Category Archives: New Urbanism

Portland Region 2040 Vision–What’s Next?

April 4, 2016

“How do you think Metro should respond to the key issues and trends affecting the region’s ability to realize the vision of the 2040 Growth Concept?”  

I was asked this question recently and here’s what I said. . .

Since its inception in 1995, the 2040 Growth Concept has promoted compact, mixed-use, transit-oriented development in centers and corridors.  This has been central to shaping regional growth patterns, limiting sprawl and creating livable communities.  In fact, directing growth into centers & corridors has been the region’s primary strategy for preserving farms, forests and natural areas outside the Urban Growth Boundary.  Metro policymakers (and I myself) believe that compact development is the premier tool to address climate change, ensure equity, create jobs and protect the region’s quality of life.

I see three key trends that have only gotten stronger since 1995:

Trend 1: Walkable Urbanism Preference

Beaverton's Broadway Vision

Most cities in the region know that they must promote walkable urbanism–but sometimes their policymakers forget. This image is from Beaverton’s Civic Plan.

Boomers and Millenials both show a strong preference for “Walkable Urbanism.” Some suburban policymakers responses to Metro’s Climate Smart Communities (CSC) project shows that many of them are not aware that this first trend means that they should be focusing more of their infrastructure dollars towards “retrofitting suburbia” rather than building and widening roads. I worked hard to see that urban form/urban design was in the strategies tested in the CSC project (and indeed it tested at the top!), but many suburban policymakers would rather focus on electric vehicles and other technology for lowering tail pipe emissions. More needs to be done to alert them that their present course will potentially lead to stranded assets where there is little market left for suburban single-family homes that don’t provide the opportunity to walk to needed services and amenities.

Trend 2: Recognition That Inequality Hurts Us

There is a growing recognition of the unacceptable impacts of inequality (racial, social, financial).  Inequality impacts such issues as housing affordability, homelessness, displacement and even sprawl as people seek more affordable housing in towns outside the Metro Urban Growth Boundary.  Thanks to Bernie Sanders, financial inequality (the widening income gap) has become a chief topic of presidential debates and led to more discussion of the role that the Federal government should play. Meanwhile, Metro has attempted to address several aspects of inequality.

Equitable Housing Report

This report mentions Community Land Trust as a strategy. But it needs to become THE major strategy if we are to address housing costs for a 2040 workforce.

Regarding Metro’s Strategic Plan to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Metro’s COO Martha Bennett said “the priorities are to learn more about best practices, apply equity plans to its service-delivery areas, improve community engagement and use equity as a measure of decision-making in spending money.” Any build out of the 2040 Growth Plan will need to address gentrification, displacement and contracting opportunities in an equity strategy that focuses on communities of color.

Metro has pursued affordable housing strategies for many years—the latest effort being the Equitable Housing Initiative headed up by Councilor Sam Chase. From Metro’s web site: The Initiative’s Report discusses a variety of tools that could help, including financial assistance for residents, renter protections against evictions and nonprofit community land trusts. . .

I agree that Metro should utilize the Community Land Trust model, but not just for the involuntarily low-income. I would like to see governments in the region, including Metro, promoting the CLT for ALL OF US.  The original impetus behind the CLT movement was to create a new institution to keep housing permanently affordable.  The first people I ever met living in a CLT were NOT low-income, rather middle-income people who saw it as a better way. Probably the local government that best understood its potential was Burlington, VT under then-mayor Bernie Sanders.  The City of Burlington under Sanders helped to support the formation of the Burlington Community Land Trust.  It’s now the Champlain Housing Trust, the largest CLT in the US and a model for local governments looking for systemic solutions.

Champlain Housing Trust Image

Champlain Housing Trust is the largest Community Land Trust in the nation. It enables housing to be kept permanently affordable by holding title to the land under both multifamily and single family homes–both rented and owned. Image from CHT 2014 Annual Report: http://www.getahome.org/learn-more/publications.

I believe the CLT is the best tool for transforming our housing system.  By taking the land under housing off the private, commodity, speculative market, it helps to change the concept of housing from a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit. Instead it encourages us to see it as a social good that everyone needs and deserves.

“By looking at housing as a fundamental human right rather than a market good that goes to the highest bidder, and with shrewd political organizing in a hostile environment, housing advocates in Burlington have created a sustainable model for affordable housing that deserves to be emulated across the country” says Daniel Fireside in Burlington Busts the Affordable Housing Debate.

The Portland region has a Community Land Trust, Proud Ground (formerly Portland Community Land Trust and Clackamas Community Land Trust). Personally, I feel that it is far too focused on home ownership rather than a mix of ownership and rental. Nonetheless, Metro should explore developing a relationship with it similar to that of Burlington and CHT.

Woolsey Corner in the New Columbia area of Portland was developed as a Community Land Trust by Proud Ground utilizing Orange Splott as its builder. Photo courtesy of Orange Splott.

Woolsey Corner in the New Columbia community of Portland was developed as a Community Land Trust by Proud Ground utilizing Orange Splott as its developer. Photo courtesy of Orange Splott.

For the shorter term, it should work with innovative housing developer Orange Splott, LLC and its network of other small  incremental developers in promoting more alternatives to conventional home ownership. Let me repeat, these alternatives should be marketed not just to “the poor” but to ALL OF US!  For Metro, this work could come under the banner of the Equitable Housing Initiative, but it needs to be larger than “affordable housing.” Rather it needs to focus on housing affordability involving ALL income levels.  In the long run, hopefully before 2040, such efforts by Metro will help to change the concept of housing from a commodity to a social good.

Trend 3: Need for Excellent Urban Design

Residents of existing neighborhoods will be far more supportive of new development when it includes excellent urban design encompassing:

  • appropriately scaled buildings
  • streets designed for walking, biking, pushing baby strollers. . .and even cars
  • neighborhoods with diverse uses
  • people of diverse incomes, class and ethnicity
  • sufficient parks and natural areas, protected streams, wetlands, and steep slopes
  • infrastructure for arts and culture

Metro might look into working with the Regional Arts and Culture Council to produce a toolkit to encourage every community in the region to integrate arts and culture. Transportation for America has produced a Creative Placemaking Handbook that could provide a good start.

Towards a Walkable Tigard

Tigard Mayor welcomes New Urbanist Jeff Speck for two days of talks and workshops on making Tigard, a suburban community in the Portland Metro area, more walkable. Photo by PlanGreen.

Members of the Congress for the New Urbanism have a great deal of expertise in excellent urban design.  Metro should continue to develop a partnership with the Portland-based non-profit National Charrette Institute, a leading affiliate and powerful voice within CNU. As presented at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference by Council Member Craig Dirksen, the Investment Areas Approach with its Shared Investments Strategy  highlighted both the City of Tigard and the Tigard Triangle in the SW Corridor Investment Area. New Urbanists are having strong influence over Tigard’s redevelopment and this trend should be encouraged.

Metro is involved with connecting its natural area at Canemah Bluff with a riverwalk along the Willamette River.

Metro is connecting its natural area at Canemah Bluff with a riverwalk along the Willamette River. This will make Oregon City even more appealing as a place to live and work. Photo by PlanGreen.

Metro should continue its long-standing relationship with The Intertwine regarding the integration of parks and natural areas into developing centers and corridors. This coalitions of organizations have long been involved with implementation of Titles 3 and 13 of the 2040 Concept. It should consider expanding relationships with environmentally oriented organizations that represent communities of color (some of whom are in The Intertwine). As mentioned above in the inequality trend, any urban design efforts must take into account gentrification and displacement. They must also take into account inequitable air quality impacts.

What do you think about my three key trends re: implementing the 2040 Growth Concept–and my ideas on what Metro should do about them?  What are your ideas?

Lacamas Northshore Development – PlanGreen In the News

The blue is business park, gold is large lot SFH, orange shades are multifamily, pink is commercial and green is open space. A 3-lane arterial will replace the 2-lane road.

The blue is business park, gold is large lot SFH, orange shades are multifamily, pink is commercial and green is open space. A 3-lane arterial will replace the 2-lane road.

Why does a big re-zoning decision in Camas, a small town in the Columbia Gorge, matter so much?  Find out in the newspaper coverage and commentary in these three newspapers:

  • The Oregonian/OregonliveCamas approves 460-acre development near Lacamas Lake despite objections at packed public hearingSeptember 10, 2013
  • The ColumbianCamas approves a 460-acre development, September 3, 2013
  • Camas Post RecordCamas approves Lacamas Northshore development, Tuesday, September 10, 2013
PlanGreen's Mary Vogel & Carolyn Foster

PlanGreen’s Mary Vogel & Carolyn Foster testified before Camas City Council on Sept. 3, 2013.

In the Camas Post Record, I wrote:  If Camas really wants to create a “sustainable, walkable community, mixing single- and multi-family housing, businesses and commercial development with parks and bike paths,” the zoning would accommodate the kind of development shown in the Commerce Center Templates (http://www.gvmc.org/blueprint/CommerceCenters.shtml )my New Urbanist colleagues did for the Grand Valley (MI) Metropolitan Council. The Kellogg Foundation funded these templates in order to help make Michigan more competitive in attracting future industry and the young people who will work there.

The zoning that the Camas Council approved does NOT support the kind of mixed use in the templates, rather it segregates each type of use and separates the housing and commercial from the industry or business park with a major arterial. While I applaud the denser housing, I believe the developers may be building the townhouse without the town by putting such housing so far from existing services and shops. Even if this area were built out with 3000 homes, that would not be enough to support a grocery store or other essential services that people want to walk to–for their health and the health of the planet.

It seems Camas planners HAD proposed mixed-use zoning for at least part of the area, but that zoning got nixed by the Grove Field airport issue. Regardless, that would not have overcome the core problem with seeking to build the area now—LEAPFROG development.

To become truly sustainable and truly attractive to the market of the future, Camas should be reproducing its delightful grid of downtown streets in areas adjacent to downtown, rather than 3.5 miles away from shops and services. I have walked the Pacific Crest Trail through the entire state of Oregon, but I would not likely walk 3.5 miles along an arterial street to get to basic services on a regular basis.

Yes, they are planning a new shopping center/commercial area segregated from the housing along the shore of Lacamas Lake, but there will not likely be enough density to support that commercial. There is a far better way to zone for a walkable community!

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!

Vision for Dowtown Portland, Oregon – Part 3

Buildings and Codes

To see that new buildings promote good urban design, I would like to see a form-based code developed with input from all downtown residents, business and landowners who want to be involved. A  form-based code is necessary to see that we get great pedestrian-oriented urban design.

The Ladd Tower fits in its surroundings better than most new residential towers–thanks to citizen advocacy

I would personally prefer a mix of buildings–incorporating and rehabbing our historic buildings to today’s green standards.  Most new buildings should be in the 7-9 story range with little to no setback from the street, lots of large operable windows, and clad in conventional materials.  The St. Francis Apartments at 1024 SW Main are a good model.  A few more tall towers that pay attention to their context should be part of the mix.  The Ladd Tower is an example of a project that does this moderately well.  The towers should produce enough energy to run their own elevator and HVAC systems—as energy for such uses may be problematic over the long term.

All new downtown buildings should be required to contribute to distributed renewable energy by producing power for the grid.  Locally produced and distributed renewable energy is a vastly better model than the distant wind (or solar or geothermal) farms we currently rely on for “green energy.”   If you’ve ever seen the

devastation to great swaths of forest, farm and suburban land caused by the high voltage power lines that bring us that energy, you would question whether that power was truly green.  Downtown should model the standards we will need to address climate change.  I strongly support bringing the updated Green Building Policy (http://www.portlandonline.com/bps/index.cfm?c=45879&) into effect downtown NOW.  It covers both new and existing buildings.  I participated in developing it in 2007 and 2008, but it has been held back by events.

Uses to Encourage

We should build on the arrival of ShoreBank Pacific (now One Pacific Coast Bank) to our neighborhood and get them to help us encourage some of the companies in their portfolio to locate here.  Perhaps we could bring in a national office of a socially responsible investing organization such as CERES.  The existence of Oregon Community Foundation in the neighborhood, as well as ShoreBank, could increase the likelihood of socially responsible businesses and organizations locating here—if we do something to recruit them.  Giving them the opportunity to become part of a cooperative health insurance policy or to own their building cooperatively with like-minded organizations could be incentives.  Here’s ShoreBank on Green Building:

The built environment has a tremendous impact on the environment,  resources, and human health. Building sustainably or implementing more energy-efficient features in an existing building can significantly reduce the single largest contributor to our nation’s carbon footprint. . . .Our real estate lending focuses on owner-occupied buildings and commercial buildings, as well as innovative projects such as co-housing, in-fills, and rehabs. We also specialize in brownfield clean ups. ShoreBank Pacific does not engage in residential lending.

 

Clean Tech and Sustainable Industries (CTSI), Activewear, Software and Advanced Manufacturing are advocated by Portland’s Economic Development Strategy. perhaps there is room for a company that turns certified sustainably-grown Oregon forest products into unique furniture pieces suitable for those of us who live downtown in small apartments —a company similar to Sweetwater Farm at 14th & Everett in the Pearl.  Ideally it would have some assembly jobs suitable for those who live in the subsidized apartments nearby.

Schools and Child Care Facilities

Northwest Academy is one of two schools downtown.  It serves grades 6 – 12 with “a unique and challenging educational environment that juxtaposes the arts and academics.”  It may be unique in its approach to its physical needs:

The Northwest Academy’s campus is located in the center of the City of Portland’s Cultural District at 12th and Main. The Main Street building boasts a small theater, multimedia lab, music recording lab, photography lab, and classrooms. Additional classrooms are located just across the street in a newly renovated facility. Science and visual arts reside in the south campus classroom building a few short steps from the main building. Dance and other activity classes are held at our Studio Building conveniently located a few blocks away. The Central Branch of the Multnomah County Library, a 24,000 square-foot library located just 3 blocks away, serves as the school’s resource center. In addition, the neighborhood includes the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon History Center, Portland State University and Portland  Center for the Performing Arts, all of which are involved in enhancing the school’s curriculum.

St.Mary’s Academy (Grades 8-12) is one of the few schools downtown–none of them public

St. Mary’s Academy is the other school within downtown’s borders. (There may be others I don’t know about).  A Catholic all-girls college preparatory high school, it is Oregon’s oldest continuously-operating secondary school (Grades 8 -12).

To attract families, downtown needs to retain such schools and expand their number.  It also needs an elementary school–perhaps along the lines of the one going into a new affordable family housing/mixed use project in the Pearl.  And downtown needs more affordable child care facilities–both to attract families to live here and to serve the needs of workers downtown.

Preserve and Expand Existing Uses

Like Northwest Academy, Outside In is already occupying space in multiple, mostly older buildings.  Their health clinics badly need more space—especially their acupuncture clinic—as students, patients and the clinic supervisor are forced to work in cramped conditions that are hard on students and their patients.

NW Film Center should be interviewed for its potential space needs and what it will take for it to stay in the neighborhood.  Are there other arts groups we should be nurturing or attracting?

Loaves & Fishes Center, mentioned above, is a nonprofit, secular organization that provides hot, nutritious meals to seniors 60 years and older.  It’s downtown center serves as the meeting site for the neighborhood association and other neighborhood activities.  It offers the neighborhood great opportunities for “civic engagement” so important to sustainability.  Through it, residents can get involved in urban agriculture, in service activities providing meals, classes and companionship to seniors.  And perhaps other opportunities as well.  They are open to suggestions. . .

Finally, we should work with existing businesses and institutions to encourage them to stay.  During the recent walk of our PDNA Land Use Committee, the owner of Thai Chili Jam restaurant at 13th and Jefferson came out and handed us cards begging us to come in or come back.  On a recent Saturday night at 9:45 PM they were empty.  The whole string of restaurants there—Chef Naoko Bento Café, Taste of Jakarta, Olé! Olé! were either empty or closed at that same hour. This does not bode well for their longevity.  Only the West Café on 12th & Jefferson had any patrons.  Perhaps SW 13th Street gets too much noise and exhaust pollution from the I-405 freeway to attract many patrons to businesses close to it.  We need to keep alive the vision of capping the freeway–even during this era of contraction.  Once that takes place, we could build more middle income housing nearby.  And that would, in turn, help businesses there.

“Buy local” needs to be promoted amongst downtown residents and businesses too.  My downtown chiropractor sent me over to Lloyd Center to a shoe repair shop for arch support inserts when they are probably available from downtown shoe repair shops as well.  Preserving existing businesses may also mean preserving the structures they currently occupy.

Workforce Housing

I’d also like to see several co-housing projects as co-housing is an excellent way to both encourage workforce housing and create a sense of community.  Co-housing projects are designed, built and owned by the members who plan to live there.  They usually have more community spaces and events than the typical multifamily building and they often utilize the latest green and self-sufficiency technologies—from renewable energy/energy efficiency to organic gardening.   Eli Spivak of Orange Splot, LLC (http://www.orangesplot.net/) is a co-housing developer who might help us attract such projects.  A relationship with him should be cultivated.  Since Spivak usually works with lower density projects than we would require downtown, we might consult with cohousing developers who have experience with denser projects such as ECO (http://www.ecohousing.net/eco.htm).  The Courtyard Housing designs that Portland held a design competition to develop could also serve to bring in more families if such housing could be kept reasonably priced.

Alternative HealthCARE

While the medical racket industry reform debate (aka healthcare reform) rages on, no attention seems to have been paid to the truly less expensive, more effective, more preventative, more holistic and most caring part of the healthcare industry–those involved in alternative treatment modalities such as Naturopathic, Homeopathic, Chiropractic and Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and other forms of energy medicine.  In downtown Portland, we are lucky to have several teaching clinics for these modalities that also offer inexpensive care: National College of Natural Medicine at 049 SW Porter St., Outside-In Clinic at 1132 SW 13th Ave and Mercy & Wisdom Clinic just outside our borders at 2 NW 3rd Ave. We also have a host of practitioner offices, several of which offer multi-modal treatment such as the Clearwater Clinic at 1201 SW 12th Ave.  Because these are in downtown office buildings, these are less visible than many of their counterparts in more suburban parts of Portland where stand-alone clinics are better able to advertise their services.  My vision sees all of these institutions given more visibility at least equal to what we already afford to the medical racket industry.  In fact, I would love to see an insurance plan–perhaps a co-op–developed around these modalities that would cover the alternative labs they use and prescribed supplements as well.

(I say all this as a small business owner whose medical racket insurance rate went from $289/mo to $522/mo over the course of 15 months and one whose only foray into the MD world resulted in three bills of at least $255 to my “insurance” company from physicians who saw me for 15 minutes or less.  The general practitioner and specialist sent me for an unnecessary CT scan that resulted in another huge bill that also cost me and my insurance company dearly.)

Lincoln High School

Lincoln High School offers one of the greatest opportunities for creating and displaying Downtown’s new paradigm shift.  It could and should go to at least four stories in height and welcome another school or two to join its campus.  There are already models in the public school system for a greatly revised and multi-functional landscape:  Glencoe is probably the best as other schools have too many non-natives in their stormwater planters.  A wildlife garden in the area of the three Black Walnuts fronting on 14th Ave could benefit the trees and be a far better use of the space than the turf grass and temp buildings that are there now.

Invasive species hinder biodiversity and ecosystem services and the Lincoln High School campus is full of them.  There are many other hotspots for them throughout the study area as well.  They need to be inventoried and a plan developed to deal with them.

Going Against The Grain

Today’s paradigm, as it was in 2009, seems to accept shrinking public sector budgets and hinder our ability to think big and envision a brighter future.  I recognize that this vision is going against that grain.  But, having just read The Nature Principle by Richard Louv has given me new hope that there are enough of us out there who still see nature as integral to our health, prosperity and our very survival.  I hope to promote these ideas in the Portland Central City 2035 Plan for the SW Quadrant and into the City’s new Comprehensive Plan.  And then I’ll work to implement them.  I hope that you will too!

Vision for Downtown Portland, Oregon – Part 2

Downtown Parks

While the streets cited above could provide the east-west connection, the South Park Blocks are the logical place for the north-south connectivity corridor as they already provide that function–to a small extent.  But they need to do better.  They need to provide better habitat and they could provide even more stormwater management than their mature canopy trees already do through re-design of the landscaped portions and connection with street stormwater.  Over time, replace all alien ornamental plants in the landscape with native plants–perhaps beginning to interplant those areas with native plants right now.  Plan to replace trees that die with native trees and plant only native trees as succession trees from now on.  This holds for  the landscape of the Central Library too.

In the entire series of visionary Halprin parks from Keller Fountain Park to Lovejoy Fountain Park to

Pettygrove Park to Chapman and Lownsdale Squares we need to start the process of converting to native species over time.  These parks tell Oregon’s story in terms of terrain.  Why not in terms of its native vegetation too?

Right away we should begin the removal of invasive plants replacing them with natives. English ivy is prevalent throughout downtown—even on LEED certified buildings (such as 2 Market Square).  If we are serious about getting rid of it in our wild areas such as Forest Park, we need to get rid of it downtown as well–so that people know that it is NOT okay in their landscape either.

Urban Agriculture

While I bemoan the loss of Park Block squares to development, at the very least enhance what has been allowed by requiring or encouraging with incentives an eco-roof on any building in the Park Block corridor. Enhance their wildlife appeal through treatment of buildings and streets at the edges of the Park Blocks too.  For example, explore adding a second use to the public parking structure edging SW10th and Yamhill by integrating a community garden into it.  Community Gardens are especially important for the occupants of all of the affordable and assisted housing in the area and may play a role in attracting more families into downtown. Topsy Turvys (or similar upside down hanging devices) of tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, eggplants, etc. could be hung in the openings of the parking structure.  Planters could grow vining plants such as peas and beans up the side of the structure.

Some preliminary design work for the 10th & Yamhill parking structure was already done by attendees at the Living Futures Conference in May 2009.  Talk to Kevin Cavanaugh (Ten Pod) and Mark Boucher-Colbert (Urban Agriculture Solutions).   This model can be repeated in other public parking structures throughout downtown as well.  Loaves & Fishes at 1032 Main St has been vegetable gardening at City Hall and the roof of the Multnomah County building and using the produce in its meals for seniors.

Vacant Land

For the next five years, the soon to-be-vacant land of the Jefferson West at SW 12th & Jefferson should become a multifunctional landscape providing some bioretention stormwater treatment with native plants and community garden plots for apartment dwellers.  More community garden opportunities should be developed in that area as well as there is a concentration of affordable housing there.  I am not aware of ANY today except for students and faculty at PSU.  Community gardening on rooftops should be explored.  To get an idea of what could be done on a rooftop, please take a look at the highly productive garden atop Noble Rot at NE12th & Burnside—a garden that provides fresh organic vegetables to the restaurant below.

Courtyards

Some courtyards of relatively new buildings are designed to infiltrate stormwater onsite.  The courtyard of the St. Francis Apartments at 11th & Main is an example.  A diversity of native plants, rather than the current alien ornamentals should be grown there, though food-growing plots might be made available to residents in areas of courtyards that get enough sun and that do not have to handle stormwater management.  PDC should encourage buildings whose courtyards are currently private to go native.  I would like to see us encourage experimenting with opening private courtyards to the public where feasible design-wise—just as The Sitka and its neighbor do in The Pearl.

Surface Parking Lots

Portions of several of our surface parking lots have become important venues for food carts, an important microenterprise in the Portland economy.  I would like to see space for these carts retained as the lots are developed to some of the higher uses suggested below such as courtyard housing and/or cohousing.  These uses, especially, could replace surface lots while potentially keeping some space for the carts.  Space for the industries targeted in the recently passed Economic Development Strategy should also play a role in developing surface lots to higher uses.  And the Portland Public Market should replace the surface lot at SW Morrison and Naito Parkway.

Energy Production and the EcoDistrict

At the same time we dig up the street for green streets, we should put in district energy* and smart grid infrastructure tying in with the Sustainability Institute/University EcoDistrict.  Portland is developing an EcoDistrict concept.  According to Sustainability Institute Director, Rob Bennett, “The objective of the program is . . . to create neighborhoods with the lowest environmental impact and highest economic and social resiliency in the United States.”  While green buildings may have energy- and water-saving measures, on-site solar or geothermal energy, treatment and reuse of wastewater or composting of waste, an EcoDistrict does the same for multiple buildings with greater economies of scale.  EcoDistricts are likely to have green buildings, many transportation choices and state-of-the-art  infrastructure, such as centralized energy production and water treatment.

According to Bennett, they also seek compatible forms of civic engagement, such as car-sharing among residents and employees, a habitat conservation plan or other ways to fulfill broader social and environmental goals.  The EcoDistricts Initiative is unique in that it not only establishes high-level performance goals, but also emphasizes governance, finance and civic engagement mechanisms.  Portland’s EcoDistricts Initiative envisions a growing network of distinct neighborhoods in that are highly energy and resource efficient; capture, manage, and reuse a majority of energy, water, and waste on site; enhance human health and wellbeing; and are home to a rich diversity of habitat, open space, and green transportation options.

Net Zero Energy Use

Seattle Steam has provided district energy to 200 buildings in downtown Seattle since 1893.

District energy systems produce thermal energy for heating, cooling and hot water at a central plant, for use in the immediately surrounding community. District Energy facilities, both renewable and non-renewable, have less carbon output because there is less energy loss due to shorter conveyance distances. District Energy systems typically consume 40% less fuel and produce 45% less air emissions than conventional energy generation. These systems can serve small developments or larger areas up to several miles; however, the energy demand must support the cost of construction and running the system. It is best utilized in dense urban areas like downtown Portland where there are energy loads sufficient to justify the infrastructure installation, as well as both day and evening energy users.

New options for renewable District Energy sources are growing, including solar, wind, biomass and micro-hydro facilities. Technology improvements in small scale plants make these rapidly developing renewable energy sources accessible to businesses and communities. Renewable sources should always be considered to achieve the goal of Net Zero Energy use.

Urban Wind Generation

The V-LIM wind generator eliminates some of the major barriers to wind energy including being able to operate below Class 3 level winds in congested urban areas.  Rogue River Wind, Ltd, its developer, will market large commercial and utility scale distributed energy projects.  A study in the UK revealed a 180% velocity gain associated with wind tumbling over rooftops.  Since the power of the wind is proportional to the cube of the velocity, this gain offers significant benefits in power production.  The V-LIM is silent, vibration-free, operates comfortablly in gale forece winds and easily manages gusting, turbulent airflow making it suitable for rooftop mounting and extensive use in urban settings.  It can be screened to protect birds.

 

New Urbanists Support The Portland Plan

Planning and Sustainability Commission

1900 SW 4th Ave.

Portland, OR 97201-5380

Attn: Portland Plan testimony                                                                       Nov. 29, 2011

I’m Mary Vogel, Advocacy & Alliances Chair of the Congress for the New Urbanism, Cascadia Chapter. We are a potential partner on the Portland Plan as we are the planners and urban designers who have long designed and created walkable neighborhoods even while our colleagues were creating suburbia. In the Portland area, we can take credit for Fairview Village, New Columbia, Orenco Station and more recently, urban infill in the Pearl, the Interstate Corridor, Gresham, Milwaukie and elsewhere in the region. Many of us tend to be small business owners, even sole proprietors, who team up amongst ourselves and with other professionals.

First we want to commend Portland Planning Director, Susan Anderson, for bringing the ethic of the Portland Plan to her role on MTAC and insisting that urban design should play a more prominent role in Metro planners scenario planning for reducing greenhouse gases. She stimulated a very positive discussion amongst planning directors throughout the region on the importance of urban design in addressing climate change—a discussion that CNU considers central to the effort. We encourage her to keep MTAC’s/Metro’s toes to the fire on this!

We support the emphasis of the Portland Plan on equity but with the recognition that that equitable investment must take a whole new direction—not just catch up with the mistakes we made in the past such as putting in curb and gutter to drain our stormwater away as quickly as possible or widening roads with the presumption that everyone drives. We especially like the focus on complete neighborhoods where residents can meet their basic needs on foot. We have been not only advocating, but designing and building that for over 20 years.

We have some of the best expertise in the nation on what it takes to make retail successful and look forward to working with neighborhoods and the city on that. We also have some of the longest history in creating truly transit-oriented development and making transit hubs great places.

We love the “Healthy and Affordable Food” actions, especially the 1000 new commBalcony Gardening at Affordable Housingunity garden plots. This may become essential far sooner than we might think. At least one member of our group has joined Depave to help neighborhoods get this going faster than the wheels of the bureaucracy might turn. I myself have run an EarthBox gardening program on the balconies of a downtown affordable housing complex for the past couple years. I have attached photos to my emailed testimony.

We look forward to working with the city to create the interconnected network of city greenways that will encourage walking and biking and weave nature into neighborhoods. I myself have long worked in creating Habitat Connections through stream restoration, invasive species removal and native plant plantings and through helping to create the Intertwine by working on two Metro Parks & Greenspaces ballot initiatives.

Through the charrette concept that CNU pioneered (and our Portland-based National Charrette Institute keeps evolving), we have excellent tools to engage neighborhoods in creating 75 miles of new Neighborhood Greenways—as well as new Civic Corridors.

New Urbanists have long been known for placemaking—especially with an emphasis on streetscapes and other public places. New Urbanists have written many of the tools that citizen advocates who care about such things use today: The Smart Growth Manual, the Smart Code template, Suburban Nation, the Sprawl Repair Manual, Light Imprint Handbook and others. So we are well-equipped to help with Civic Corridors.

As you know, the Urban Land Institute is the “think tank for the real estate industry”. Many of its experts, both national and local, have pointed out over the last year, that the wave of the future is urban, mixed-use, transit-oriented and green building. While none of the ULI experts had any answers about how, in the current economy, to actually finance and build development where it is most needed, Metro’s own Expert Advisory Group was more explicit. Their report “Achieving Sustainable, Compact Development in the Portland Metropolitan Area: New Tools and Approaches for Developing Centers and Corridors” identifies one of the greatest obstacles in centers and corridors development as the current credit market.

The EAG report has a number of recommendations pp 20 – 23 re: financing—recommendations that would require local communities to be more proactive in the financial realm and work with citizens and the private sector to create altogether new tools. Since Metro seems to have dropped the ball with the EAG, we’d like to suggest that the city pick it up to get this group’s input on this clearly missing element in the implementation section of The Portland Plan.

Transitions PDX was right in their testimony! We aren’t going back to the way things were before. We need new tools to finance the new ways of developing that the plan calls for. Before Wall Street banks got involved in development financing, money for development had long come from the local level. We need to find ways to get back to that.

Such action should be taken sooner rather than later if we are to preserve the intellectual infrastructure w/the skills to implement the Portland Plan. A number of my colleagues are abandoning the profession for other careers where they can still make a living.

Mary Vogel, CNU-A

Chair, Advocacy & Alliances CNU Cascadia

Community-Based Investment

[I’m struggling to determine alternative ways to build the kind of communities we will need to address climate change and peak oil–and to put myself and other built environment colleagues back to work.  Although I had placed some of what’s below on the Congress for the New Urbanism – Cascadia Google Group awhile back, I decided to publish it as a blog after reading “Opportunity for New Urbanists: Occupy Wall Street” in New Urban News.  To see much movement at all in the real estate development world, we must address the financial and the NUN article does that.  However, as I began to think about it, I realized that the NUN title mis-appropriates the name of that popular movement, taking us in a direction opposite what Occupiers are demanding.]

I recently attended two lectures that call into question the long-term viability of depending upon Wall Street based investments–one by Denis Hayes, President of the Bullitt Foundation, the other by Richard Heinburg, Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute.

Hayes watches the stock market on a daily basis for the Bullitt Foundation.  He says that economists he follows say it has one or two more runs. Because of the “green bubble,” even those may be in question because we have been ignoring environmental externalities that are coming due.

Heinberg had just finished a solid day of consulting with Portfolio 21, an
alternative investment fund in Portland, about moving money from Wall Street.  He is the author of “Power Down,”” The Party’s Over” and most recently, “The End of Growth.”  After showing multiple reasons why Wall Street’s day is over he asked “What does a transition to a new economy look like that doesn’t depend on a model of growth based on cheap energy, reckless consumption and financial speculation?”

The messages from these talks coincided with Occupy Wall Street’s successful campaign
to Move Your Money from the big Wall Street banks.  Although the Occupy
movement set the target date as Nov 5, in Oregon, we had news stories
on the mainstream media of people transferring their funds from big banks
to local credit unions for several weeks before the target date!

It seems that this is the time to strike with popularizing solutions for
people seeking local investments–investments that will help the built environment
industries too.  After Denis Hayes talk, I wrote him asking: *”Would you consider setting up a support arm for the Community-Development Initial Public Offering
(CD-IPO)
  concept pioneered by Market Creek Community Ventures?  Its
investors earned 10% on their money–in 2008 and 2009 when many others were
losing their shirts.”

Market Creek had foundation support from the Jacobs Center for Community Innovation.  Here’s what Jacobs has to say:

Ultimately, all assets and social enterprises in The Village at Market
Creek will be owned by the community. Community ownership is key to
long-term change, providing a way for residents to have a voice in how
resources are used and to benefit from community assets.

A resident-led Community Ownership Design Team worked to find a way to
transfer ownership of Market Creek Plaza to residents. They created a
ground-breaking new tool for building wealth in under-invested areas, the
Community-Development Initial Public Offering (CD-IPO).

It took six years of work, 40 drafts by a legal team, and three attempts
to earn approval for the CD-IPO from the California Department of
Corporations. Working hand-in-hand with residents to design the investor
criteria, the CD-IPO transfered 20% ownership in Market Creek Partners,
LLC, the company that owns Market Creek Plaza, to a preferred group of
investors called the Diamond Community Investors. Another 20% is owned by a
community-foundation, the Neighborhood Unity Foundation, which invested
$500,000 in the Plaza and uses the dividends to fund philanthropic efforts
in the community.

The offering opened on July 5, 2006 and closed on October 31, 2006, with
investments ranging from $200 to $10,000. In total, 415 investors purchased
all 50,000 available units, at $10 per unit, for a total of $500,000. 

In 2008 and 2009, the Diamond Community Investors received a full 10%
return on their investments.

There are other solutions too–like working to lift some limitations on
credit unions, working with local community development banks and
developing a Community Loan Fund.

In Portland, Springboard Innovation is pioneering a Direct Public Offering to build  Hatch, a community-oriented business incubator for social-benefit companies. Hatch aims to serve what founder, Amy Pearl calls “hybrid organizations” by providing space and services for mission-driven organizations.

I see the above as promising ideas to help put New Urbanists and and our friends back to work in addressing the most pressing environmental issue of our day in the way that we New Urbanists do it best–creating walkable neighborhoods.

Reshaping The Housing Market?

Oregon Metro expands its urban growth boundary for more suburban development

This article originally appeared on my Sustainable Industries blog site

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) Oregon[1] recently advertised a workshop to the Oregon development community:

In the wake of the financial crisis and the great recession, sweeping structural changes are reshaping the housing market.  Generation Y and the retiring Baby Boomers will be the catalysts for the next wave of housing development.  The workshop promoters asked “Are you ready to meet this demand?”

Speakers from the development community all pointed to the market demand being urban and transit-oriented; and, for the time being, rental rather than homeownership.  Some quotes:

They have less money than any generation, but are well-educated, well connected and very urban. The cities that do it best for young creatives will thrive.  John McIlwain, ULI

Gen Y has no interest in the suburbs!  They value being close to friends and don’t want to commute.  You can bet on transit-related locations.  Clyde Holland, Holland Partners

Gen Y wants smaller, greener housing.  They want to live in the city and take responsibility for their carbon footprint.  Jim Winkler, Winkler Development

A few months earlier, ULI’s Young Leaders Group had attested to this same wave in its own sessions.  And it focused all its conference field trips close to the urban core along transit corridors of Portland, Oregon.  At least one of that conference’s participants brought his suburban developer dad along as well—perhaps to learn new skills.

In April 2011, ULI Oregon sponsored two of its national leaders at talks held at Metro on such impressive topics as: Carbon, Development & Growth: Navigating New Frameworks for Real Estate, Planning, Transportation, and the Economy and Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times.  Ed McMahon and Michael Horst both indicated that the pendulum is swinging re: how we invest housing dollars.  The trend is towards walkable, mixed use neighborhoods with transit—and towards green building.

Although McMahon and Horst have strong relationships with the US Green Building Council (their sons play important leadership roles there), McMahon pointed to an EPA study that transit-oriented development may outperform green building in reducing greenhouse gases.[2]  ULI’s Growing Cooler was a mega analysis of the impact of urban form on driving.  “We cannot address greenhouse gases without addressing vehicle miles traveled,” McMahon stated emphatically.

A September 21, 2011 story in the Oregonian reported that Renaissance Homes’ president, Randy Sebastian, a builder long known for its sprawling subdivisions on the fringes of the Portland market, thinks that the days of building on the fringes is coming to an end.  He has taken to doing urban infill instead.

During 2010, Portland’s metropolitan planning organization, Metro, had also pulled together an impressive list of professionals from the development community to serve as its Expert Advisory Group on Centers and Corridors.  Not only did that group tell Metro about the same trends that ULI events have showcased, it also made recommendations that Metro should take a larger long-term role in facilitating the implementation of compact urban development, by playing an enhanced role in education, technical assistance, gap financing, infrastructure financing, and legislative advocacy. These respected local experts in the fields of institutional real estate, financing, development and planning also volunteered their time to carry their message out to communities in the region and work with them to make changes.

Despite these strong messages from the real estate industry, the Metro Council, on October 20, 2011, decided to add another 1,985 acres to the Portland region’s urban growth boundary in areas of Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tigard.  About 330 of those acres will be brought in as industrial land.  The other 1600 plus acres is to accommodate projections for needed housing.  State law requires Metro to maintain a 20-year perpetual land supply.

Bob Stacey, candidate for Metro Council, thinks that the Portland area had more than enough land within its UGB to meet its needs.  He argues that Metro planners think that developers won’t choose to build enough housing on the land already in the boundary because its harder. The planners fear that if we don’t add land for housing to the UGB, developers will build outside Metro. . .”

Stacey maintains that residents within the existing UGB will pay by seeing needed improvements in their neighborhoods deferred or cancelled while highways, schools and transit are expanded to the new areas.

While none of the three ULI national experts who have visited Portland in 2011 had any answers about how, in the current economy, to actually finance and build development where it is most needed, Metro’s own Expert Advisory Group was more explicit.  Their report “Achieving Sustainable, Compact Development in the Portland Metropolitan Area: New Tools and Approaches for Developing Centers and Corridors” identifies one of the greatest obstacles in centers and corridors development as the current credit market.  Amongst the recommendations of the report are:

  • Develop a new approach to gap financing with creative lending tools and mechanisms for public-private collaboration.
  • Create a mechanism for metropolitan infrastructure investments that supports compact mixed-use development.

Even with Metro’s own role in convening the Expert Advisory Group, it is not apparent that anyone at Metro is paying attention to the advice of these experts.  Instead, while not bowing to ALL of the pressures that suburban communities were putting upon them,[3] some believe the Metro Council is following the old paradigm for growth–expansion, rather than embracing the sweeping structural changes savvy developers are predicting.

Next it will be interesting to see where Metro’s Climate Smart Communities scenario planning takes it!  Can the Portland region reduce greenhouse gases 75% below 1990 levels by 2050 while still following 20th Century development strategies?

 


[1] ULI is the preeminent think tank for the real estate industry.  ULI Oregon is the “District Council” or chapter for Oregon.

[2] That recognition did not stop them from promoting green building, however: “Stay on top of green or eat everyone’s dust.  There will be differentiation; over the long run—adapt or get crushed.”

 

[3] Wilsonville, Forest Grove and Cornelius had proposals for expansion that were not approved.

Occupy Sprawl

Occupy Sprawl – by Galina Tachieva as posted to a Pro-Urb Listserv

Inspired by the recent popular discontent expressed so colorfully on Wall Street, I offer this proposal: Occupy Sprawl!

People are not happy with the economy, with politics, with the government. Consider the physical surrounding of the protesters: the streets and squares in lower Manhattan where there are plenty of places to gather. Good urbanism provides good spaces for assembling and protesting. Our sprawling suburbs are devoid of such places. Where can people get together to show frustration (or to celebrate)? Are people happy with their physical environment in sprawl? Why not revolt against the system of sprawl, which is responsible for some of the most serious environmental, economic, social and health problems in recent history? Sprawl has been central to our economic troubles: the mortgage meltdown, dependence on cars and oil, pollution and waste of resources to mention just a few. Sprawl has even been blamed for the death of the American dream itself.

How about taking on sprawl in the passionate way the protesters are taking on Wall Street? The metaphor of occupation can serve us well in the quest to reform sprawl because we will need a dramatic overhaul   of the physical pattern, of the law, of the financing mechanism that created, supported and encouraged sprawl for decades. The whole system must be shaken from its foundations, in the same way the occupiers demand systemic changes on Wall Street.

There is so much to occupy in sprawl! People should reclaim the empty, unproductive, wasteful spaces: over-scaled parking lots, empty big boxes, dead malls, vast front lawns, foreclosed McMansions, massive cul-de-sacs, underperforming golf courses, etc. Suburban strip corridors can become main streets and boulevards, malls can incubate much-needed town centers, deserted McMansions can house students and seniors, and parking lots can be transformed into productive community gardens.

There is a direct connection between Wall Street and the future redevelopment of sprawl. A few years ago Christopher Leinberger identified 19 real estate categories or standard product types preferred by Wall Street and showed the need to provide new alternatives that are walkable, diverse, more resilient. The redeveloped sprawl types will be the new products in the Wall Street toolbox.

Leinberger put it succinctly and unambiguously:  We can stay outside the world of Wall Street-dominated real estate finance, discuss, and (occasionally) design and build precious, expensive alternatives. Or we can work hard to develop new product types that the mainstream can understand, accept, and prosper by developing and owning.

The good news is that things are already moving. The New Urbanists have been building numerous projects redeveloping sprawl, piling up experience and success. Sprawl is under attack from many sides ≠ from the grassroots as well as from the private and the public sectors. The market is shifting towards more intelligent, human-scale urban patterns and Wall Street is paying attention. Adam Ducker of RCLCO pointed out in his CNU presentation on the economic context of sprawl repair, that walkscore is becoming a Wall Street underwriting tool.

But more voices and hands are needed for this Herculean effort. The resources are here and plentiful; just help yourself. Use the strategies from Retrofitting Suburbia, the toolkit of the Sprawl Repair Manual, the maneuvers of the Tactical Urbanists, the interventions of Incremental Sprawl Repair and Planned Densification, the common sense of the Original Green, the sustainability of Rainwater-In-Context and Light Imprint, the techniques for re-zoning sprawl of CATS and get support from the many minds of the CNU Sprawl Retrofit Initiative.

Get out and Occupy Sprawl!