Category Archives: Sustainability

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Downtown Portland 2035

Posted January 28, 2015; Updated February 3, 2012

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

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

Implementation Actions: West End – Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EcotrustParking

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

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

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

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

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

Universal Tax Abatement for Downtown Portland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix – from Portland Maps

833 SW 11th Ave. – Medical Building

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

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

837 SW 11th Ave. – structured parking lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

What Are We Willing to Sacrifice to Find New Industrial Lands?

12-3-13  Guest blog by Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director, Audubon Society of Portland; first printed in Audubon’s newsletter the Warbler, Dec. 2013

The City of Portland has reached a major decision point that will define whether it retains its reputation as a “green” city in the coming decades. Over the next year, the City will complete work on its Comprehensive Plan Update. The Comprehenisive Plan is the land use plan for the City that guides future growth and development. Among the most difficult issues to be addressed in this process is the challenge of finding new industrial lands. Under Statewide Land Use Planning Goal 9, cities are supposed to maintain a 20-year supply of industrial land.

However, Portland is a landlocked city surrounded by other cities and has run out of undeveloped industrial parcels on which to expand. Analysis conducted by the City and Metro, based in large part on information provided by self-interested industrial landowners, has determined that Portland needs approximately 670 acres of new industrial land. As a result much of the Comprehensive Plan Update process has focused on a desperate search to find these 670 acres. Proposals to meet this demand for new industrial land include developing 300 acres of irreplaceable wildlife habitat on West Hayden Island, converting significant portions of 4 golf courses in North Portland to industrial use, limiting environmental regulations on industrial lands, integrating industrial development into neighborhoods, and cleaning up brownfields and restoring them to productive use. In short, the City is considering sacrificing the health of our environment, our valuable greenspaces, and the livability of our neighborhoods in order to meet this arbitrary target. However, there are some important things to understand that are often left out of the discussion.

First, it is critical to understand that the land use system does allow the City to inform the State that it has run out of land and is unable to meet industrial land targets. State land use planning goals do not require the City to sacrifice our environment or our neighborhoods in order to meet industrial land goals. In fact Goal 9 explicitly states that industrial land objectives “should consider as a major determinant, the carrying capacity of the air, land and water resources of the planning area.” Instead, Portland should inform the State that it will meet job targets through strategies other than creation of new industrial lands.

Second, the City has over 900 acres of brownfields — contaminated industrial sites that have either limited or no productive use. In short there are more than enough brownfield sites to meet the industrial land deficit. The problem has been that owners of these sites have been reticent to invest the capital to clean them up and put them back into productive use generic cialis overnight shipping. It is absolutely critical that the City develop an aggressive strategy to hold polluters accountable for these sites through a combination of enforcement actions and incentives.

Finally, to the degree an industrial land crisis exists at all, it is a self-inflicted crisis. Although City forecasts predict a surplus of commercial and residential property, the City and industrial stakeholders have spent the last 15 years rapidly converting industrial lands to residential and commercial uses. Today the City brags about the transformation of the Pearl District and South Waterfront from “industrial wasteland” to high-end development. The Port of Portland, one of the loudest advocates for more industrial land, sold its property at Terminal One to make way for low-rise condos and it converted industrial land next to Portland International Airport for a big-box shopping center. Whether intentional or not, the strategy pursued by both industrial interests and the City over the past 15 years has been one of allowing industrial land owners to cash out by upzoning their industrial land to more profitable use and then backfilling the industrial land deficit through conversion of greenspace.

Audubon is participating in the Comprehensive Plan Update Process and will be advocating for the following strategy:

  • The City should inform the State that it has run out of adequate undeveloped land to meet industrial land forecasts and therefore will develop other strategies to meet jobs supply objectives. This does not mean that the City will never add new industrial land to the inventory, but it does mean that the City will not be held hostage to an artificial target that would necessitate destruction of natural areas, open space, and neighborhoods.
  • The City should develop an aggressive strategy to force industrial polluters to clean up brownfields. This should include a combination of enforcement actions as well as non-subsidy-based incentives.
  • The City should put in place regulatory and non- regulatory programs to increase use intensification on the existing industrial landbase, something that is already occurring in cities in Europe and Asia that have a limited land supply.
  • The City should put in place strong protections to prevent the rezoning of existing industrial lands except in extraordinary cases.
  • The City and State should take a hard look at strategies to promote real collaboration and cooperation and potentially unification of the Columbia River Ports in order to maximize efficient use of land, promote a sustainable regional Port economy, and stabilize our Port system, which is on the brink of system failure. This is something which has been in the Port of Portland’s Marine Terminals Master Plan since 1991 but which has never been seriously pursued.

We will keep you updated about opportunities to comment on the Comprehensive Plan Update during the coming year.

You can leave comments for Bob below and write him at bsallinger@audubonportland.org to get on his list re: the Comp Plan.

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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.

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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.”

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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:

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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?

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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 .

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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?

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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.

 

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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!

Portland: A New Kind of City II

In Portland: A New Kind of City I, I argued that if Portland is to achieve some of its other policies in the Watershed Health and Environment chapter of Working Draft 1, Portland Comprehensive Plan, policies such as Biodiversity and Habitat Corridors, it is important for any policy on Vegetation to stress the importance of NATIVE vegetation–in part, because native species of insects, the base of the food chain, need native plants to survive.

I want to now draw your attention to policies under the “Design With Nature” section of the Urban Design and Development chapter–one of the sections with the greatest potential to lead to transformational design and a new kind of city.

Policy 5.45 Greening the built environment. Encourage the incorporation and preservation of large healthy trees, native trees, and other vegetation in development. 5.45.a. Prioritize integrating natural elements and systems, including trees, green spaces, and vegetated stormwater management systems, into centers. 

Change Policy 5.45 and 5.45.a. to:  5.45 Encourage the preservation of existing large healthy trees and encourage the incorporation of native trees and other native vegetation into development.  5.45.a. Prioritize integrating natural elements and systems, including native trees, natural areas, and stormwater management systems utilizing native vegetation into centers.

Invasive English ivy and Himalayan blackberry growing along the Willamette River in February. Green is not always "green"!

Invasive English ivy and Himalayan blackberry growing along the Willamette River in February this content. Green is not always “green”!

My further comments on Policy 5.45: “Greening the built environment” should make clear that green is not always “green”. We have a number of trees and vegetation that actually threaten watershed health and community livability rather than benefit it.  This policy needs to be more explicit on what is green.

I realize that with global warming, plant zones are changing. That doesn’t mean that we should be welcoming more alien ornamentals from all over the world. Rather, we might monitor the robustness of our native species and possibly look to bring in more species from areas of southern Oregon or northern California. 

Policy 5.46 Commentary: (Policies in the Working Draft have commentaries on the left pages) Habitat and wildlife‐friendly design, promotes development that integrates green infrastructure, habitat‐and bird‐friendly design, and the use of appropriate, NON-INVASIVE PLANTS (emphasis mine) for pollinators. . .

Change to:  Habitat and wildlife‐friendly design, promotes development that integrates green infrastructure, habitat‐and bird‐friendly design,and the use of native plants for pollinators and other native wildlife species.

My comments on Policy 5.46 Commentary: In Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy cites numerous

Photo by Clay RuthThe larvae of native insects need native plants to survive.

Photo by Clay Ruth
The larvae of native insects need native plants to survive.

scientific studies (including his own) to show that even if some of our adult native insect species can use alien ornamental plants, their larvae cannot. Insects need NATIVE plant species to procreate the web of life. Since our native insects are the base of the food chain for birds and many other species of wildlife, they need native plants too. You need to define habitat, at least in part, as native vegetation—in both the commentary and the policies.

Policy 5.46. Habitat and wildlife-friendly design. Encourage habitat and wildlife-friendly neighborhood, site, and building design.

. . . 5.46.b. Encourage the incorporation of habitat into landscaping, sustainable stormwater facilities, and other features of the built environment.

Change 5.46.b to:  In order to provide habitat, encourage the incorporation native vegetation into landscaping, sustainable stormwater facilities, and other features of the built environment.

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Louv points out that all plants are not the same in their ability to support food webs.

I’ll rest my comments on Policy 5.46 with a quote from Richard Louv in his book The Nature Principle:

All plants are not the same.  Unfortunately, all plants are not equal in their ability to support food webs.  Food webs develop locally over thousands of generations, with each member of the web adapting to the particular traits of the other members of the web.

I also request that Portland add a definition of habitat in the Glossary that includes native vegetation. 

I’m really not a one horse planner.  I really care about so many other aspects of urban design and development. But I feel that it is so vitally important that Portland planners and designers recognize the importance of native vegetation in achieving the City’s  goals. Unfortunately, such recognition does not appear to be the case at present.  The landscape features along central Portland’s portion of the Willamette River are currently filled with alien ornamentals and its sustainable storm water facilities continue to be filled with them too. Portland has many LEED-rated buildings, but native plants are rare in their landscapes as well. And yet this Comprehensive Plan foresees far more landscape integrated into our built environment.  It is critical to get the policy right and work with landscape architectural professionals and their schools so that we’ll have people competent to implement the policy.

I’ll have more comments on other sections of Working Draft 1, but for now I want to go out and promote this exciting document and get YOU to comment too! Thanks for doing such a great job on so many fronts, Portland planners!