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.