Portland: A New Kind of City – Part III, Greenways

The deadline for comments on Portland’s Draft Comprehensive Plan is May 1. I hope you will endorse this Greenways comment at http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/60988 before that date     –or write your own. 

Portland planners have been talking about integrating fingers of green into the city for a couple of years now.  Then they gave the concept some teeth in the Portland Plan and now the draft Portland Comprehensive Plan with  the concepts of Habitat Corridors (pp4-6 and 4-7) and Greenways (pp 6-34 [sic] and 5-35).


Tree Crew Leaders rally before each planting

I love planning, but it’s implementation that really lights my fire.  I haven’t figured out how to become a developer yet, so I plant trees with Friends of Trees. In fact, I’m a Tree Crew Leader in both its Neighborhood Tree and the Green Space Initiative planting programs.

I look forward to my Neighborhood Tree planting days with a bit of ambivalence.  I love helping neighbors get those big trees into the ground while getting to know each other better as neighbors. We also have conversations with people out in their yards or walking their dogs in the neighborhood–adding to the sense of community.  But I often cringe at the tree species selection that I am assigned to plant.  Rarely is there a native tree in my allotment of 9-12 trees–lots of Persian ironwood, Japanese snowbells, Chinese dogwoods and. . .you get the picture!  I’ve even come to celebrate when I get a Rocky Mountain Globe Maple because that’s a little closer to the Pacific Northwest.

Last Saturday, April 20, 2013, Friends of Trees had its Earthday planting on the NE Holman Greenway.  Homeowners along Holman had been offered FREE trees because their street had been designated a Greenway.  It was Earthday and  we were planting a Greenway, so I was hopeful that at last we might be planting some NATIVE street trees.  Several businesses had sent teams, so it was an opportunity to educate them.


Part of my Friends of Trees crew planting a tree that will help transform this street.

I thought I recognized only one tree on the list as a native tree: Swamp white oak. Turns out, it’s native to the same region I am–the mid-Atlantic (and a bit further).  But it’s not native here–so, unfortunately, there were no natives.

We’ve  started to implement the Greenway concept before the Comp Plan passes. My point is, why aren’t Greenways green in more ways than bikes and stormwater. The draft Comp Plan mentions promoting multi-objective approaches. So let’s add one more objective to our Greenways. Let’s add wildlife habitat too.  My brief additions to the draft plan policy are in RED . Its already a great policy, so I did not have to change much!

Policy 5.26 Greenways. Create a citywide network of Greenways that provide distinctive and attractive pedestrian- and bike and wildlife-friendly green streets and trails that link centers, parks, schools, rivers, natural areas, and other key community destinations.

5.26.a. Strive for an integrated Greenway system that includes regional trails through natural areas and along Portland’s rivers, connected to green streets and other enhanced streets that provide connections to and through the city’s neighborhoods.

5.26.b. Prioritize multi-objective approaches that draw on and contribute to Portland’s pedestrian, bicycle, green street, wildlife corridor and parks and open space systems.  Recognize that to be multi-objective for wildlife, native plant species are required.

5.26.c Strive to re-landscape most Greenways with native plants both to better serve our native wildlife and to allow more children to experience nature where they live. Require plantings in the public right-of-way be native and strongly encourage native plantings on private property too.

The draft Plan commentary on Habitat Corridors suggests: Corridors to connect bird habitat on Mount Tablr and Clatsop Butte could be provided across 82nd Avenue and I-205 by planting large, primarily (sic) native trees, incorporating naturescaping into yards and other landscaped areas, and/or installing ecoroofs that have suitable native plants. This is an excellent suggestion but it needs to be applied more widely.


There’s no reason this and all the bioswales along this Greenway couldn’t be planted in native plants and trees.


We’re already connecting Mt. Tabor to the Willamette River (Tabor to the River). Let’s connect the Willamette  River to the Columbia through North and Northeast Portland. Let’s connect Forest Park to the Willamette through Goose Hollow and Downtown and through Northwest and the Pearl.

The Greenways designated on the Comp Plan  map below (from p.4-6 and 5-34)–and a few others I would propose that are not yet on the map–are the logical places to make those connections. If we can do this, we will truly be creating a new kind of city–one that is more friendly to wildlife, to children–and to the rest of us too.


The photos I’ve used to illustrate this article are stand-ins from earlier events I photographed. I will be adding the final ones as they become available. Meanwhile, I thought it was important to publish this before the May 1 deadline on comments.

2 thoughts on “Portland: A New Kind of City – Part III, Greenways

  1. Devta Khalsa

    I agree that that the proposed Greenways need the addition of considerations for NATURE. If Portland is going to invest in Greenways then there needs to be a vision for them. At least two criteria need to be met. The first, is that we need to start with a completely natural ecosystem and then add design elements for human use into it without disturbing the integrity of the ecosystem. This can be measured by whether or not the ecosystem can regenerate itself and maintain the carrying capacity required by the wildlife that lives there. The second, is the need for connectivity between all of the Greenways. They are much more effective when they serve as circulation corridors for wildlife and can support a much larger population of animals when habitat and migration pattern needs are genuinely met.

    1. Mary Vogel Post author

      Thanks for your comment! Since the Greenways we are presently creating–and those mapped in the draft Comp Plan–are all existing streets (please see the map on the pages I cited), I’m not sure how we can “start with a completely natural ecosystem and then add design elements for human use into it without disturbing the integrity of the ecosystem.”

      I’m for starting from where we are on those streets and adding as many natives as possible–turning it native over a long period of time. They won’t be perfect in terms of habitat corridors, but they will be a bit better than what we have now. Are you suggesting taking out existing trees and shrubs–even those that are not invasive–to start with a clean slate?

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