Category Archives: Trends

Portland: A New Kind of City I

. . . As of 2008, more people now live in cities than in the countryside, worldwide. This is a huge moment in human history. This means one of two things: either human connection to nature will continue to disintegrate, or this will lead to the beginning of a new kind of city, one with new kinds of workplaces and homes that actually connect people to nature.         Richard Louv, Leaf Litter, Winter Solstice 2012

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The Portland Comp Plan Working Draft 1 released in January, 2013 begins to envision that new kind of city for this “huge moment in history.” It includes a transportation network that aspires to integrate nature into neighborhoods through civic corridors, neighborhood greenways and habitat connections. By doing that it seeks to: 1) increase people’s access to the outdoors, 2) provide corridors for wildlife movement, and 3) catch and treat stormwater.Its Watershed Health and the Environment chapter encourages the protection/enhancement of natural systems and their role in promoting public health—as you might expect from a chapter with that heading. However the emphasis on “designing with nature” in both its Design and Development chapter and its Transportation chapter is what really sets this plan apart and makes it transformational. It puts Portland ahead of the curve in creating Louv’s new kind of city!

The fact that we have such wise and forward-thinking planners and advisory groups to create such a draft plan does NOT mean that the work is over, however.  The devil is in the details!  So, I hope that you will review those details, attend a community workshop or two, and add your thoughts. Below, I’m sharing some of my own comments on the Comp Plan Working Draft 1 in hopes that you will voice your support for them as well as develop your own points.

I was excited to see the draft Comp Plan promise (p,14) “encouraging building and site designs that have native plants and more permeable surfaces and mimic nature, so that pollutants stay out of rivers and streams.” Only once in the actual policies, however, is there any mention of native vegetation. And that one citation is followed by an exception big enough to let an area that could be a haven for more native wildlife—the west side of the Willamette River from the Steel to the Ross Island Bridges—stand as is: largely bereft of native vegetation.

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It’s difficult to find native plants along the west side of the Willamette River from Steel Bridge to Ross Island Bridge

Policy 4.3 Vegetation. Protect, enhance and restore native AND OTHER BENEFICIAL (emphasis mine) vegetation in riparian corridors, wetlands, floodplains and upland areas.

Change to:

Policy 4.3 Vegetation. Protect, enhance and restore native vegetation throughout the landscape.

4.3a. Riparian Corridors, Wetlands, And Floodplains:  Protect, enhance and restore native vegetation in critical wildlife areas such as riparian corridors, wetlands, and floodplains.

4.3b. Upland Areas:  Protect and enhance native and other beneficial tree species. Restore the landscape with diverse native species including trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

My further comments on Policy 4.3: Since riparian corridors, wetlands, and floodplains are the most critical areas for wildlife they are the most important to be restored to predominantly native plants.  What we plant from here on out along our rivers, streams and wetlands should be native check over here. Remove “and other beneficial” vegetation from the policy.

Chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of Delaware, Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home argues that if alien species were providing as many ecosystem services in their new homes as they did where they evolved, they would support about the same number of insect species in both areas—but they do not. He states:

For an alien species to contribute to the ecosystem it has invaded, it must interact with the other species in that ecosystem in the same ways that the species it has displaced interacted. . . This contribution is most likely when species have evolved together over long periods of time.

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Tallamy’s slide show at Oregon Community Trees conference left community foresters committed to using native trees.

Upland areas could be separate. I would not argue against enhancing the lives of some non-invasive, non-native trees (such as our large old elms) via treatment. I’m not yet ready to maintain that all of the street trees the city plants should be native—only that many, many more of them should be. Tallamy keynoted an Oregon Community Trees conference last year where he made the same point I’m making–as well as a lasting impression on attendees involved with community trees. “When I talk about the value of biodiversity, he said, I am talking about a natural resource that is critical to our long-term persistence in North America.”

 The Comp Plan needs to stress the need to plant more NATIVE trees and plants in upland areas too.  See my next blog, Portland: A New Kind of City II  for further comments on Working Draft 1 of the Portland Comp Plan.

What’s Next Portland? Real Estate in the New Economy

A version of this blog first appeared in the Portland Business Journal shortly after the ULI What’s Next event on March 7, 2012.

The Oregon Chapter of the Urban Land Institute promoted their breakfast seminar based on ULI’s most recent publication: “What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy“: A paradigm shift is unfolding over the course of this decade, driven by an extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends. Taken together, these trends will dramatically change development through 2020

Walking over to the event at the Nines Hotel, I thought about what I hoped to learn.  ULI is a national, even international, thought leader in the real estate industry.  The advertised intent of the seminar was to examine how our region is postured to remain competitive in the 21st century.  I had more short term goals.  I wanted to know how ULI and local business leaders foresee the Portland region and the state getting out of the building slump (and consequent unemployment for planners, urban designers and other built environment professionals) we have been in since 2007.

From an examination of name tags, the audience for this event were largely lawyers, a few planners and a few commercial real estate consultants.  I didn’t see any developers that I recognized—albeit my recognition field is limited.

After a string of men from ULI’s national office in Washington, DC offering their wisdom over the past two years, it was refreshing to have a woman as keynote speaker.  Maureen McAvey started off her talk with the proposition “This is not just another real estate cycle but a fundamental change.”  She went on to make her case through a litany of demographic factors she claims are leading to new trends, e.g.:

  • Gen Y is the largest generation in American history—80 million strong and still growing and
  • The Boomer generation is living longer–“If I retired at 65 and lived to my mother’s age—98—I’d have more than 35 more years to do what?”

I had been wondering when ULI would jump on the jobs bandwagon in a big way. This was the event!  Both in her presentation and in the book, McAvey asked “Where the hell are the jobs?” (resisting her editors plea for more sedate wording).  Even lawyers are outsourcing parts of their business as never expected.  Social Security in 1945 each worker was supported by 42 workers, in 2009 just 3.

Lumina Foundation found that young people in US do not have enough education to compete.  Between now and 2018 Oregon is expected to create 59.000 jobs – but there will not be enough workers with post secondary education to fill those job needs.  America is significantly de-funding its education.

McAvey believes there are some bright spots.  Business and professional sectors and education of all types as well as health care and medical have grown phenomenally. “America is still wildly entrepreneurial and leads in venture capital” she claims.  This is partly due to the creative culture and substantial capital reserves.

The Housing Outlook she presented was similar to what I have heard for the past few years: Apartment living is on the rise. Six million new renter households may be formed between 2008 and 2015, requiring 300,000 new units annually compared with just 100,000 produced in 2010. “But can the industry deliver that amount for the rents at which people looking to rent can afford?” she asked.  Meanwhile, more single-family homes are being occupied by renters, changing the feel and politics of suburban communities.

Seventy-five percent of households in Portland do NOT have children under 18; 47% are non-families, she said. Twenty-somethings on tight budgets prefer places to congregate with friends—in parks, bar scenes, restaurant clusters, and building common areas—and can tolerate smaller living spaces, McAvey claims.

The Regional Panelists consisted of Jill Eiland, Corporate Affairs Manager, Intel Corporation; Keith Leavitt, General Manager of Business Development and Properties, Port of Portland; Sandra McDonough, President and CEO, The Portland Alliance, Wim Wiewel, President, Portland State Universtiy

McAvey went on to ask a softball question of most of the panelists—and most  responded in predictable ways, e.g., Keith Leavitt feels that we need to continue and expand efforts to export wheat and other grain to the world as well as electronics.  “There is a boom in new port developments along lower Columbia River,” he said.”

Sandra McDonough believes that we are hampered by tax policy, physical infrastructure and regulatory framework – a lot of it from the 70’s [referring to Oregon’s land use laws]. “We do not have enough sites for new industrial users,” she maintains.

Wim Wiewel feels we need to move beyond the sad state of education funding from legislatures (not only here, but across the country) and partner more with industry—and with local government.  He was excited to announce “We are working with the Mayor and the County on an Urban Renewal Area for Education.”

McAvey’s question for Jill Eiland was a little more challenging.  “Is Intel going to follow Amazon’s lead and start building highly urban campuses?”

Although I spaced out during Eiland’s answer, she later told me that “Intel has now invested more than $20 billion in Oregon since 1974.  We continue to invest and grow our manufacturing and R&D capacity here.  The Hillsboro site remains Intel’s largest and most comprehensive site anywhere in the world.”  I interpret that to mean don’t expect Intel to move into downtown Portland, or even downtown Hillsboro, anytime soon.

I heard recently that Metro Council Members were cautioned not to talk about climate change.  Governor Kitzhaber and Mayor Adams didn’t mention it in their recent State of the State/State of the City speeches at City Club either.  It seems that ULI got that memo too.

I was a bit baffled to attend an event on trends that made no mention—only guarded allusion to—the two big trend topics of the day in my world: climate change or growing income inequality!  While ULI played up this event as being about a paradigm shift, their Oregon panel members gave only predictable answers that did not reflect much awareness of that shift–none of that Oregon leadership that we witnessed in the last century.  It would seem that we are resting on our laurels rather than embracing the shift. I left with more questions than answers—but eager to read the copy of “What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy” that ULI so generously provided to attendees.

Mary Vogel is founder and principal of PlanGreen, consultants on walkable urbanism.  She is a Board Member and Advocacy & Alliances Chair of the Congress for the New Urbanism Cascadia Chapter where she helps to shape climate change policy.  She is also a member of the progressive business alliance, VOIS.