Tag Archives: climate action

PlanGreen’s City Council Priorities – Fossil Fuels and Housing

Jan.6, 2017

On November 9, the day after what for me was a cataclysmic election, and on most Wednesdays and Thursdays until the end of 2016, I found a haven in Portland City Council meetings.  Not only did I take solace in offering testimony myself, but cheering on the testimony of citizens as young as GRADE SCHOOL age.  Most of us–certainly the young– wanted Portland to not only continue, but increase its progressive agenda.  The last Council accomplished much in those final two months, but there is still plenty left to do.  Inspired by former mayoral candidate, Sarah Iannarone, I offer my own TO-DO list for Mayor Ted Wheeler and the new City Council.

Sunnyside School Student Testifying before Portland City Council, Nov. 9, 2016.

Sunnyside School Student Testifying before Portland City Council, Nov. 9, 2016. PlanGreen

In 2017, let’s help the City of Portland continue its leadership on climate change by addressing fossil fuels–both by reducing demand and by limiting their usage, transport and storage in Portland.  We also need to divest the city’s money in them¹.

Reducing Demand for Fossil Fuels

  • Make every neighborhood more walkable. This includes
    • Adopt strong Residential Infill/Missing Middle policy to create the population levels to support the services in each neighborhood that folks want to walk to.
    • Adopt Parking Management Policy improvements that help to manage demand–the type sought by Portlanders for Parking Reform and PBOT’s own Citywide Parking Strategy and its proposed Residential Parking Permit Program.
    • Strengthen the Central City 2035 Plan re: trees and streetscape adding to the plan wider sidewalks and street trees to make downtown streets more than car sewers for commuters. (BTW, while I appreciate the need to give more focus to East Portland, as Iannarone suggests, the West End of downtown still has a predominantly low-income population, many of whom are people of different ethnic origins and races. And many use walkers or wheelchairs.)
    • Insist on a revision of the Portland Art Museum Rothko Pavillion plan seeking to close off Madison Street plaza. Instead, focus on strengthening downtown walkability and resilience–e.g. negotiate a “Madison Walkway” between SW 11th and 12th to break up this superblock.  Oppose any other property owner proposing to make downtown less walkable rather than more walkable!
  • Since the greenest building is one that is already there, work with the Unreinforced Masonry Building owners in the West End—including the Art Museum—to do seismic upgrades so that fewer buildings need to be replaced after a seismic event. (PAM is not technically a URM, rather brick veneer; however, it was built in the 1930s and has not been seismically upgraded to today’s standards.)
  • Phase out the use of studded tires that are the #1 cause of road damage and hence asphalt resurfacing—a very intensive use of fossil fuels. [I know that this is a State issue, but Portland must add this to its Legislative Agenda–see Preserving Oregon’s Roads.

Limiting Fossil Fuel Transport and Storage 

Sierra Club and 350 PDX (I’m an active member of both) have played a leadership role here–along with my friends at Center for a Sustainable Economy.  I testified at the last Council’s hearings on the no new Fossil Fuel Facilities policy and stand ready to help defend it–and to help Portland get enabling legislation to REQUIRE seismic upgrades on existing fossil fuel storage facilities.

The Housing Crisis

  • In the absence of other immediately available options, partner with the member organizations of the Village Coalition  to find additional spots where the homeless can self-organize into “tiny house villages”. This way we’ll waste less human energy—releasing it to help in the climate change effort.
  • Ban no cause evictions and pursue other tenants’ rights policies in Mayor Wheeler’s Tenants Bill of Rights published during the campaign.
  • Support the Community Land Trust concept that seeks to take housing off the private commodity speculative market and put it into public trust.  This model gives participants security, equity and legacy in their housing.  Over 50 years ago, the founders of the CLT concept saw this as a new model for land tenure in America–not just a band-aid to the system to help the low-income.  I’d like to see the City of Portland help its own CLT, Proud Ground, revive the idea that there is a new model of housing for all incomes–one that has a tremendous body of law and practice already established.

Portland needs to nurture the budding activism of the school children and Millennials who gave testimony on a variety of climate-related issues over the past year by re-doubling on its progressive policy.  As Tavis Smiley admonishes on PBS “Keep the Faith!”

¹I hope that our efforts will inspire those in other cities–especially Millennials–to work locally to get their own cities do likewise–making those cities more sustainable and resilient too.  As much as I value Millennials’ migration to our city, I know we need them more in places where the fight may seem harder.

Mary Vogel is founder and principal of PlanGreen and a downtown neighborhood land use and transportation advocate.

Toronto: Florida to the Kees with Greater Portland Inc.

Oct. 17, 2015

Richard Florida

Richard Florida, Professor; Co-founder CityLab.com; Sr. editor The Atlantic speaking to our Greater Portland, Inc. group.

Our discussion of “The Next Urban Crisis”  at University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management was another highlight of my Greater Portland Inc. trip to Toronto Sept. 27-30, 2015. There we spoke with professor, author and CityLab co-founder Richard Florida as well as  Real Estate Developer, & Architect in City blogger Brandon Donnelly.  During this discussion Spacing Magazine editor Matthew Blackett  also shared some of the interesting insights I reported on in my Part 1 blog.

Richard Florida expressed his frustration with the Mayor Rob Ford era which declared that the war on the car was over and that the problem was those young, pointy-headed university folks. “In Toronto, everyone still thinks they have the right to drive,” he lamented.  “If there’s an urban crisis, it’s the suburbs,” he said.

Florida reminded us that: “Building urbanism is a lot more expensive than building sprawl” and “The new frontier is the old frontier in the center of the city.” He left us with three points to deal with the next urban crisis: 1)  Build more housing,and make it more affordable; .2)  Build more transit;  3)  Provide a livable minimum wage–reduce the huge bifurcation we see now.

Brandon Donnelly

Brandon Donnelly described the affordability crisis for families and a solution in mid-rise housing. Photo from The Guardian

Brandon Donnelly discussed with us some of the crisis in keeping housing affordable during Toronto’s fast-paced growth. There’s a pressure on prices re: low rise, but high-rise has stayed stable, he said.  He described an Avenues and Mid-rise Building study. “ We see it as a market to build more units for families who are priced out of single family homes,” he said.

He distinguished Towers 1.0 and Towers 2.0.  Towers 1.0, many built in the suburbs, did not take as middle class housing and became largely the affordable housing of today. Towers 2.0 is basically all ownership vs. all tenants in 1.0, he said.  He finds it an encouraging sign that anchor office tenants and retailers are moving into the city as well.

Mid-rise housing

This mid-rise housing was across from a string of parks similar to Portland’s Park Blocks and gets my vote for best place to live in Toronto. Photo by PlanGreen

Park across from mid-rise housing

This park was one of a string of parks across from the mid-rise housing above. It was centrally located on the way to the Distillery District. Photo by PlanGreen

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, former Sec. of Labor, UC Berkley Professor and prolific author.at the Rotman School auditorium. Photo by PlanGreen

On our way out, we had an unexpected opportunity to hear Robert Reich, who was doing a guest lecture at the Rotman School around his book, Saving Capitalism : For the Many, Not the Few. 

I was especially impressed by how many of our group stopped to listen to his talk.  “My aim is to shatter the myths that keep us from taking the action we must take, and to provide a roadmap of what we must do – to rebuild our economic system and restore our democracy.” Reich was saying.

There is  a “huge misunderstanding” that underlies  a false political dichotomy between the so-called “free market” and government intervention. “There is no choice to be made between the free market and government. Government determines the rules of the market. The real question is what those rules are going to be and who is influencing those rules and whether the market is going to be working for the vast majority as a result, or whether it’s going to be rigged in favour of a small minority.” Reich’s book was for sale at a table outside the open-sided auditorium where he was speaking.

At Rotman we had the opportunity to hear some of the most forward-thinking leaders of the day who are dealing with questions around the environment, housing, urbanism, equity, millenials, the creative class, public involvement and the economy.

Ryerson University

The Planning students who attended our reception at Ryerson University were interested in displacement, equity and resiliency issues. Photo by PlanGreen

It was a great segue to our reception and  “Sharing Best Practices between Portland and Toronto” session at Ryerson University Architecture School.  All of the students I met at the reception were from the Ryerson School of Urban and Regional Planning rather than Architecture.  Those students were looking for answers to rising housing costs, displacement, equity, brownfields, resiliency planning in an era of climate change, etc.  I stayed after the session to talk with them. Several promised to look at my blogs on mycoremediation and suggested that one of their professors might be especially interested. So far, no one has followed up but I’m still hoping to hear from them.

Jennifer Keesmaat

Jennifer Keesmatt was our featured evening speaker. Image courtesy of York University. http://yfile.news.yorku.ca/2014/11/06/chief-toronto-planner-discussed-urban-spaces-and-achieving-a-sustainable-healthy-city/

Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, is a longtime Toronto resident, a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism (like myself), and a pedestrian advocate.  She had been a principal in the Toronto planning consultancy Dialog prior to taking the job as Toronto’s top planner.   She is also an inveterate user of Twitter @jen_keesmaat–discreetly putting out these tweets while she was on a panel with Portland Chief Planner, Joe Zehnder:

Portland is seeking to create *greenways* throughout neighbourhoods to address stormwater issues. Think “greened” street medians.  Portland has met Kyoto carbon emission reductions, even while growing. “Your midrise is hi-rise for us.” Portland Chief Planner explains that 4 story bldings are causing consternation in his city. Wow. If only.

Mountain Equipment Coop in downtown Toronto

Mountain Equipment Coop in downtown Toronto installed an extensive green roof of 6,500ft.2 during the construction of the building in 1998. Photo courtesy City of Toronto

“I talk about Portland all of the time,” she told us.  We’re growing but our air quality is getting better – as a result of our green roof policy mitigating the heat island effect.  I cringed a bit to think that while Toronto passed the world’s first mandatory green roof program in 2010, Portland discontinued its Ecoroof Incentive in 2012.

In response to moderator Ann Marie’s question about green infrastructure and resiliency in the face of climate change, Keesmaat lamented that she has only three  people working on green streets, a superstar team, but only three.

She did add that Toronto is a city of ravines and that there is an ongoing Ravine Strategy currently being developed.  She will be holding her final Chief Planner Roundtable of 2015 (Dec. 15) on the topic of Toronto’s ravine network.  I did not get the chance to ask her about the re-naturalization of the Don River, but I plan to do that at the next opportunity–maybe via Twitter!

Mycoremediation with “Spongy Parking Lots”

Aug 2, 2015

Portland’s Old Town China Town neighborhood has an abundance of surface parking lots.  In fact, it has far too many to be a vibrant neighborhood much less an expression of the eco-city that Portland purports to be.  I’ve joined with five other professional women to try to change that.  If we can’t see these central city lots immediately redeveloped to higher and better uses that house people and businesses, we at least want to see them become better parking lots–SPONGY PARKING LOTS.

Spongy Parking Lots Video image

Image borrowed from PDX Downtowner You Tube site.

My friend, Ruth Ann Barrett coined that term and even made a video about Spongy Parking Lots to share with her neighbors in Old Town/Chinatown.  She has friends who visit from California and she’s embarrassed to show them how much we waste water here in Portland.  When it rains, the water from those parking lots heats up and captures whatever pollutants vehicles leave behind on its way to the nearest storm sewer.  The surface parking lots are paved in asphalt and are major contributors to the urban heat island effect that raises the temperature as much as 10° over areas with open land and vegetation.  In turn, the extra heat increases the energy needed to cool interior spaces, and puts an extra strain on the grid by exacerbating peak energy loads and hence carbon footprint/climate change. It also contributes to smog formation adding even more public health impacts resulting from excessive outdoor temperature.

Spongy trail in an old growth forest. Photo by PlanGreen

Spongy trail in an old growth forest. Photo by PlanGreen

We’ll return to all that in a moment, but I first want you to remember walking on a trail in the woods where your feet just seemed to bounce on the earth beneath them.  That’s because that soil was kept porous and, yes, spongy, by the mycelium forming a thick mat that was turning wood to soil under your feet.  Those mycelium have fruiting bodies that we call mushrooms–which may or may not be visible during your walk.

Mycelium on log

The white stuff in this photo is mycelium. It will spread throughout the log and ultimately decompose it–creating spongy soil. Photo by PlanGreen.

That mycelium looks a bit like a very dense spider web criss-crossing to create quite a network.   It gets its nutrition by decomposing the cellulose in the log.  The ability of mycelium of mushrooms in the category of “white rot fungi”  to decompose cellulose is related to their ability to decompose numerous other substances as well: bacterial toxins such as e-coli and fecal coliform as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAHs).  Research also shows their ability to transform  bunker fuel oil, explosives, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and organochlorine pesticides–substances we hope we won’t find in OTCT parking lots.

Ecotrust Parking Lot

Built in 2001, the parking lot at Ecotrust is an outstanding model of a “Spongy Parking Lot”. It probably even has a few mushrooms by now. Photo by PlanGreen

We do have models for Spongy Parking Lots nearby.  My favorite is at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center (aka Ecotrust) in the adjacent Pearl District neighborhood.  Often on a summer day, the cars are kicked out of this pleasant parking lot for an array of fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets.  If you enlarge this photo, you will see that the lot is paved with light colored porous pavers and that those trees are planted in bioswales that also hold an array of mostly native plants.  You will see that  the parking spaces drain into those bioswales. which are about 2.5 feet deep.  Not only do the soils and plants in  the bioswales infiltrate the water from the parking lot within 24 hours, they also cool the water and filter the pollutants that come from our vehicles and pets.

BES Sediment Testing Chart

HCID-TPH is a screen to determine the presence and type of petroleum products that may exist in water or soil. Table from BES 2010 Stormwater Monitoring Report referenced below.

What could be better?  Well, Portland monitors the effectiveness of its bioswales and some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil results were variable, but levels were higher than the background soil sample sites located nearby but outside of the stormwater facilities. Metal and PAH levels found in stormwater facilities were generally similar to those found in background sample soils.  While these results show that soils in bioswales are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, soil results could be CLEANER THAN THE BACKGROUND SAMPLES in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs.  If mycelium running through the bioswale made the soil spongier and more absorbent and if those same mycelium could help the plants thrive by “eating” more of the pollutants, then I maintain we would have an even spongier parking lot.  A spongier parking lot could better utilize and clean the water running off it into bioswales.  As its trees and plants grow better with less pollutants in its soil, the spongier parking lot will decrease the urban heat island effect even more and become an important strategy for both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

I hope you will read my previous three short blogs on mycoremediation/mycofiltration (http://plangreen.net/blog) to better understand the technology I am proposing.  I plan one more mycoremediation blog on monitoring.

_____________________________

¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report

 

PDX Climate Action Plan 2015 Needs Urban Design

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:

NW Townhouses w/short driveways and garages that dominate the sidewalk. The trees are on the wrong side of the sidewalk and will not last long in their present location.

NW Townhouses w/short driveways and garages that dominate the sidewalk. The trees are on the wrong side of the sidewalk and offer no protection or additional shade to the pedestrian. They will not last long in their present location. Cars parked in these driveways will block pedestrian passage altogether. Photo by PlanGreen

 

Promotes private automobile use

 

Leads to less community interaction

 

Makes our sidewalks less safe and useable for pedestrians

 

 

NW Townhouse w/van blocking sidewalk

This NW Portland sidewalk is partially blocked by this van. Note the driveway apron that usurps 1.5 public parking spaces on the street.

Displaces on-street parking spaces that make pedestrians feel safer

Usurps public parking space

Makes sidewalks less useable by pedestrians

 

 

 

 

SW Hamilton Townhouses - No street trees

This SW neighborhood street is adjacent downtown. It has the requisite off-street parking, but no street trees or landscaping to protect residents from the freeway above–or give them incentive to walk anywhere.

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.

NW 24th Ave Garages - Abominable Streetscape

I know you’re thinking this is the BACK of the property but its the FRONT on a street in one of the densest neighborhoods in Portland, OR–NW 24th Ave. Similar streetscapes are not uncommon in NW Portland.

                                                                                                    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?

 

NW Pettygrove Condo Garage with single curb-cut

This NW Pettygrove condo building w/garage has a single curb-cut and is an example of how off-street residential parking should be handled–if it is necessary at all.

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.

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