Hacked By Imam
October 20, 2015
For those of us on the Greater Portland Inc. Sept. 27-30 Best Management Practices tour choosing the Regent Park Revitalization, doubtless, the most animated and enthusiastic speaker we encountered on the trip was Mitchell Kosny. Kosny is Associate Director of the Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning and a former Chair of the Board of Directors at Toronto Community Housing Corporation during the ‘roll-out’ of Regent Park revitalization. Unfortunately, Dr. Kosny may not have realized two things: 1) We had spent the earlier part of the day sitting in meetings and were ready for a tour; 2) We were from the Pacific Northwest and therefore comfortable with rain. I knew Regent Park to be just a few blocks down the street from Ryerson. So, after nearly an hour sitting in Dr. Kosny’s PowerPoint lecture when he expressed doubt about doing a tour in the rain, , , I set off on my own tour.
Regent Park is being redeveloped in five phases with three of those phases currently underway. A key tenet of the revitalization is including both rent-geared-to-income and market rate units together in the same community. I could guess which was the market rate building because I was there at rush hour when a number of young people were coming home from work and others were leaving to walk their dogs.
When the Regent Park revitalization is completed over the next 10 to 15 years, 12,500 people will live in 5,115 units across 69 acres of the largest publicly funded community in Canada. The plan includes the replacement of the 2,083 existing social housing units in Regent Park with new, energy efficient, modern units and the introduction of approximately 3,000 market units for sale.
I was happy to see that Regent Park actually has a park! It’s a large park that is separate from the athletic fields that are currently under construction. There’s a separate dog park too! A community garden at one edge of the park is the front yard of many people who live in high rise housing.
The architecture of the new buildings is a departure from the red brick of social housing projects. Although there are some townhouses too, I was a bit surprised by the focus on high-rise housing, considering the bad rep that got with Cabrini Green and Pruitt Igo iin the US. However, Toronto seems to have a long history of housing its poor in high rise housing,. Another question I have about high rises has to do with resiliency. Considering the era of increasing natural disasters we are in, most high rises will fare very poorly without power for even a week or two. With Toronto’s mandatory Green Roof Bylaw and its Green Standards policy, its new high rises may be in better shape than most to weather power outages.
The revitalization also reconnects Regent Park to Toronto’s grid of streets and avenues, and includes the creation of new commercial spaces and community facilities including a bank, grocery store, aquatic center, new community center, restaurant and an arts & cultural center.
Regent Park Aquatic Center serves people from other neighborhoods as well. I spoke to a man from Leslieville neighborhood who was waiting in the park for his daughter who was using the swimming pool.
The Arts and Culture Centre known officially as Daniels Spectrum is seen as a center point of the neighborhood. (Daniels Corporation is the development company that partnered with Toronto Community Housing to build all five phases so they got naming rights to this key facility!) This 60,000 square foot facility is home to seven arts and innovation non-profit organizations. As we have seen in the U.S., the arts can offer an exciting career path to children from all income classes so I see this center as vital to the revitalization efforts. I saw lots of people coming and going during my brief observation.
Phase 3 is progressing with the development of the athletic fields and the addition of pedestrian-friendly streets connecting to other neighborhoods. Planners believed that because of its enclave-like street design, residents were cut off from the city, even though they lived a short streetcar ride from some of its most affluent neighbourhoods and greatest cultural attractions. More social and market housing is also part of phase 3– with completion estimated to be 2018 .
It bears repeating that a key tenet of the revitalization is including both subsidized and market rate units – together in the same community. Townhouse as well as high rise; rental as well as ownership opportunities are available. This sign advertises suites from the $300.000s but I also saw from the $200,000s.
Another key tenet is access to employment. Regent Park residents can get one-on-one help with job searching, local employment opportunities, career planning, education and training, and more. The Regent Park Employment Plan has an ambitious agenda.
Never one to avoid a challenge, I also spent some time exploring the older parts of Regent Park that have not yet been demolished. I’m not sure during which phase this seemingly vacant building will come down–and with the rain, there was no one around to ask. Any tenants who have to move because of construction get one year’s notice before demolition and five months’ notice before they have to move.
While Toronto’s version of the U.S. Hope VI program is impressive, like its counterpart in Portland, New Columbia, it has not solved all its problems. There had been three fatal shootings in the neighborhood in 2010 that left even Regent Park’s supporters in doubt. TCHC maintains that by incorporating crime prevention best practices into the design of the buildings and public areas and by linking tenants to jobs and training opportunities, it is improving community safety.
In his talk, Dr. Kosny spoke about the green that is not seen. One of those unseen aspects seems to be what Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail calls “the most successful “normalization” project ever launched in Regent Park”:
. . . an all-encompassing program called Pathways to Education, which mentors and coaches secondary-school kids through graduation and beyond, and guarantees them a bursary if they graduate. (A big advantage, in my view, is that Regent Park has no secondary school, so the kids have no choice but to venture outside the ’hood.) Pathways connects them with the world and shows them how to navigate it.
Toronto-based journalist, Doug Saunders, in his book, The Arrival City, points to three things that are crucial for integrating immigrants into the middle class: education, transportation and access to jobs. Time will tell if Regent Park is doing all three well. At the end of 2015, it appears to be headed in the right direction.
Oct. 17, 2015
Our discussion of “The Next Urban Crisis” at University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management was another highlight of my Greater Portland Inc. trip to Toronto Sept. 27-30, 2015. There we spoke with professor, author and CityLab co-founder Richard Florida as well as Real Estate Developer, & Architect in City blogger Brandon Donnelly. During this discussion Spacing Magazine editor Matthew Blackett also shared some of the interesting insights I reported on in my Part 1 blog.
Richard Florida expressed his frustration with the Mayor Rob Ford era which declared that the war on the car was over and that the problem was those young, pointy-headed university folks. “In Toronto, everyone still thinks they have the right to drive,” he lamented. “If there’s an urban crisis, it’s the suburbs,” he said.
Florida reminded us that: “Building urbanism is a lot more expensive than building sprawl” and “The new frontier is the old frontier in the center of the city.” He left us with three points to deal with the next urban crisis: 1) Build more housing,and make it more affordable; .2) Build more transit; 3) Provide a livable minimum wage–reduce the huge bifurcation we see now.
Brandon Donnelly discussed with us some of the crisis in keeping housing affordable during Toronto’s fast-paced growth. There’s a pressure on prices re: low rise, but high-rise has stayed stable, he said. He described an Avenues and Mid-rise Building study. “ We see it as a market to build more units for families who are priced out of single family homes,” he said.
He distinguished Towers 1.0 and Towers 2.0. Towers 1.0, many built in the suburbs, did not take as middle class housing and became largely the affordable housing of today. Towers 2.0 is basically all ownership vs. all tenants in 1.0, he said. He finds it an encouraging sign that anchor office tenants and retailers are moving into the city as well.
On our way out, we had an unexpected opportunity to hear Robert Reich, who was doing a guest lecture at the Rotman School around his book, Saving Capitalism : For the Many, Not the Few.
I was especially impressed by how many of our group stopped to listen to his talk. “My aim is to shatter the myths that keep us from taking the action we must take, and to provide a roadmap of what we must do – to rebuild our economic system and restore our democracy.” Reich was saying.
There is a “huge misunderstanding” that underlies a false political dichotomy between the so-called “free market” and government intervention. “There is no choice to be made between the free market and government. Government determines the rules of the market. The real question is what those rules are going to be and who is influencing those rules and whether the market is going to be working for the vast majority as a result, or whether it’s going to be rigged in favour of a small minority.” Reich’s book was for sale at a table outside the open-sided auditorium where he was speaking.
At Rotman we had the opportunity to hear some of the most forward-thinking leaders of the day who are dealing with questions around the environment, housing, urbanism, equity, millenials, the creative class, public involvement and the economy.
It was a great segue to our reception and “Sharing Best Practices between Portland and Toronto” session at Ryerson University Architecture School. All of the students I met at the reception were from the Ryerson School of Urban and Regional Planning rather than Architecture. Those students were looking for answers to rising housing costs, displacement, equity, brownfields, resiliency planning in an era of climate change, etc. I stayed after the session to talk with them. Several promised to look at my blogs on mycoremediation and suggested that one of their professors might be especially interested. So far, no one has followed up but I’m still hoping to hear from them.
Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, is a longtime Toronto resident, a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism (like myself), and a pedestrian advocate. She had been a principal in the Toronto planning consultancy Dialog prior to taking the job as Toronto’s top planner. She is also an inveterate user of Twitter @–discreetly putting out these tweets while she was on a panel with Portland Chief Planner, Joe Zehnder:
Portland is seeking to create *greenways* throughout neighbourhoods to address stormwater issues. Think “greened” street medians. Portland has met Kyoto carbon emission reductions, even while growing. “Your midrise is hi-rise for us.” Portland Chief Planner explains that 4 story bldings are causing consternation in his city. Wow. If only.
“I talk about Portland all of the time,” she told us. We’re growing but our air quality is getting better – as a result of our green roof policy mitigating the heat island effect. I cringed a bit to think that while Toronto passed the world’s first mandatory green roof program in 2010, Portland discontinued its Ecoroof Incentive in 2012.
In response to moderator Ann Marie’s question about green infrastructure and resiliency in the face of climate change, Keesmaat lamented that she has only three people working on green streets, a superstar team, but only three.
She did add that Toronto is a city of ravines and that there is an ongoing Ravine Strategy currently being developed. She will be holding her final Chief Planner Roundtable of 2015 (Dec. 15) on the topic of Toronto’s ravine network. I did not get the chance to ask her about the re-naturalization of the Don River, but I plan to do that at the next opportunity–maybe via Twitter!
October 15, 2015
The Toronto Best Management Practices (BMP) visit sponsored by Greater Portland, Inc.(GPI) from Sept. 27-30, 2015 was a chance to visit with some of the players who are making Canada’s largest city #2 in Fast Company’s global ranking of smart cities, and #1 in North America and “the most civil and civilized city in the world” according to National Geographic.
I had a little different trip than my 51 other colleagues because I came a little earlier and left a little later than most of them did. I also stayed in a different venue, so I had different views out my back window and front door.
Our first stop on the BMP trip was at Evergreen Brick Works, a “community environmental centre that inspires and equips visitors to live, work and play more sustainably.” It is also home to Evergreen, a national organization whose mission is “inspiring action to green cities.” Approximately 180 employees help Evergreen to promote that mission in four areas of focus: greenspace, children, food and CityWorks (urban planning). If you took Dharma Rain Zen Center ( a group redeveloping a brownfield in far northeast Portland) and combined it with Groundwork Portland, Willamette Riverkeeper, Audubon Society of Portland and Zenger Farm, then topped it off with a national organization like the Sierra Club, you might have something close in Portland.
Although very close to Toronto’s core, you feel as if you are a world away there. Evergreen staff have organized the planting of tens of thousands of native trees and plants by community volunteers. They have also worked with partners to restore a large wetland on their site and a trail through the Don Valley watershed and its ravines.
Evergreen CEO Geoff Cape, along with Planning Director Jennifer Keesmaat and several other speakers stressed that ravines help to define Toronto. “The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city’s emotional geography, and understanding Toronto requires an understanding of the ravines.” – Robert Fulford, Accidental City
On June 7, 2013, more than 60 mm of rain fell across the Toronto region, resulting in widespread water damage, flooding and road closures. According to an EBW blog post:
“The most significant flooding took place in the Don Valley, right where Evergreen calls home—shutting down the Don Valley Parkway and putting parts of the Brick Works under more than two feet of water! This is not the first time we’ve had to close the site due to excessive amounts of rain but it is certainly the largest flood we have had since moving into the Brick Works in September 2010.”
I found only one reference on the Evergreen site about the re-naturalization of the mouth of the Don River. It is described as a project of Waterfront Toronto in the History of the Lower Don Project. I am watching the CityWorks portion of Evergreen’s site for the day when they advocate taking out the Don River Parkway that so greatly confines the river (except when it doesn’t) and getting the Don River out of its concrete channel altogether.
Our next stop was to the Spacing Magazine retail store where publisher Matthew Blackett told us that he is working with Evergreen and the City of Toronto to create city planning podcasts aimed at a millennial audience. “Growing Conversations is our strategy to reach youth, newcomers, renters and those we’re not presently engaging in the official “consultations” the city planning department holds,” he said. His store sells many books about urbanism as well as locally designed products relating to urbanism –and, of course, the magazine.
Blackett, also on our agenda in the afternoon, claims that ‘most of Toronto’s growth is happening downtown–the fastest growing in NA- and that youth18-34 are a driving force behind the downtown condo boom. He said the government will give you 10% down payment interest free and forgiveable as long as you stay in the condo. The top three Issues he sees for this age group: affordable housing; equity; and the environment.
My hope is that this new generation will insist on speedier implementation of environmental restoration plans–e.g., for the mouth of the Don River–and greater awareness with regard to how all aspects of the City’s future are tied to working with nature in an era of climate change.
October 10, 2015
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.
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 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?
Recommendations to re-naturalize the mouth of the Don River have been in existence since 1991. According to a Wikipedia article on the Don: In 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. The environmental assessment is expected to be complete in 2008 and construction is scheduled to begin in 2010. 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.
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.
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.
The first phase of this due diligence work is scheduled to be completed by November of this year , 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
Posted and delivered February 4, 2015
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the West Quadrant Plan. While I commend the WQP planners for the job that they did in putting together the plan in all of its complexity, they made a significant oversight that I beg you to amend. As a resident of the West End who spends most of her waking hours thinking about and acting on adaptation to climate change, I was utterly dismayed by the lack of Implementation Actions for the West End under Environment. There was ONLY ONE! This is Portland, Oregon where we advertise to people all over the world that WE BUILD GREEN CITIES. And for the major residential area of our downtown, we have only ONE implementation action for the environment in a plan that takes us to 2035???
Below, I expand on that one and propose a dozen others have a peek at these guys. These ideas are NOT NEW! I have been involved in the WQP process since the beginning and I have been blogging on my own site, http://plangreen.net/blog (and other sites too) about how to improve Portland’s downtown since 2009. Some of the actions below build upon action items that were in the Urban Design items of the West End and surrounding neighborhoods. Even if the concepts are found there, they bear repeating under Environment.
- EN1 Encourage the continued improvement and expansion of the Brewery Blocks’ district energy system, along with other opportunities for locally produced distributed energy, e.g., solar, wind, combined heat and power, sewer heat recovery and geothermal exchange. BPS
- EN2 Address climate adaptation and 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 in the West End to achieve a tree canopy of at least 30%. PBOT, BES, BPS
- EN3 Address climate adaptation and reduce the impacts to neighbors from I-405 noise and air pollution by installing ecoroofs and green walls on new/redeveloped buildings. Develop a program for existing buildings as well. BPS
- EN4 Address climate adaptation and reduce the impacts to neighbors from I-405 noise and air pollution by working 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 Attempt to achieve an east-west wildlife corridor from Washington Park to the South Park Blocks and the Willamette River along a re-landscaped SW Salmon Street utilizing native plants and trees to also improve the quality of water discharged into the Willamette. PBOT, BES, BPS
- EN7 Strategically install native vegetation and trees within public open spaces, including the South Park Blocks and streetscapes along the “missing” Park Blocks to achieve a north-south wildlife corridor; Also at Portland Art Museum, Portland Center for Performing Arts, Burnside “jug handles,” Central Library, Trimet turnaround. PPR, BES, PBOT, PAM, Metro, Trimet
- EN8 Develop SW Jefferson Street as a “Green Main Street” with large canopy street trees, stormwater facilities, sidewalk cafes, and support for retail. PBOT, BES, BPS
- EN9 Institute a land tax on the development potential of surface parking lots. Incentivize “Parking Forests” (org) that achieve stormwater management and reduce the urban heat island effect while awaiting redevelopment by reducing such tax if the Parking Forest or other biological control of stormwater is installed. BES, Private
- EN10 Explore opportunities for one or more community gardens. Consider such opportunities at all publically-owned spaces including the roofs and wall of structured parking lots. PPR
- EN11 Require that all new and redeveloped buildings provide opportunity for food gardening. BPS, Private
- EN12 Require that all new and redeveloped buildings capture and reuse water. BPS, BES, Private
- EN13 Require that all invasive plant species be removed from West End properties, both public and private. PPR, private
The wildlife corridors that I propose should also be designed as corridors for families and children. Although the downtown Bike Gallery is my favorite bike shop, I beg you to remove its photo here on p. 84 and ADD THESE IMPLEMENTATION ACTIONS for the West End into the plan. Make this document worthy of the scrutiny of people from around the world who look to us for answers. Let us be proud to say WE BUILD GREEN CITIES—and mean it!
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!
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.
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.
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.
The 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 Notebook. It 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.
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.
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.
I’m Mary Vogel and I’m speaking on behalf of myself and my Woman Business Enterprise, PlanGreen. Thank you for this opportunity to testify on Portland’s Legislative Agenda for 2013!
As most of you know studded tires cut road life in HALF in Oregon!!! I live in downtown Portland where my major forms of transportation are walking and biking, so I am able to see and hear the villains doing it—one click, click, click, clack, clack, clack at a time.
What I am suggesting is an additional point under the Transportation agenda on p. 36. That point is:
First, deal with a major and unnecessary cause of road wear & tear in Oregon by banning studded tires.
- ODOT estimates that studded tires cause $40 million in damage to our roads each year.
- During its lifespan, the average studded tire chews up ½ to ¾ ton of asphalt
- That results in a fine dust that gets in the air, on the land and, eventually, is washed into our rivers.
- Some of that dust also lodges in our lungs where it has an inflammatory and toxic effect
- A Swedish study found that the toxic dust created by studded tires is 60 to 100% greater than the amount from regular tires
- The extra damage from studded tires greatly increases our consumption of petroleum products and hence our carbon footprint
- Modern studless snow tires are safer than studded tires in almost all driving conditions found in Oregon
- Far snowier places like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario have banned studded tires; Washington and Alaska may do so this year
- Studded tires create unsafe conditions for all drivers by creating ruts in roads
While data show that only 10% of Oregonians west of the Cascades use studded tires, I think they all commute into downtown Portland every weekday. It seems like every third car that passes me on my bike has them—raising the hair on the back of my neck with their aggressive sound. In the women over 50 age category, I may be one of the few who meet the level of “strong and fearless,” but I will admit that studded tires rattle my nerves and make me feel less safe. What they do to the pavement certainly makes the roads less safe for all cyclists.
So, not only do studded tires cost us a lot more in road maintenance, they cost us more in public health; they cost us more in carbon footprint; they cost us more in the livability of our cities. During a time of fiscal and climate crisis, to continue to allow studded tires is irresponsible!
Please ask the legislature to ban studded tires in Oregon! Add First, deal with a major and unnecessary cause of road wear & tear in Oregon by banning studded tires to your points under Modernize & Enhance Transportation Funding. Or make it a separate point under the city’s Transportation agenda. But please do this today as we are long overdue!
Thank you for your time!
PS If you have time to read more, I recommend:
- http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/studded-tires/ (including the comments)