Hacked By Imam
October 15, 2015
The Toronto Best Management Practices (BMP) visit sponsored by Greater Portland, Inc.(GPI) from Sept. 27-30, 2015 was a chance to visit with some of the players who are making Canada’s largest city #2 in Fast Company’s global ranking of smart cities, and #1 in North America and “the most civil and civilized city in the world” according to National Geographic.
I had a little different trip than my 51 other colleagues because I came a little earlier and left a little later than most of them did. I also stayed in a different venue, so I had different views out my back window and front door.
Our first stop on the BMP trip was at Evergreen Brick Works, a “community environmental centre that inspires and equips visitors to live, work and play more sustainably.” It is also home to Evergreen, a national organization whose mission is “inspiring action to green cities.” Approximately 180 employees help Evergreen to promote that mission in four areas of focus: greenspace, children, food and CityWorks (urban planning). If you took Dharma Rain Zen Center ( a group redeveloping a brownfield in far northeast Portland) and combined it with Groundwork Portland, Willamette Riverkeeper, Audubon Society of Portland and Zenger Farm, then topped it off with a national organization like the Sierra Club, you might have something close in Portland.
Although very close to Toronto’s core, you feel as if you are a world away there. Evergreen staff have organized the planting of tens of thousands of native trees and plants by community volunteers. They have also worked with partners to restore a large wetland on their site and a trail through the Don Valley watershed and its ravines.
Evergreen CEO Geoff Cape, along with Planning Director Jennifer Keesmaat and several other speakers stressed that ravines help to define Toronto. “The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city’s emotional geography, and understanding Toronto requires an understanding of the ravines.” – Robert Fulford, Accidental City
On June 7, 2013, more than 60 mm of rain fell across the Toronto region, resulting in widespread water damage, flooding and road closures. According to an EBW blog post:
“The most significant flooding took place in the Don Valley, right where Evergreen calls home—shutting down the Don Valley Parkway and putting parts of the Brick Works under more than two feet of water! This is not the first time we’ve had to close the site due to excessive amounts of rain but it is certainly the largest flood we have had since moving into the Brick Works in September 2010.”
I found only one reference on the Evergreen site about the re-naturalization of the mouth of the Don River. It is described as a project of Waterfront Toronto in the History of the Lower Don Project. I am watching the CityWorks portion of Evergreen’s site for the day when they advocate taking out the Don River Parkway that so greatly confines the river (except when it doesn’t) and getting the Don River out of its concrete channel altogether.
Our next stop was to the Spacing Magazine retail store where publisher Matthew Blackett told us that he is working with Evergreen and the City of Toronto to create city planning podcasts aimed at a millennial audience. “Growing Conversations is our strategy to reach youth, newcomers, renters and those we’re not presently engaging in the official “consultations” the city planning department holds,” he said. His store sells many books about urbanism as well as locally designed products relating to urbanism –and, of course, the magazine.
Blackett, also on our agenda in the afternoon, claims that ‘most of Toronto’s growth is happening downtown–the fastest growing in NA- and that youth18-34 are a driving force behind the downtown condo boom. He said the government will give you 10% down payment interest free and forgiveable as long as you stay in the condo. The top three Issues he sees for this age group: affordable housing; equity; and the environment.
My hope is that this new generation will insist on speedier implementation of environmental restoration plans–e.g., for the mouth of the Don River–and greater awareness with regard to how all aspects of the City’s future are tied to working with nature in an era of climate change.
June 24, 2015 Testimony of Mary Vogel, PlanGreen to Portland City Council
There is a great deal to like in the Portland/MultCo Climate Action Plan 2015 and I applaud it as far as it goes. But one of the things missing is attention to URBAN DESIGN not just Urban Form. It needs to include implementation actions on evaluating existing land use policies that shape urban design for impact on climate change. That mandate could be included on p. 80, Urban Form and Transportation Chapter under either Decision-Making or Planning Scenarios Evaluation.
Here’s one example! We need to change a policy that:
Promotes private automobile use
Leads to less community interaction
Makes our sidewalks less safe and useable for pedestrians
Displaces on-street parking spaces that make pedestrians feel safer
Usurps public parking space
Makes sidewalks less useable by pedestrians
Disrupts the look and feel of the neighborhood
Displaces street trees that both protect and add comfort for the pedestrian
Displaces garden space that could be used to grow food
That is the requirement for off-street parking for every new house more than 500’ from a transit stop. Please make sure that a review of this policy and other existing policies is part of the Climate Action Plan. That will greatly strengthen the plan!
I’m adding a couple of examples that were not in my original testimony in order to show both the worst and best of Portland’s central city urban design with regard to parking.
Even Portland’s numerous graffiti artists don’t seem to find these garage doors compelling places for their art–even though the doors front a street in one of the densest and most popular neighborhoods in Portland.
Most pedestrians don’t find this wasteland a compelling place to be either. In fact, they cross the street in order to avoid them. How does such awful urban design continue to exist in one of the most popular neighborhoods in Portland?
Okay, we can keep some off-street parking. In really popular neighborhoods that folks from the suburbs flock to on evenings and weekends, residents with cars can really benefit from off-street parking. This 12 unit condo building with it’s single driveway and garage exists immediately adjacent another abomination like the one above at NW 23rd & Pettygrove in Portland. This building is an example of how off-street parking should be done–if it is done at all.
Let me know your thoughts! I will pass them on to Portland policymakers and planners.
I’m happy to announce that the Urban Greenspaces Institute will be the Fund’s fiscal sponsor. Go to https://www.urbangreenspaces.org/support-our-work and put “Gretchen Fund” in the comment box.
March 15, 2015 – Portland, Oregon
Gretchen Kafoury, one of my heroine’s and neighbors here in downtown Portland, died Friday, March 13, 2015 at the age of 72. Two weeks earlier she had testified before Portland City Council on the need to get more affordable housing into South Waterfront, part of an Urban Renewal Area that started while she was in office. I, for one, expected many more years of her deep wisdom and boundless activism.
I am proposing Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees on SW Columbia Street–starting with the building that bears her name at SW 13th Ave. and Columbia. Gretchen Kafoury Commons has no trees on the Columbia St. side. Street trees here could block for its residents the view of !-405–and maybe some of its air and noise pollution too. They could also calm the traffic on the all too wide SW Columbia Street.
I propose to set up a memorial fund controlled by the Kafoury family or their designee. That fund would work with Portland Urban Forestry and its Bureaus of Transportation and Environmental Services and Home Forward to do the necessary infrastructure work to put in the street trees.
Depending upon the amount of money the fund is able to raise, it would move eastward on SW Columbia to install street trees in front of other buildings along the street that house low-income people.
Says Jeff Speck in his book Walkable City:. . . Often the first item in the budget to be cut, street trees are key to pedestrian comfort and urban livablity in so many ways. In addition to offering shade, they reduce ambient temperatures in hot weather, absorb rainwater and tailpipe emissions, provide UV protection, and limit the effects of wind. Trees also slow cars and improve the sense of enclosure by “necking down” the street space with their canopies. Speck points to a study of street trees in Portland that found that the presence of healthy street trees likely adds $15.3 million to annual property tax revenues–a 12 to 1 payoff on what Portland spends for tree planting and maintenance.
That data makes Portland sound progressive with regard to street trees, but these photos hardly make Portland seem like the eco-city it advertizes to the world. After all, these buildings are NOT in some recently annexed part of the city that has not been brought up to standards. Rather they are in the residential part of the oldest part of our city–DOWNTOWN.
SW Columbia and SW Jefferson are part of Portland’s move towards one-way couplets that, back in the 70s, turned downtown streets into car sewers for suburban commuters to get to their jobs and back out again quickly. Everything was done for the convenience of the suburban commuter. Little thought was given to those who didn’t have the means to move out.
Now, the tide has turned and we need to narrow overly wide streets and widen too narrow sidewalks–AND PLANT TREES.. As more and more people are interested in living downtown, cranes are going up on many streets, closing all but one lane of streets that are two to three traffic lanes wide. Somehow, commuters make do. For example, drivers leaving downtown are now getting by on one lane on SW Jefferson as lanes are closed for construction between SW 11th and SW 12th Avenues (and also on SW 12th)–making me think that we could re-configure this roadway and that of its couplet street SW Columbia to accommodate wider sidewalks, street trees, green street (bioretention) facilities and a bike lane. Let’s make it happen!
While wider sidewalks with street trees on SW Columbia and Jefferson would be my ideal, I had to re-think my vision last week after talking with Andrew Haliburton, PE, at KPFF who generously donated his time to estimate costs based upon previous projects. Andrew said that to widen the sidewalk would likely cost on the order of $180,000–and that’s just for one side of the street! (Do you ever wonder where the term “Highway Robbery” came from?) So, in order to accomplish this project in the next year or so, the best option seems to be to install the trees on the current sidewalk. More recently, Cevero Gonzalez from PBOT told me that in order to widen the sidewalk, the City would have to move a water main and that would take millions. We should all be asking why, when TriMet dug up the streets to put in bus pads a couple years ago, that didn’t trigger the water main move. It seems that its only needed for wider sidewalks!!!
The Mexican Consulate at SW 12th & Jefferson seems to have added trees on SW Jefferson in 2010 when it made other improvements to its property. SW Jefferson has sidewalks of similar width as SW Columbia in the blocks in question. Already, the consulate’s trees are making a world of difference in both the pedestrian experience and the visitor/occupant experience. I expect that the money for both the sidewalk removal and street tree–about $1,000 per tree according to Andrew–will be privately raised.
Addendum April 12, 2015 – After three intense weeks of work and some nail-biting, it looks like it is, in fact, possible to plant at least one tree in front of Gretchen Kafoury Commons on the SW Columbia side within the current narrow sidewalk. First, I had to check with utility companies to assure that a tree would not interfere with their underground infrastructure. Comcast (I think) and NW Natural painted their response on the street, Century Link emailed and Portland Water Bureau called. I called Comcast specifically to verify with them as that was the utility line Portland Urban Forestry’s Rick Faber had mentioned as a potential problem. And they verified good to go!
Rick Faber had already confirmed two spots in front of New Avenues for Youth, a non-profit next door to Gretchen Kafoury Commons. I talked with Sean Suib, Executive Director there. He said he is happy to seek the cooperation of his board. And he expects to cooperate on the paperwork when the time comes.
Tomorrow I meet with Stephen Kafoury–hopefully about setting up the fund. Then it will take some folks who are really great at social media and marketing to get word out there. There certainly was an impressive turnout at the memorial service on April 4. I’m hoping to reach everyone who came–and more.
April 13, 2015 – I’m happy to announce that the Urban Greenspaces Institute will be the Fund’s fiscal sponsor. Go to https://www.urbangreenspaces.org/support-our-work and put “Gretchen Fund” in the comment box. I also hope that you will join Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees on Facebook.
June 12, 2015 – As a low-income business owner who has spent well over a month of pro bono work developing the Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees Fund with the encouragement of the Kafoury family, I was both delighted with the State of the County speech today at City Club Friday Forum and depressed that I was not able to get my effort to create this fund any attention. This would have been the perfect venue to raise the measly $3500 we need to plant trees in front of the low income housing in downtown Portland bearing Gretchen’s name. I fault myself especially. Instead of asking permission, I should have used a Gretchen strategy: Don’t bother with permission, just get up and make your announcement in the Q&A session before they can stop you! You can ask forgiveness afterward.
PLEASE CONTRIBUTE to the fund to make a green buffer against the air and noise pollution from I-405. Residents of Gretchen Kafoury Commons also need the slower traffic and more pleasant walking experience that street trees bring.
July 14, 2015 – There are many more buildings housing low-income people downtown that need street trees. I’ll post a few more, but feel free to post your own too. Dowtown is everyone’s neighborhood! Let’s make this into a tactical urbanism project and get something done.
Oregon Metro has a Request For Proposals open for a Willamette Falls Riverwalk Schematic Design that has attracted attention from design firms around North America. I must admit that I haven’t been attracted to the “riverwalk” concept as most of its purveyors ignore the need to restore any habitat.
But Willamette Falls is different. Right at the start, prospective proposers are informed of four core values that this riverwalk partnership has established. And Healthy Habitat–riparian, shoreline and in stream–is one of them!
After trying for two weeks, I haven’t been able to get onto anybody’s team–and it’s getting to be so late in the process that my chances are waning. I feel that with the right team, this project could be a near perfect fit with the mission of PlanGreen. It has creating multi-modal linkages (transit, foot, bike and car), public participation, habitat restoration, cultural and natural history interpretation–all rolled into it.
I was involved in the early stages of planning another “Riverwalk” –along the Anacostia River in Washington DC. Jacqueline Dupree’s jdland web site provides some of the best photos of what is happening with it today. Apparently 12 of its 20 miles is now built. I must admit that it’s a bit painful, though not unexpected, for me to see the photos. I feared having a trail that did little for most wildlife and little for pedestrians. I feared a trail with too little habitat and too little shade.
I’m sure I sounded like a broken record in the early Anacostia Riverwalk planning process, but at every opportunity, I called for three things–all related:
- Habitat restoration
- Native trees along the length of the trail to provide shade for pedestrians
[walking outside in hot humid DC summers can be a pretty miserable experience without shade]
- Bioretention of stormwater utilizing native plants
Jaqueline’s photos show that I was not highly successful. However, one of The DC government’s web pages on the Riverwalk maintains:
Key design elements throughout the trail include the following:
- Inclusion of rain gardens and bioswales
- Installation of shared-use paths and educational signage
- Enhancement of trail viewsheds to bring users closer to the water’s edge
- Minimize impacts of paving on other trail infrastructure on the natural environment.
So, maybe I got one out of three–if their rain gardens and bioswales are constructed using native plants. With regard to their fourth design element, the only “natural environment” is in the Kenilworth Gardens portion of the trail–scheduled to be completed this spring.
I wanted–and still want–to see more ecological restoration along the rest of the trail where there is little natural environment. I hope that the design team selected for the Willamette Falls Riverwalk will put the needs of Mother Earth over their need to make a design statement.
I hope that those involved with Willamette Falls will do so well with ecological restoration that they will inspire the people of Oregon City to rid their own trees and parks of English ivy, Himalayan blackberry, clematis, and myriad other invasive species that plague Oregon City and the Portland Metro region. I hope they will restore healthy habitat.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The 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 Notebook. It 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.
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.
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.
Nov. 12, 2013 Guest blog by Carolyn Foster, University of Washington Community Environment & Planning student and Summer 2013 PlanGreen intern
The 19th annual Rail~Volution Conference was hosted by the Puget Sound Region in Seattle, WA on October 20 thru 23, 2013. The conference featured many workshops exploring how we can build livable communities through transit. This is especially important to the Puget Sound Region because they are anticipating 1.2 million more residents by 2030. To accommodate this, the region must plan for density in urban growth centers and make smart investments in transportation.
Because PlanGreen principal, Mary Vogel, urged me to apply promptly as soon as she got notice from Rail-Volution, I was privileged to receive a scholarship to this conference. The first workshop I attended was “Rail~Volution 101” intended for first time attendees. One of the speakers was Earl Blumenauer, Congressman of Oregon’s Third District, who has notable experience with working towards livable communities. He founded Portland’s Regional Rail Summit in 1991 which eventually became the Rail~Volution conference in 1995. He spoke of the importance of citizen infrastructure in making a successful light rail system. In Portland, he funded a transportation class to allow citizens to work with the Portland transportation agencies to implement their own community projects. This is still happening! To him, strengthening this citizen infrastructure is a key to success. Learn more at portlandtransport.com.
Another speaker at the “Rail~Volution 101” workshop, G.B. Harrington, of G.B. Placemaking in Portland introduced me to the concept of Transit Oriented Development versus Transit Adjacent Development. He argued that it is not enough for development to be by transit, but it must be shaped by transit. Other speakers at this workshop included the Executive Director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, and the Mayor of Normal, Illinois. They excitedly shared projects that had been accomplished in their town to make their communities more livable. What particularly struck me was when the mayor of Normal explained how the addition of a roundabout fixed a bad traffic snarl. To me, this displays the power of incrementalsim to solve urban issues. To learn more about the project in Normal, visit normal.org
The second workshop I attended was titled “Design Matters.” The panel consisted of a planner, an architect, and a landscape architect. The planner, William Anderson, of San Diego, urged everyone involved in a project to “leave their discipline ego behind” in favor of effective collaboration and problem solving. Jeff Potter, architect from Dallas, TX, argued that “place is not designed, it is experienced.” William also argued the importance of making seamless connections to neighborhoods through transit to avoid making a community “just a place to pass through.” All panelists spoke to the important of context specific design that gives a place a sense of unique identity.
Tuesday night was the Pecha Kucha Slam, described as “cutting edge ideas presented rapid-fire.
20 slides x 20 seconds = less than 7 minutes per topic.” 12 professionals presented a wide variety of topics from developing airports to keeping your employees healthy and fit. There was also a range of presentation styles: from serious to satirical to downright silly. Terra Lingley, Transportation Planner at CH2M Hill in Portland presented about Portland’s Streetcar Mobile Musicfest where local bands perform on the streetcars for free (except you still have to pay the streetcar fare). This was a big hit with the crowd!
I was connected with a mentor, Circe Torruellas, of the Washington DC Department of Transportation. She shared with me her experience with transit planning in our nation’s capital. She also introduced me to people she knows in Portland who were at the conference including Art Pearce, of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
At the conference, I networked, had fun, and learned many things, including some information that went over my head such as the details surrounding how to finance Transit Oriented Development. There is a wealth of information about the conference on their website: railvolution.org including a list of attendees and some webcasted sessions. My experience at the conference has made me very excited to continue down the path to be an urban planner.
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/Oregonlive: Camas approves 460-acre development near Lacamas Lake despite objections at packed public hearing, September 10, 2013
- The Columbian: Camas approves a 460-acre development, September 3, 2013
- Camas Post Record: Camas approves Lacamas Northshore development, Tuesday, September 10, 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!
Below is the Draft Testimony of Mary Vogel,CNU-A, principal of PlanGreen, regarding the Lacamas Northshore proposal that Carolyn Foster covered in her blog earlier in August.
I know that you are concerned with the city’s economy—in the long term, not just today. I suspect that you believe that the proposed master plan will help the city’s economy. But I want you to consider some future trends before you make up your minds.
Maureen McAvey, Senior Resident Fellow for the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Washington, DC was in Portland last year to discuss the ULI publication “What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy“. The event notice read: A paradigm shift is unfolding over the course of this decade, driven by an extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends. Taken together, these trends will dramatically change development through 2020. My notes indicate that McAvey said:
- More single-family homes are being occupied by renters, changing the feel and politics of suburban communities
- Seventy-five percent of households in the Portland area do not have children under 18
- 47 percent are non-families
- Twenty-somethings on tight budgets prefer places to congregate with friends — in parks, bars, restaurant clusters and building common areas — and can tolerate smaller living spaces.
Arthur C. Nelson, one of the nation’s most prescient housing market researchers, says declining homeownership, tighter lending standards, a sell-off of single-family houses by the nation’s fastest growing demographic — senior citizens—and even rising household sizes due to more multigenerational living will have an impact on the market you may be trying to attract with the single family home portion of the plan.
Nelson, professor of city and regional planning at the University of Utah, reports that the US faces a massive oversupply of large-lot single family houses and an undersupply of multifamily units. By 2020, Nelson sees 1.5 to 2 million homes from seniors coming on the market, and between 2020 and 2030, there will be a national net surplus of 4 million homes that they cannot sell. And Nelson believes those are conservative figures for what has been dubbed “The Great Senior Sell-Off.”
The 2009 American Housing Survey (AHS) found that 28 percent of houses are attached, 29 percent are detached on small lots, and 43 percent are detached on large lots. Three studies — by National Association of Realtors, the Robert Charles Lesser & Co. (RCLCo), and Nelson — all found a nearly identical, imbalance in US housing supply and demand. Only 24 to 25 percent of Americans would prefer to live in large-lot single-family houses (see graph “Housing preference versus supply”).
Consequently, there’s an oversupply of approximately 28 million units in what developer, professor and author Christopher Lineberger calls “the drivable suburbs.” Attached housing and small-lot housing, on the other hand, are undersupplied — by about 12 million and 13.5 million units, respectively.
This imbalance is likely to grow in the years to come, reports Nelson. The generation that is currently moving into the housing market — Millennials — is the most urban-oriented cohort since World War II. Melina Druggall with RCLCo reported at a National Association of Home Builders conference in January 2011 that 81 percent of Gen Y renters want to live in an urban setting. (Wall Street Journal reported that number as 88% at that time and they were quoted in numerous sources such as Better Cities & Towns and Grist).
Ninety percent of the increase in the demand for new housing will be households without children, and 47 percent will be senior citizens (the latter resulting from the rising tide of Baby Boomers who started turning 65 last year). Both of these demographic groups—the Millennials and the Boomers—lean toward multifamily and away from large-lot SFH.
Referring to a recent National Association of Realtors (NAR) finding on percentage of households that prefer to live downtown or in mixed-use city or suburban neighborhoods, Nelson says “Back in ‘70s or ‘80s, people wanted drivable suburbs. Now 70 percent want to walk to discernable destinations, from transit to grocery stores. This wasn’t the case until recently.” Nelson believes the most popular locations will be mixed-use, walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods.
This Lacamas Northshore master plan is being portrayed as both walkable and mixed-use, but the concept plan I’ve seen so far indicates to me that it is not. The zoning proposal shows a segregation of uses. Business parks, by their very nature, are drive-to! The single-family and the multi-family seem quite segregated from each other and all are segregated from the shopping area.
As far as economic development is concerned, there is increasing evidence that the kind of high tech, light industrial firms that you hope to attract are choosing to locate near where their employees want to live. Consider the choice of Amazon to locate adjacent to downtown Seattle and Adobe Systems to locate in downtown San Jose.
I hope you will take into account the “extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends” that ULI talks about before making your decision on this zoning change and the future development that it presages. I agree that a master plan with changed zoning is what is now most desirable for this area–but NOT the kind of segregation of uses we see in this plan. I urge you to delay approval of a zoning change–until you can get it right!
Guest blog by Carolyn Foster, PlanGreen Intern
Covering 460 acres, The Lacamas Northshore development proposal in Camas, Washington would be one of the largest industrial and residential developments in the Portland area today. The claim is that it will bring 5,000 new jobs and 3,000 new homes to the area. Property owners have been working with the city of Camas for seven years to generate the master plan.
The amendment to the Camas Comprehensive Plan that would make such a development possible was passed by the Camas Planning Commission on June 18, 2013. If it passes the City Council on September 3, the land, previously zoned for Industrial use as well as agricultural use, will now be zoned for Business Park/Light Industrial, High and Medium Density Multi-Family Housing, Single Family Housing, Commercial, and Community use. In addition, the owner/developers
expect to dedicate 6 acres of shoreline to public use for a hiking and biking trail.
The current state of the land can be seen in Image A. The proposed zoning changes can be seen in Image B.
Below are my feelings about this zoning change and the development it allows. I plan to testify to the Camas City council at the public hearing September 3, 2013.
I have lived in Camas ten years and am a proud graduate of Camas schools. I am a member of what is called the Millenial generation. My generation is facing unprecedented issues due to human caused climate change including extreme temperatures, loss of species all over the world, water and food shortages, crop failure, and increased pollutants and resultant disease.
Many attribute a major cause of climate change to the way we have developed our communities in the United States to be totally dependent upon the automobile. As oil becomes increasingly scarce, it is clear that this lifestyle is not sustainable.
Thankfully, some of the best minds in the US are working on sustainability standards—not just for buildings, but for communities: LEED ND is perhaps the most often utilized example. I would be happy enough if you used LEED ND, but, as you may know, the Pacific Northwest is the birthplace to what many consider the highest standard—the Living Building Challenge—a standard that Clark County incentivized in a pilot program in 2010.
My generation has the right to demand that you use not just the laws on the books, but also utilize sustainability standards in approving new developments—especially ones the size of Lacamas Northshore.
Measured against LEED ND, the master plan for Lacamas Northshore does not meet the very first prerequisite—Smart Location. The site is not:
- An infill site.
- “Adjacent to sites with adequate connectivity”
- In a “transit corridor or route with adequate transit service”
- A “site with nearby neighborhood assets”
Nor does the Lacamas Northshore plan meet the Living Building Challenge. The very first prerequisite of that Challenge forbids any development on greenfields. Instead, projects must be built on greyfields or brownfields. The LBC has no credits, only prerequisites, and a project must meet all of them to be judged sustainable.
While Washington’s Growth Management Act does require cities and towns to have an adequate supply of land for housing and for industry based on projected forecasts, cities can make the case that they plan to do infill and redevelopment rather than leapfrog expansion.
What if instead of developing farmland and forest land, we took a page from Bothell, WA and developed a plan to bring most of the new housing units to downtown Camas? What if instead, we worked with the property owners to transition their lands into Community Supported Agriculture where residents invest in their local farms in exchange for a share in the produce ? This could build on the popularity of our Camas Farmers Market.
With all of this being said, I understand that these zoning changes encouraging development are most likely going to pass. Although the master plan does not satisfy the Smart Location prerequisite, I would like to encourage the City of Camas to plan for a compact and walkable community that embraces other standards of LEED ND such as reduced parking footprint, walkable street grids, and certified green buildings.
The Adidas Village in north Portland is an excellent example of how to integrate industry with housing. Not only is the Adidas facility housed in a former hospital with nearby transit stops, bike paths and sidewalks, but the village features a public park and public sports facility maintained by Adidas which provide assets to the existing community. I think it is important that whatever industry develops here in Camas brings community assets as well. Examples include sponsoring a community garden, providing career development to high school students, providing employee volunteer days, and providing space for community groups to use.
I, myself, and the company I’m interning with, PlanGreen, would be delighted to work with you to find infill and redevelopment sites in Camas that both meet the requirements of LEED ND and accommodate the projected population growth. We’d be happy to help you integrate new job/industrial development into the fabric of the community and get away from the current model of isolated industrial campuses surrounded by acres of parking. We’d be happy to work with you and Lacamas Northshore property owners on a new mixed-use master plan for it’s future development–development that should come AFTER land between it and the city center develops. This will move us in the direction of the walkable community that we say we want to be. The proposed re-zoning and master plan would not.
Carolyn Foster is an undergraduate student who is interested in the intersection between urban planning/design and the natural world. She is transferring from UC Berkeley to UW’s Community, Environment, and Planning program in Fall 2013.