell ODOT this doesn’t meet our new Tree Code!  We need a forest of NATIVE conifers along I-405 instead!

The plan should develop a program to help owners of all buildings on SW 13th and 14th Avenues install green walls to mitigate freeway emissions for their own residents and employees as well as the surrounding community.  If research here shows its effectiveness, such installation should become mandatory. See Green Walls Could Cut Street-Canyon Air Pollution.

The Plan should call for the City to work with ODOT to improve the tree and vine coverage of I-405 and adjoining streets. (Several trees have fallen in 2014.)   I-205 where a native forest is being planted could be looked at as a model.  Ultimately, the Plan should set a timeline for capping I-405 in the not too distant future.

Make at least one east-west running street a connectivity corridor for wildlife from Washington Park to the Willamette River. I have suggested SW Salmon for this street because I believe it to be the most direct route. I regularly walk it from downtown to Washington Park and bike it through downtown to Tom McCall Park on the river. I believe I was successful in getting this idea into the Plan, but I want to repeat this recommendation so that it doesn’t get removed.

Micro swales such as this one installed on the side of Portland Armory could be part of the palate for buildings in the Park Blocks.

Micro swales such as this one installed on the side of Portland Armory could be part of the palate for buildings in the Park Blocks.

The Plan should also call for re-wilding our Park Blocks in order give wildlife south-north corridor from Marquam Park to the Willamette River where the North Park Blocks join the River in the Pearl District.

The Plan should return to us the victory we had won for no parking around the inner perimeter of the Park Blocks.  The “temporary” parking there was only supposed to last as long as it took to build the Transit Mall.  The Plan should call for turning some of those reclaimed parking spaces into sponges for stormwater and habitat for wildlife.

Green walls, green roofs and rain gardens should be required for any building that occupies space in or adjacent the original Park Blocks–especially those blocks north of Director Park. This will help create a continuous corridor for wildlife along a south-north route.

WRDNotebookThe Willamette River itself needs to become more wild through our City.  The Plan needs to call for implementing the excellent technologies in the Willamette River Design NotebookIt should make them mandatory.  And we need to bring in far more native trees, shrubs and wildflowers to Tom McCall Waterfront Park as well as other portions of the river’s shoreline.

Where the shore of the River is deeply walled, the Plan should designate areas for “fish hotels” to provide resting places for migrating fish on their journey up or down the river.

This parking lot at SW 10th & Main is one of many in downtown Portland that have no trees--creating wastelands for the residences around them.

This parking lot at SW 10th & Main is one of many in downtown Portland that have no trees–creating wastelands for the residences around them.

Yes! to the suggestions from downtown residents on the Comprehensive Plan MapApp¹ to replace surface parking lots. I suggested a way to move the speculators off their cash cows by taxing them at their development potential–see Universal Tax Abatement for Downtown Portland.


Ecotrust parking lot is enclosed on two sides by trees and mostly native shrubs and wildflowers. The surface is porous pavers. Its a delightful place to hold events, Photo: Green Hammer

Meanwhile on these sites, the Plan should require a Parking Forest (Maria Cahill’s idea for getting more trees without taking parking spaces).  I would really like to see what surface parking lots that do remain in the future take a page from Ecotrust and manage ALL stormwater onsite.  They should also be fun places to hold events. Ruth Ann Barrett has a video that could be used to popularize these strategies: Spongy Parking Lots,

Some MapApp commentators before me call for the Plan to stimulate more housing. To their voices, I would add more FAMILY housing. To bring in more families, downtown needs more reasonably priced apartments and condos and some of them need to be three bedroom–with maybe a daycare center or school on the ground floor. Cargo bike parking should also be part of these new family-friendly buildings—along with space to lock bike trailers—and okay, I’ll concede a few station wagons. . .

We DON’T need more point towers to attract wealthy investors who will only live here part time—if at all. I have long promoted density–but only along with great urban design and ecosystem services–leaving room for nature to help us out. I have come to believe that lower height limits–say 150-160′ in the West End–are necessary in order to mitigate the wind tunnel effect of tall buildings and their impacts on solar access–and to make our neighborhood more appealing to families.

¹Portlanders commenting on the update to our Comprehensive Plan are asked to put comments directly on MapApp. I hope to add some of these there too–although it looks like those of us in the Central City may be excluded.

Universal Tax Abatement for Downtown Portland

Testimony given May 19, 2014  to Strategic Advisory Committee on the West Quadrant Plan

Neighbors in the West End portion of downtown Portland are tired of walking by block-long stretches of surface parking lots while some of our historic buildings are razed for redevelopment. One solution to this problem that the City of Portland should seriously consider is taxing land at a higher rate than buildings.

Taxing land and buildings at the same rate per square foot means that as long as you don’t put any buildings on your land, your tax bill is going to remain relatively low. If you’re a speculator, this means that you only need a modest amount of revenue (say, a few bucks a day from people driving into the city for work or to go shopping) in order to sit on that land indefinitely.  Or you might hold out until someone comes along offering your “pie-in-the-sky” price.  Either way, the effect is to keep the land out of the hands of many of those with genuine interest in putting it to productive use.

By taxing land at or near its development potential, however, owners of land being used at less than maximum productivity would be paying a disproportionate amount in taxes in order to keep it that way.

Aside from the obvious goal of raising money to pay for public services, we levy taxes

  • to discourage a particular behavior in favor of another (taxes on cigarettes and alcohol discourage consumption and thus promote lower health care costs), or
  • because a given resource is scarce while demand for it is high (i.e., the gasoline tax).

But if the city is trying to encourage development—and to attract the 70,000 more downtown residents it seeks by 2030—it hardly makes sense to place the greater tax on development behavior.

A Good Illustration: The block between SW 11th & 12th and SW Taylor and Yamhill that the

Parking Lot at Rear of Medical Dental Building pays 5x less taxes/sf than the building.

Parking Lot at Rear of Medical Dental Building pays 5x less taxes/sf than the building.

Medical Dental Building at 833 SW 11th Avenue (built 1928) sits on provides a good illustration. It is a block with a 10 story commercial building, a 2 story parking garage and a surface parking lot.

When you look closely at the property tax bill for each, it becomes clear that the conventional property tax deters development and risk-taking.

  • The surface parking lot spans 20,000 sf, and its owner pays $1.33 per-square-foot of land in annual property taxes to the city.
  • The 1928 parking garage on the same block spans roughly half the area (10,000 sf), and despite the lot’s structural improvements, pays only a bit more than the surface lot in property tax —$1.37 per-square-foot of land.
  • The Medical Dental Building (which occupies 10,000 sf of the block), however, pays $6.13 per-square-foot of land—a rate almost 5 times higher than the surface parking lot.
12 West pays 42-45x more than the parking lot diagonal from it.

12 West pays 42-45x more than the parking lot diagonal from it.

An illustration that takes into account newer construction is the corner of SW 12th & Washington where 1227 SW Washington, aka 12 West (2009), is assessed $59.90 per sf of land compared to the surface parking lot diagonally across from it that is assessed only $1.42 per sf of land occupied[i]. 12 West has a tax liability that is 42x that of the surface lot.

Parking Lot Diagonal to 12West pays 42-45x less than 12West

Parking Lot Diagonal to 12West pays 42-45x less than 12West








This is completely backwards. From the city’s perspective, the Medical Dental building and 12 West are the best and most preferable uses of land in their respective locations, while the surface lot is the least. And yet, looking at the tax figures one would think exactly the opposite. By simply taxing land at a higher rate than improvements, owners would be motivated to maximize the productivity of land. Parking lots would still exist of course, but they would be condensed into above- or underground garages rather than surface parking lots. In this way, by removing the penalty for development, two-rate taxation is actually a form of economic stimulus.

But two-rate taxation is about more than encouraging dense urban development and reducing sprawl. As Rick and Walt Rybeck note in Break the Boom and Bust Cycle http://bit.ly/R1CPVm, two-rate taxation also addresses the root cause of the boom-and-bust cycle of the real estate market:

Higher land taxes discourage land speculation by making it less profitable. Prior to the Great Depression, there was a nationwide real estate boom and bust. Not surprisingly, land values in major U.S. cities declined drastically. Between 1930 and 1940, land values declined in New York, 21 percent; Milwaukee, 25 percent; Cincinnati, 26 percent; New Orleans, 27 percent; Cleveland, 46 percent; Los Angeles, 50 percent, and Detroit, 58 percent. But Pittsburgh adopted a two-rate property tax in 1914. As evidence that this reform reduces speculation, Pittsburgh’s decline in total land values was only 11 percent between 1930 and 1940.

After increasing the tax differential between land and building taxes in the late 1970s (land was taxed at a rate 5.77 times higher than buildings), Pittsburgh also saw significantly increased development activity at a time when most cities its size were experiencing declines.

There are obstacles to implementation. Current law requires state enabling legislation for the two-tier land tax that I am suggesting, but there are indications that Gov. Kitzhaber would favor that.

Appendix – from Portland Maps

833 SW 11th Ave. – Medical Building

$61,291.51 taxes on 78,148 square feet on 10,000 sf of land or $6.13 sf of land

Market Value $4,976,640.00
Assessed Value $2,542,330.00

837 SW 11th Ave. – structured parking lot

$13,751.20 taxes on 20,000 sf on 10,000 sf of land or $1.38 sf of land

Market Value $1,251,810.00
Assessed Value $570,390.00

804 SW 12th Ave – City Center Parking on SW 12th between SW Yamhill & Taylor

$26,664.86 taxes on 20,000 sf or $1.33 sf of land

[i] I was not able to easily find the taxes paid on the 3 parcels that make up this corner where a City Center Parking lot operates because Portland Maps just said “No address is avaialble.” So I used the tax figure for the grassy lot next to it at SW 11th & Washington which is $1.42 per sf. This figure is higher than that for the City Center Parking lot at SW 12th & Yamhill which is $1.33 per sf. If $1.33 per sf is used, then 12West is assessed 45 times more per sf than the parking lot.

I have been a friend of Rick Rybeck (cited above) and admired his work for a long time.  But, I want to acknowledge that I borrowed the approach of looking at individual parcels and some of the language above from the Streets MN blog Tax Land, Not Buildings by Chris Keimig.  Thanks, Chris!