Category Archives: Green Building

Toronto’s Regent Park Explored

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.

RegentParkLocationMap

Regent Park is directly east of Ryerson University and very close to the rest of downtown. Image courtesy of UoT student paper: http://www.torontohousing.ca/webfm_send/11574

Regent Park Twin Towers

Regent Park identical towers. One is market rate, one is subsidized. Photo by PlanGreen

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.

Regent Park Sign

Regent Park is both the name of a park and a neighborhood that is re-branding itself. The park is separate from the athletic fields, but does have a community garden at one edge and an aquatic center at another. Photo by PlanGreen

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.

Regent Park Community Garden

A community garden at one edge of Regent Park is close to much high density housing. Photo by PlanGreen

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

Regent Park Aquatic Center is a regional swim center that brings in folks from other neighborhoods too. Photo by PlanGreen

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.

Daniels Spectrum Artspace

The Arts and Culture Centre with Paint Box condominiums atop it. is the center point of the cultural regeneration of the neighborhood. This 60,000 sf facility is home to seven arts and innovation non-profit organizations. Yes, intersections are often too wide to be truly comfortable to the pedestrian in Toronto. Photo by PlanGreen

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.

RP Athletic Fields Administrative Office

The Phase 3 construction of athletic fields is underway, along with the construction of new streets. Photo by PlanGreen

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 .

RP The Bartholomew

A Daniels ad for The Bartholomew condominium community–a mix of high rise and row houses. Photo by PlanGreen

 

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.

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These are typical units in the old social housing. Photo by PlanGreen

RP - No Loitering

This “No Loitering No Trespassing No Alcoholic Beverages sign hints at old problems the community is trying to overcome.  The sign also reminded me  that Regent Park had become synonymous with poverty, crime and unemployment. Photo by PlanGreen

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.

Regent Park Is Greener

Regent Park Is Growing Greener Every Day reads this sign near the community garden. Photo by PlanGreen

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.

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.

DRZCSitePlanMap

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

 

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.

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Mycoremediation: Cleaning Soils and Water along the Willamette River!

January 10, 2014

CentralReachImageIn a recent workshop the City of Portland, Oregon sponsored for its Willamette River Central Reach Plan , planners asked for habitat enhancement  “projects that would have larger bang for the buck”. . . “projects that would have a multiplier effect in terms of watershed health.”  Mycofiltration—the use of mycorrhizal mushrooms and their mycelia to filter pollutants would rank high on both of these criteria.

Mycofiltration will reduce harmful pollutants commonly found in urban stormwater runoff, such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. It also eliminates E-coli and other bacteria from pet wastes and waterfowl.  Because adding mushroom spores to remediation sites is very inexpensive and low-impact, it has the potential to be a sustainable option well into the future.

Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Report: PNWD–4054-1

Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Report: PNWD–4054-1

In most places, stormwater runoff goes directly into streams, rivers and oceans and recycles through the watershed carrying the pollutants with it.  And that it is a big problem for salmon and wildlife survival.  Mycofiltration should be added as a treatment to enhance the activity of existing stormwater management biofiltration cells such as the rain gardens, bioswales and green streets that are plentiful in Portland. By adding Garden Giant (Stropharia rugosoannulata) mycelium to the soil mix, harmful substances that come from heavily trafficked roads such as I-5, I-84 and the motor vehicle bridges in the Central Reach: Broadway, Steel, Burnside, Morrison, Hawthorne, Markham, Ross Island can be transformed into carbohydrates and nutrients — which are actually useful to surrounding soil and plants cheap cialis overnight delivery.

Mycobag w/Pleurotus Photo via Fungi Perfecti @Paul Stamets

Mycobag w/Pleurotus -Courtesy Fungi Perfecti @Paul Stamets

By adding mycofilters to biofiltration cells installed in places where people walk their dogs such as South Waterfront, Riverplace, Waterfront Park, Eastbank Esplanade, etc., E-coli and other bacteria from pet wastes that were not properly disposed of can become a nutrient rather than a pollutant.  Having these mushrooms in the mix can actually help the native plants we are planting in streambank restoration and biofiltration cell facilities grow more robustly.  Instead of dealing with pollutants, their roots are getting more nutrients.

Paul Stamets TED Talk 2008

Paul Stamets TED Talk 2008

I was fortunate enough to meet inspirational mushroom guru, Paul Stamets (here he is giving a TED talk) when he was first starting his farm near Olympia, WA in the 1980s.  He had just wowed the Washington Department of Ecology with the use of mushrooms to clean up the E-Coli and fecal coliform problem caused by his farm animals.  In a single year he had achieved a 99% reduction in pollutants despite doubling the number of animals on the farm.

Since that time, I have gone on to found my business PlanGreen around using ecosystem services to deal with urban stormwater and other environmental problems/opportunities.  I believe, as Stamets does, that the Earth has its own immune system and that we need to learn to better work with that immune system. Although I have been excited about the efforts that Portland and other communities throughout the nation are making in biofiltration—using plants and soil to filter stormwater–I have long wondered why we were not utilizing mushrooms as well.

Fungi Perfecti Phase 1 Report

Fungi Perfecti Phase 1 Report

So, I was thrilled to see “Can Mushrooms Help Fight Stormwater Pollution?” as a link on the Oregon Environmental Council’s “Oregon Stormwater” listserve.  The story (first published on Sightline’s blog on Nov. 13, 2013 , then picked up by Public Broadcasting’s Earthfix) indicates that Fungi Perfecti is looking for partners to help further the research it did under a grant from EPA.  The study itself, Fungi Perfecti, LLC.: EPA Phase I, Mycofiltration Biotechnology Research Summary, concludes that additional research is needed to clearly define treatment design and operating parameters.

That sounds like a challenge that Portland area jurisdictions would relish. So PlanGreen is seeking to broker partnerships between Fungi Perfecti and receptive jurisdictions. Beyond treatment design and operating parameters, some of the issues to be resolved by those partnerships might be[i]:

  • Whether or not the mushrooms grown on decomposing toxic wastes are safe to eat.
  • To what degree of decomposition by mycelium of toxic soils makes the soils safe for food crops [including food for wildlife]
  • How economically practical will it be to remove mushrooms that have hyper-accumulated heavy metals. . .? Which species are best for hyper accumulating specific metals?
  • How to finance/design composting centers around population centers near pollution threats.
Subtitle: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

Subtitle: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

However, whether or not our cities, ports and other transportation agencies can qualify for the robust monitoring needed for the Fungi Perfecti research, we have enough anecdotal evidence (and PlanGreen and its partners have enough knowledge and materials) to get to the starting gate right now. As Stamets says in his book, Mycelium Running, “Now is the time to ensure the future of our planet and our species by partnering, or running, with mycelium.”


[i] These issues were borrowed from Stamets’ The Petroleum Problem, on the Fungi Perfecti website.

 

Please see May 6, 2015 post titled Mycoremediation: Mushrooms Cleaning Soils and Water in Portland for further information on this topic.

City Creek Center as Biodiversity Engine?

DSCN0940June 2013 – City Creek Center was started in 2003 by the real estate investment arm of the Latter Day Saints. The intent was to bring back Salt Lake City’s Main Street in a downtown that was losing out to the suburbs. It’s a mixed-use project that includes retail shops, office space and 435 condominiums and 110 apartments. No public subsidy was received so the project does not include “affordable housing.”

It’s also a green roof project in that its 90,000 square feet of plantings, courtyards, roof gardens and water features cover a 6000 space parking structure. What a waterproofing challenge!

City-Creek-CenterTRAX

Both sides of the first Main Street TRAX stop are bordered by the Center. Photo courtesy of UTA.

“The things the LDS Church is doing with City Creek Center are going to be a positive boost to walkability and transit in Utah” according to “Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet,” a national report of the Sierra Club.  The Center brought more residents, employees, shoppers and diners to use the light rail system called TRAX.

Opening in 2012, with final touches added in 2013, this downtown revitalization project took 10 years to complete.  With development continuing throughout the crash in real estate, it was one of the only privately-funded projects of its size in the US that continued to build over the last few years. I happened to meet the Portland-based ZGF architect who was their project manager for the residential portion this week (at an event in Portland, first week of June 2013) and she confirmed how important this project was to her firm.  It also kept 2000 others employed throughout the development cycle and now employs over 7000 people.  It had about 16 million visitors in its first year of operation.

You can read more about the economic development aspects of City Creek Center elsewhere e.g., Salt Lake Tribune.  What I’m going to look at here is what role City Creek Center plays in putting Salt Lake City on the path to becoming the engine of biodiversity that Richard Louv exhorted CNU 21 attendees to work towards in our work.

DSCN0967

Although I’m not a fan of shopping centers, the creek kept me coming back day-after-day

City Creek Center was actually in the middle of my route to and from the Grand America Hotel where CNU21 was held from May 29 to June 1, 2013. Even though I’m NOT a fan of shopping centers, once I saw the creek there, I happily sauntered through it every day of my five-day stay.  It gave me a taste of what I was missing in the nearby canyons as I made my way to The Grand America each day.  The creek stimulated for me feelings of peacefulness—and a desire to get out into the real thing.

I recognized immediately the trees native to this area: Populus tremuloides – aspen; Betulae occidentalis – water birch; and Prunus virginiana – chokecherry. They were planted along a lovely creek that bubbled through boulders of native sandstone.  Below the canopy level, there were native sedges and rushes and shrubs– and a few plants I didn’t recognize as native. Tough non-native shrubs were brought in to overcome the trampling the natives were experiencing.

DSCN0966

Developers made an extraordinary effort to re-create the iconic creek that was so critical in Salt Lake City’s founding

I appreciated the fact that the developers named this center after a natural feature that used to be there—AND that they made an extraordinary attempt to re-create that natural feature in their development. The creek flows across three city blocks, and drops 37 feet in elevation from beginning to end. Some 600 boulders were brought in from an area near Park City and 627 native trees from nurseries in Oregon and Idaho.

As it meanders along pedestrian walkways and cafes, the recreated creek features three waterfalls and a fountain with 50-foot-high jets. The creek varies in width from one foot to 28 feet and from four inches to 18 inches in depth.  Some parts of the creek were stocked with Bonneville cutthroat trout and rainbow trout and those fish are now reproducing.

A 17-foot waterfall at Regent Court cascades at 2,500 gallons per minute over 14 ton Utah sandstone boulders.  The landscape is actually comprised of 13 different water features that recirculate their potable water. According to Ross Nadeau, Landscape Architect project manager, “We looked at utilizing City Creek itself and then at the de-watering water from the site, but we couldn’t make either work because of the filtration costs.”

DSCN0970

The creek serves as a draw for shoppers, employees and residents

City Creek Center received a LEED ND rating of Silver for its multiple efforts to be sustainable.  “The heart and namesake of our development is the re-creation of City Creek, which many years ago used to run through the downtown area of Salt Lake City,” said Val Fagre, former City Creek Reserve project manager—now retired. The craftsmanship put into building the creek is extraordinary.  And I can vouch that the creek serves as a draw for shoppers, employees and residents of City Creek Center. In the two times I ate at the Food Court there, I went to extra effort to sit near the creek. The Center also seems to attract plenty of young people to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights.

Nearby, City Creek Canyon has been protected from the beginning of the city’s history (over 150 years) to protect drinking water and wildlife habitat.  According to students in a class project in General Ecology at Westminster College:

GlacierLily

Glacier lilies are found along the City Creek Canyon Nature Trail

By learning the names of the native trees and shrubs that support the wildlife in City Creek Canyon along the nature trail loop, one can see which plants may be useful in backyard landscaping. Native plants introduced into the urban landscape around houses and yards help wildlife to survive in the city and help conserve water.

Based upon the students’ observations (I didn’t get there), City Creek Canyon could qualify as an engine of biodiversity.  But could City Creek Center qualify?

citycreekpark-(2)

City Creek Preserve could help City Creek Park become a true gateway to City Creek Canyon wildlife corridor–as well as give it a role in flood protection. Right now, it’s a concrete ditch (lower right). Photo courtesy of SLC Parks.

I missed the small signs that interpret the plants and fish of City Creek Center so it was not apparent to me how it was being used to influence further biodiversity–but the signage is there.  Does the experience of being in a pleasant environment lead people to go home and attempt to mimic what they saw while shopping or dining? Perhaps the center could be more proactive and run some “naturescaping” classes and host some native plant sales by local groups.  The project I would most like to see is for City Creek Preserve to work with the City’s Department of Parks and Public Lands to restore City Creek Park, to a more natural condition making it a better gateway to City Creek Canyon.  A stream buffer and wetlands could be quite important there to prevent or alleviate flooding in the future, e.g., heavy snow melt flooded State Street in 1983. The City is already undertaking some watershed restoration projects funded by Chevron as mitigation for an oil spill.  Hopefully, it won’t take such a negative event for City Creek Preserve to offer such assistance in order to increase its role as a biodiversity engine.

The boulders came from Brown’s Canyon quarry, a 100 year-old business near Park City.    Does that quarry have a biodiversity management plan (a BMP for quarries developed by World Wildlife Fund)? If not, what role should City Creek Preserve play in suggesting they start one?  Of course, such a suggestion would carry more weight before the stone was purchased.

The developers took their project through the pilot phase of LEED ND.  But did they consider Sustainable Sites, a system focused on measuring and rewarding a project that protects, restores and regenerates ecosystem services – benefits provided by natural ecosystems such as cleaning air and water, climate regulation and human health benefits.

I believe City Creek Center would score well in the “Human Health & Well-being” category.  But I’m still concerned about all of the water and power used in this engineered ecosystem. Tell us what you think below: Does City Creek Center pass muster as a biodiversity engine for Salt Lake City?  Why or why not?

 

Park City As Biodiverstiy Engine?

Park City As Biodiverstiy Engine?

June 3, 2013  Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle (as well as six other books), was the keynote speaker at CNU 21, the 21st annual conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism, held this year in Salt Lake City, Utah. CNU 21’s theme was Living Community and Louv’s task was to weave the connection between family, nature and community.

Louv made his case on the disconnect between children and nature with some of the data and anecdotes from his books. Most importlay, the remedy he proposes is “A NEW KIND OF CITY”  “Cities can become engines of biodiversity,” he proclaimed.

What if CNU sponsored an effort to create a “homegrown national park” along the lines of what author and entomologist Doug Tallamy calls for in his book Bringing Nature Home? Louv asked. Tallamy suggests that if people would turn their backyards into native habitat, we could provide so many more ecosystem services to address the big problems of our time:BackyardHabSign

  • Climate change
  • The crash in biodiversity
  • The disconnect between children & nature

Louv exhorted us to embrace the New Nature Movement  using as an example Bill McDonough’s design  for a hospital in Spain. In the design, one side is a green wall; another side is solid solar panels done in the colors of a butterfly that is about to go extinct in that region; the third side is a vertical farm that will feed people in the hospital. It’s an example of a building that not only conserves energy, but also produces human energy – through the food grown, and the view of plants and more natural habitat. What’s more, this hospital takes the next step: regeneration. The hospital’s bottom floor will become a “butterfly factory” where anyone who walks into the hospital may see one of the threatened butterflies of the region land on them. The hospital staff will reach out to every school, place of worship, business, and home and say, “You can do this, too. We can bring this butterfly back.”  So this building is not only conserving energy and producing human energy through biophilic design, it is, in a sense, giving birth – by helping a species survive. Conservation is no longer enough! We must regenerate nature–bring it back into our cities! proclaimed Louv.

Louv didn’t take questions at the plenary.  Instead it was suggested that we could ask them at the book-signing table–where a long line quickly formed.  I was delighted to see that sales were brisk as Louv covers topics that he could only mention in his talk in much more detail in the books .

DSCN0925

Because this land is in the public realm, it is a great place to start the movement towards a “homegrown national park.”

The next day, the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City were calling to me, so I joined the tour to Park City’s historic main street. During the time set aside for lunch, three of us encountered a pleasant park on our walk up Main Street. I asked my two companions what they thought of Richard Louv’s talk the night before. The Gen X one said it had introduced her to the important concept of “Nature Deficit Disorder” in both children and adults and that she would look for opportunities to help overcome this disorder in her future work.  HOORAY!

The other, a CNU Board member, said he thought the speech was not very insightful and was lacking in specifics on which to  move forward.  He felt that the lack of visuals (no PowerPoint or anything else) was a real negative.  The speech simply lacked specific examples of what Louv was talking about. “I see what you mean,” I said, “but I can provide one here.”

To the surprise, if not disgruntlement, of my companions, I used a “nature principle” framework to assess the park. According to Louv, studies show that parks with the highest biodiversity are the parks from which people benefit the most psychologically. How did this park rank?

DSCN0928

By failing to slow, cool and filter street runoff above,-the town was losing habitat value of this creek

There was a small creek running through the park, but you could see from the large storm drain in the street above that this creek could become a danger to children and pets whenever it received street runoff–because of both pollutants and flashiness. I imagined the hard rains two days earlier creating a mini flash flood through here. By failing to slow, cool and filter street runoff–perhaps in a series of lovely native plant rain gardens–the town was losing out on the habitat value that this creek could provide to many aquatic species.

 

DSCN0927

Rather than these alien ornamentals, Utah’s colorful and hardy native species could provide habitat for native insects, the base of the food chain, as well as education about natural heritage

Rather than utilize some of Utah’s fabulous high desert lupines, lomatiums, paintbrush, asters, daisies, phlox and other plant species to celebrate its historic natural as well as cultural heritage, the same old over-utilized plant species we see in Anywhere USA plus turf grass graced the park. Native plants would also be far better habitat for the base of the food chain,native insects, as well.

So, utilizing the guidepost of biodiversity, Old Town Neighborhood Park would not rank very well. But, because this land is in the public realm, it is a great place to start the movement towards a “homegrown national park.”  With a diverse landscape of natives and educational signage and perhaps classes, I could imagine this park helping to transform those Park City yards that are now filled with dandelions, garlic mustard and other invasives into an engine for biodiversity. So Park City, let’s get started!