Category Archives: Millenials

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Toronto: Florida to the Kees with Greater Portland Inc.

Oct. 17, 2015

Richard Florida

Richard Florida, Professor; Co-founder; Sr. editor The Atlantic speaking to our Greater Portland, Inc. group.

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

Brandon Donnelly described the affordability crisis for families and a solution in mid-rise housing. Photo from The Guardian

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.

Mid-rise housing

This mid-rise housing was across from a string of parks similar to Portland’s Park Blocks and gets my vote for best place to live in Toronto. Photo by PlanGreen

Park across from mid-rise housing

This park was one of a string of parks across from the mid-rise housing above. It was centrally located on the way to the Distillery District. Photo by PlanGreen

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, former Sec. of Labor, UC Berkley Professor and prolific the Rotman School auditorium. Photo by PlanGreen

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.

Ryerson University

The Planning students who attended our reception at Ryerson University were interested in displacement, equity and resiliency issues. Photo by PlanGreen

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.

Jennifer Keesmaat

Jennifer Keesmatt was our featured evening speaker. Image courtesy of York University.

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 @jen_keesmaat–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.

Mountain Equipment Coop in downtown Toronto

Mountain Equipment Coop in downtown Toronto installed an extensive green roof of 6,500ft.2 during the construction of the building in 1998. Photo courtesy City of Toronto

“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!

Camas Council: Consider Trends Before You Decide!

Below is the Draft Testimony of Mary Vogel,CNU-A, principal of PlanGreen, regarding the Lacamas Northshore proposal that Carolyn Foster covered in her blog earlier in August.

I know that you are concerned with the city’s economy—in the long term, not just today.  I suspect that you believe that the proposed master LN Concept Plan Mapplan will help the city’s economy.  But I want you to consider some future trends before you make up your minds.

Maureen McAvey, Senior Resident Fellow for the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Washington, DC  was in Portland last year to discuss the ULI publication “What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy“.  The event notice read: A paradigm shift is unfolding over the course of this decade, driven by an extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends. Taken together, these trends will dramatically change development through 2020. My notes indicate that McAvey said:

  • More single-family homes are being occupied by renters, changing the feel and politics of suburban communities
  • Seventy-five percent of households in the Portland area do not have children under 18
  • 47 percent are non-families
  • Twenty-somethings on tight budgets prefer places to congregate with friends — in parks, bars, restaurant clusters and building common areas — and can tolerate smaller living spaces.

Arthur C. Nelson, one of the nation’s most prescient housing market researchers, says declining homeownership, tighter lending standards, a sell-off of single-family houses by the nation’s fastest growing demographic — senior citizens—and even rising household sizes due to more multigenerational living will have an impact on the market you may be trying to attract with the single family home portion of the plan.

Nelson, professor of city and regional planning at the University of Utah, reports that the US faces a massive oversupply of large-lot single family houses and an undersupply of multifamily units. By 2020, Nelson sees 1.5 to 2 million homes from seniors coming on the market, and between 2020 and 2030, there will be a national net surplus of 4 million homes that they cannot sell. And Nelson believes those are conservative figures for what has been dubbed “The Great Senior Sell-Off.”

The 2009 American Housing Survey (AHS) found that 28 percent of houses are attached, 29 percent are detached on small lots, and 43 percent are detached on large lots. Three studies — by National Association of Realtors, the Robert Charles Lesser & Co. (RCLCo),USPreferencevSupplyHouseType and Nelson — all found a nearly identical, imbalance in US housing supply and demand.  Only 24 to 25 percent of Americans would prefer to live in large-lot single-family houses (see graph “Housing preference versus supply”).

Consequently, there’s an oversupply of approximately 28 million units in what developer, professor and author Christopher Lineberger calls “the drivable suburbs.”  Attached housing and small-lot housing, on the other hand, are undersupplied — by about 12 million and 13.5 million units, respectively.

Millennial Renters Survey

Source: RCLCo Consumer Survey

This imbalance is likely to grow in the years to come, reports Nelson. The generation that is currently moving into the housing market — Millennials — is the most urban-oriented cohort since World War II.  Melina Druggall with RCLCo reported at a National Association of Home Builders conference in January 2011 that 81 percent of Gen Y renters want to live in an urban setting.  (Wall Street Journal reported that number as 88% at that time and they were quoted in numerous sources such as Better Cities & Towns and Grist).

Ninety percent of the increase in the demand for new housing will be households without children, and 47 percent will be senior citizens (the latter resulting from the rising tide of Baby Boomers who started turning 65 last year). Both of these demographic groups—the Millennials and the Boomers—lean toward multifamily and away from large-lot SFH.

Referring to a recent National Association of Realtors (NAR) finding on percentage of households that prefer to live downtown or in mixed-use city or suburban neighborhoods, Nelson says “Back in ‘70s or ‘80s, people wanted drivable suburbs. Now 70 percent want to walk to discernable destinations, from transit to grocery stores. This wasn’t the case until recently.”  Nelson believes the most popular locations will be mixed-use, walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods.

This Lacamas Northshore master plan is being portrayed as both walkable and mixed-use, but the concept plan I’ve seen so far indicates to me that it is not.  The zoning proposal shows a segregation of uses. Business parks, by their very nature, are drive-to!  The single-family and the multi-family seem quite segregated from each other and all are segregated from the shopping area.

Amazon Headquarters image

Rendering courtesy of NBBJ. Amazon Headquarters adjacent downtown Seattle, WA

As far as economic development is concerned, there is increasing evidence that the kind of high tech, light industrial firms that you hope to attract are choosing to locate near where their employees want to live.  Consider the choice of Amazon to locate adjacent to downtown Seattle and Adobe Systems to locate in downtown San Jose.

I hope you will take into account the “extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends” that ULI talks about before making your decision on this zoning change and the future development that it presages.  I agree that a master plan with changed zoning is what is now most desirable for this area–but NOT the kind of segregation of uses we see in this plan. I urge you to delay approval of a zoning change–until you can get it right!

Use Sustainability Standards to Meet Millenials’ Needs

Guest blog by Carolyn Foster, PlanGreen Intern


Image A from Google Earth. Approximate area of north shore of Lacamas Lake proposed for development to the right of the lake. Image shows a single family home development on the south shore, but the heart of Camas and most services are over 3 miles away.

Covering 460 acres, The Lacamas Northshore development proposal in Camas, Washington would be one of the largest industrial and residential developments in the Portland area today. The claim is that it will bring 5,000 new jobs and 3,000 new homes to the area. Property owners have been working with the city of Camas for seven years to generate the master plan.

The amendment to the Camas Comprehensive Plan that would make such a development possible was passed by the Camas Planning Commission on June 18, 2013.  If it passes the City Council on September 3, the land, previously zoned for Industrial use as well as agricultural use, will now be zoned for Business Park/Light Industrial, High and Medium Density Multi-Family Housing, Single Family Housing, Commercial, and Community use. In addition, the owner/developers

LN Concept Plan Map

Image B Source: City of Camas

expect to dedicate 6 acres of shoreline to public use for a hiking and biking trail.

The current state of the land can be seen in Image A. The proposed zoning changes can be seen in Image B.

Below are my feelings about this zoning change and the development it allows. I plan to testify to the Camas City council at the public hearing September 3, 2013.

I have lived in Camas ten years and am a proud graduate of Camas schools.  I am a member of what is called the Millenial generation. My generation is facing unprecedented issues due to human caused climate change including extreme temperatures, loss of species all over the world, water and food shortages, crop failure, and increased pollutants and resultant disease.

Many attribute a major cause of climate change to the way we have developed our communities in the United States to be totally dependent upon the automobile. As oil becomes increasingly scarce, it is clear that this lifestyle is not sustainable.

Thankfully, some of the best minds in the US are working on sustainability standards—not just for buildings, but for communities: LEED ND is perhaps the most often utilized example.  I would be happy enough if you used LEED ND, but, as you may know, the Pacific Northwest is the birthplace to what many consider the highest standard—the Living Building Challenge—a standard that Clark County incentivized in a pilot program in 2010.

LEED ND 09 Fig 1

Figure 1, LEED ND 2009. 25% of perimeter adjacent to previously developed parcels and at least 90 eligible intersections per square mile within 1/2 mile of boundary segment

My generation has the right to demand that you use not just the laws on the books, but also utilize sustainability standards in approving new developments—especially ones the size of Lacamas Northshore.

Measured against LEED ND, the master plan for Lacamas Northshore does not meet the very first prerequisite—Smart Location. The site is not:

  • An infill site.
  • “Adjacent to sites with adequate connectivity”
  • In a “transit corridor or route with adequate transit service”
  • A “site with nearby neighborhood assets”


Nor does the Lacamas Northshore plan meet the Living Building Challenge. The very first prerequisite of that Challenge forbids any development on greenfields. Instead, projects must be built on greyfields or brownfields. The LBC has no credits, only prerequisites, and a project must meet all of them to be judged sustainable.

While Washington’s Growth Management Act does require cities and towns to have an adequate supply of land for housing and for industry based on projected forecasts, cities can make the case that they plan to do infill and redevelopment rather than leapfrog expansion.


Image from Puget Sound Fresh CSA. These boxes of local produce are awaiting owners who have invested in the farm via shares.

What if instead of developing farmland and forest land, we took a page from Bothell, WA and developed a plan to bring most of the new housing units to downtown Camas?  What if instead, we worked with the property owners to transition their lands into Community Supported Agriculture where residents invest in their local farms in exchange for a share in the produce ?  This could build on the popularity of our Camas Farmers Market.



Adidas - GE

Adidas re-used an old hospital and created a walkable “village” that is an asset to the neighborhood. It is on transit and bike routes and only minutes from downtown Portland.

With all of this being said, I understand that these zoning changes encouraging development are most likely going to pass. Although the master plan does not satisfy the Smart Location prerequisite, I would like to encourage the City of Camas to plan for a compact and walkable community that embraces other standards of LEED ND such as reduced parking footprint, walkable street grids, and certified green buildings.

The Adidas Village in north Portland is an excellent example of how to integrate industry with housing. Not only is the Adidas facility housed in a former hospital with nearby transit stops, bike paths and sidewalks, but the village features a public park and public sports facility maintained by Adidas which provide assets to the existing community. I think it is important that whatever industry develops here in Camas brings community assets as well. Examples include sponsoring a community garden, providing career development to high school students, providing employee volunteer days, and providing space for community groups to use.

I, myself, and the company I’m interning with, PlanGreen, would be delighted to work with you to find infill and redevelopment sites in Camas that both meet the requirements of LEED ND and accommodate the projected population growth.  We’d be happy to help you integrate new job/industrial development into the fabric of the community and get away from the current model of isolated industrial campuses surrounded by acres of parking.  We’d be happy to work with you and Lacamas Northshore property owners on a new mixed-use master plan for it’s future development–development that should come AFTER land between it and the city center develops. This will move us in the direction of the walkable community that we say we want to be.  The proposed re-zoning and master plan would not.


me.15446c4Carolyn Foster is an undergraduate student who is interested in the intersection between urban planning/design and the natural world.  She is transferring from UC Berkeley to UW’s Community, Environment, and Planning program in Fall 2013.