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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I’m Mary Vogel and I’m speaking on behalf of myself and my Woman Business Enterprise, PlanGreen. Thank you for this opportunity to testify on Portland’s Legislative Agenda for 2013!
As most of you know studded tires cut road life in HALF in Oregon!!! I live in downtown Portland where my major forms of transportation are walking and biking, so I am able to see and hear the villains doing it—one click, click, click, clack, clack, clack at a time.
What I am suggesting is an additional point under the Transportation agenda on p. 36. That point is:
First, deal with a major and unnecessary cause of road wear & tear in Oregon by banning studded tires.
- ODOT estimates that studded tires cause $40 million in damage to our roads each year.
- During its lifespan, the average studded tire chews up ½ to ¾ ton of asphalt
- That results in a fine dust that gets in the air, on the land and, eventually, is washed into our rivers.
- Some of that dust also lodges in our lungs where it has an inflammatory and toxic effect
- A Swedish study found that the toxic dust created by studded tires is 60 to 100% greater than the amount from regular tires
- The extra damage from studded tires greatly increases our consumption of petroleum products and hence our carbon footprint
- Modern studless snow tires are safer than studded tires in almost all driving conditions found in Oregon
- Far snowier places like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario have banned studded tires; Washington and Alaska may do so this year
- Studded tires create unsafe conditions for all drivers by creating ruts in roads
While data show that only 10% of Oregonians west of the Cascades use studded tires, I think they all commute into downtown Portland every weekday. It seems like every third car that passes me on my bike has them—raising the hair on the back of my neck with their aggressive sound. In the women over 50 age category, I may be one of the few who meet the level of “strong and fearless,” but I will admit that studded tires rattle my nerves and make me feel less safe. What they do to the pavement certainly makes the roads less safe for all cyclists.
So, not only do studded tires cost us a lot more in road maintenance, they cost us more in public health; they cost us more in carbon footprint; they cost us more in the livability of our cities. During a time of fiscal and climate crisis, to continue to allow studded tires is irresponsible!
Please ask the legislature to ban studded tires in Oregon! Add First, deal with a major and unnecessary cause of road wear & tear in Oregon by banning studded tires to your points under Modernize & Enhance Transportation Funding. Or make it a separate point under the city’s Transportation agenda. But please do this today as we are long overdue!
Thank you for your time!
PS If you have time to read more, I recommend:
- http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/studded-tires/ (including the comments)
Oregon Community Trees recent keynote speaker Dr. Doug Tallamy says that while Portland is lush and beautiful, it is DEAD! Portland has so few insects because most of the vegetation in the city is non-native and the native insects, that are the base of the food chain, need native plants to reproduce!
I lead field trips to the wild on weekends that focus on native plant and wildlife communities—helping people appreciate them for their intrinsic beauty and wonder and also for the ecosystems services they provide. I ask folks who sign up to help me make the trips as participatory as possible by doing a bit of research on the natural or cultural history of the region to share with the group. Some do! The trips provide a good way to renew the body, rejuvenate the spirit and make new friends.
I’m trying to recruit more people on my trips who will come back to the city and incorporate what they discover into our overall green infrastructure: green streets, green roofs, green walls, green landscapes and green buildings as well as designs for walkable neighborhoods and great urbanism region-wide. So I’d especially like help in getting word out to landscape architects, landscape suppliers and builders. To really be effective its crucial to reach all parts of the built environment community: planners, designers, developers, financiers, suppliers and builders.
I schedule my trips through Portland-Vancouver Sierra Club Outings Meetup (free to join) because Sierra Club offers leader training, first aid and insurance. And Sierra Club has advocated for the things I care about since 1892. The trips are also free, though Sierra Club asks that you consider a voluntary $2-3 donation towards its leader training. I help people explore and appreciate ancient (aka old growth) forests; showy wildflower meadows and their more modest cousins under the forest canopy; wild rivers and streams; and mountain lakes with wetlands. In winter, I look for places with good snow for XC skiing. If I have to pick a favorite, it’s the west side Cascades. But I plan to include some trips to the east side of the Cascades and the Oregon Coast as well.
Not all of my trips are to wilderness areas (limited to 12), but the ones that are sometimes fill up fast. Identify yourself as a Built Environment Professional in your profile when you sign up. If I can, I’ll give you priority for a spot on the trips. (People who have signed up, drop off at the last minute–or they don’t show up at all! So I’ll promise that you won’t be turned away if you have put yourself on the waiting list.)
I myself am an urban planner who wants to preserve the wild by bringing more of what people appreciate there back to the city to help make our cities and towns more livable, healthy, climate-friendly and resilient. I strive to create places that people don’t feel the need to escape. I hope you will join me in enjoying and protecting the wild—and bringing more of it back to the city. Urbanism and nature can co-exist. In fact, if our species is to survive they must!Mary Vogel PlanGreen
This document was first posted in 2009 as a Google Doc that I encouraged neighborhood residents, workers, students and churchgoers downtown to edit and enlarge. Several people sent me good ideas, but no one else took on the tough job of editing.
I sent it out to a committee of Portland movers and shakers who were advising the Mayor on a new Central City Urban Renewal Area. Then, as everyone’s attention shifted to jobs and economic development, I moved on too. Now, two recent events prompted me to post it:
- My attendance at the City of Portland Central City 2035 Steering Committee Meeting;
- My preparation to lead a discussion onThe Nature Principle, a book that gives a more universal framework to my vision.
Portland Development Commission recently asked those of us on the Downtown Neighborhood Association Land Use and Transportation Committee “What is your vision for downtown?” While I knew that they were seeking something that fell into step with the tenor of the times, I submitted this vision in response to that request. Hey! I’m an Aquarian who focuses on big picture and long-term.
I will address the public realm first, and what we might do there to set an example to private developers, property owners and residents alike. I will start with the largest part of the public realm, the streets and address how we might go one step further than we are currently doing to make them sustainable.
Then I’ll move on to our parks, then parking garages, then vacant or soon-to-be-vacant land, then courtyards (which might be made semi-public), etc. I’ll suggest some technologies, practices and uses that will address the global environmental impacts we are facing: climate change, peak oil and loss of biodiversity/extinction of species. Portland’s Watershed Management Plan does a world class job of addressing the latter issue so some of my vision speaks to how we can help implement it downtown.
I also suggest a form-based code to help insure great urban design and truly walkable neighborhoods. I briefly address creating jobs for a portion of the existing downtown population; attracting green businesses; using innovative models to develop workforce housing; supporting existing institutions including arts and service organizations and schools and churches.
Green Street Retrofits, Connectivity Corridors and Placemaking
The first part of my vision addresses infrastructure including what is now considered part of green infrastructure. I suggest retrofitting key streets as “green street” connectivity corridors, e.g., SW Salmon Street/SW Park Place. Green streets are streets with bioswales or infiltration planters in the public right-of-way that not only manage stormwater, but also encourage the recovery of biodiversity with NATIVE PLANTS AND TREES. Such a street, or couplet of streets, might stretch from Washington Park (which still has pockets of native landscape) to the Willamette River. Other streets that might be appropriate are SW Main, SW Jefferson and SW Columbia. These streets could serve as a connectivity corridor between the park and the river for birds and other wildlife. These ideas might also implement former Portland Urban Design Director, Arun Jain’s call for “streets as less of a conduit and more of a place.”
If we used a highly diverse mix of natives species in the bioswales—not only the native shrubs, ferns, rushes and grasses that are typically used–but also wildflowers, we could show that we can have color, beauty, interest and diversity in our native landscape while giving residents and visitors alike a true sense of place and providing habitat for critical parts of the ecosystem.
It may seem strange to bring up biodiversity recovery as a priority for our central city core area, but, in the long run it will:
- save us money by allowing ecosystem services to function
- attract and keep more residents in the area
- enhance our reputation for sustainability
- keep Portland in the leadership on sustainability by putting us ahead of the curve on Sustainable Sites
(Hopefully, the integration of the Sustainable Sites rating system (http://www.sustainablesites.org/) into LEED will raise the critical importance and value of using/restoring native species in the landscape. I am hoping Sustainable Sites will be the tsunami wave for landscape architecture that LEED was for architecture.)
While downtowns are not usually the first place one would think to restore biodiversity, I maintain that
because downtown is a place that best projects our image to our visitors and the outside world and that most people in the region visit—if only occasionally, it is a great place to demonstrate biodiversity recovery and educate about it, displaying our values to our residents and our visitors alike.
Entomologist, Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home gives both research and anecdotes that show that our native insects need native plants to survive. Hence, so do our native birds, amphibians and some small mammals.
. . .Biodiversity is essential to the stability—indeed, the very existence—of most ecosystems. We remove species from our nation’s ecosystems at the risk of their complete collapse. . . . More energy in the system means that the system will be more productive. . .and, from a selfish human perspective, produce more ecosystem services for us, make more fish, more lumber, and more oxygen, filter more water, sequester more carbon dioxide, buffer larger weather systems, and so on). . . Biodiversity also benefits ecosystems by making them less susceptible to alien invaders (Kennedy et al. 2002).
Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home
It’s not the plants alone we would be attempting to recover, but also the insect species that pollinate plants, return nutrients tied up in dead plants and animals to the soil, keep populations of insect herbivores in check, aerate and enrich the soil and provide food for most other animals. These and other ecosystem services produced by a healthy ecosystem will be especially critical as the planet warms—to help us fend off invasions of destructive alien insects and keep our soils healthy. To further explain ecosystem services, I might ask, “How would you like the job of pollinating every apple tree in the state of Oregon every year?” While it is nearly impossible for humans to do this, bees do it for free.
Another issue we should consider is the alien ornamentals we currently use in nearly all of our human built landscape have brought us Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, dogwood anthracnose, sudden oak death, hemlock wooly adelgid, and other pathogens that are endangering some of the tree species we will need most to adapt to climate change. Even though we know better, we are still importing invaders. Some diseases, like greening disease (the worst citrus disease in the world) have arrived in this decade on a plant that has become quite ubiquitous–star jasmine. Brought in by an insect on this alien ornamental, in just 7 months greening disease had spread to kill citrus trees in 12 counties in Florida.
Biodiversity Recovery Examples in Other Cities
Other cities are installing examples of biodiversity recovery in their downtowns. In Washington, DC, the National Museum of Natural History has planted the entire street edge on the NW 11th Street side of its property in a native plant butterfly garden with interpretive signage and the US Botanic Garden has a permanent native pollinator garden and display on its property. Finally, the US Senate has installed a rain garden of diverse native species to both filter stormwater from one of its parking lots and rival its ornamental gardens in beauty.
The Corporatelands Natural Landscaping Program in Chicago encourages and supports large institutions to replace their turf grass landscapes with natural landscapes of plants and grasses native to the Chicago region. The program has partnered with Columbia College on the Chicago Loop, to create a native prairie garden in a former parking lot space at 11th and Wabash. They maintain “This beautiful garden is designed to carry the message that biodiversity can work in a very urban downtown environment and that it can also be attractive.” Corporatelands also partnered with one of Chicago’s largest developers, the John Buck Company, to make the planter beds at its prime downtown location, 222 N. Riverside Plaza, a model for how native species can complement a more traditional planting scheme. The entire Chicago region has adopted Biodiversity Recovery Plan.
Costs and Benefits
Researchers have valued the ecosystem services provided by insects at $57 billion each year. What downtown Portland would gain in ecosystem services would be far greater than the cost of adding the additional native plant landscaping. And this green street landscaping I am suggesting would also help us deal with stormwater. The city has calculated the life cycle costs of green streets to be lower than the conventional curb, gutter and storm drain and it is moving ahead despite city budget difficulties on a sustainable stormwater project involving streets from Mt. Tabor to the Willamette River on the eastside. That project will not only retrofit streets with stormwater planters and more street trees, but also stimulate more actions by private property owners such as installing ecoroofs and/or rain gardens and disconnecting downspouts into cisterns or rain barrels or vegetation.
Retrofitting the streets such as those suggested above—and perhaps additional downtown streets—will make a statement and set an example for a greater percentage of our residents and visitors teaching more people about our world class Portland Stormwater Management Plan. This scientifically-based plan needs to be integrated into every economic development and land use decision and plan as its implementation will make a great contribution toward saving our salmon and other species. It will take us a long way toward addressing the impacts of climate change on our water supply as well. Of course, Portland will want to use educational signage to help in teaching people to take action on their own property or public space.
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.
A Review by Mary Vogel CNU-A, PlanGreen
I recently attended an Oregon Global Warming Commission event where its chair, Angus Duncan, made a relatively brief presentation on the commission’s Roadmap to 2020 explaining that in 2007, Oregon set a 2020 greenhouse gas reduction goal that is almost 30 percent below today’s levels (10 percent below 1990 levels). In the breakout session, the “Efficiency of Cities” table had two skeptics who were afraid that the state was proposing to curtail their choices and put everyone into large buildings in crowded cities. (Duncan had suggested that New York City was a model for sustainability in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per person and it was this idea that they latched onto.) I found myself wishing that I had brought along my copy of Oregon’s Cool Planning: A Handbook on Strategies to Slow Climate Change as the message in its images, captions and chapters might allay their fears—and even help them believe that their future might be more convenient and neighborly and less expensive in both time and money. Healthier too!
Cool Planning is LEED-ND in plain English—especially the New Urbanist portion of it! While it is aimed at local elected officials, planning commissioners, planners, community organizations and developers, it is easily readable by anyone with a community college education. Many of its examples are taken from Oregon cities other than Portland. Since no other city in the state has a population greater than 160,000, it is useful in many parts of the nation, including small town America.
The central premise of the handbook: “If communities grow smart, VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled, or the amount of driving we do) will decline, CO2 emissions will lessen, and we will help reduce climate change.” The authors go on to state a message central to New Urbanists: “If we live in an area in which the places we want to go are at some distance and randomly scattered, we drive more. If we live in well-centered, compact communities in which work, schools and shops are conveniently nearby and good transportation choices abound, we drive less.”
With chapters such as “Grow More Compact” and “Get Centered”, the handbook does not shy away from the density issue. It does debunk myths about density and show its relationship to greater amenities. “Mix Up Your Land Uses” and “Recycle Urban Land and Buildings” point to the fact that the smaller, well-connected blocks, higher densities, mixed land uses, narrower tree-lined streets w/sidewalks, pedestrian-friendly architecture and the compact development in central locations found in historic neighborhoods embody the design features that typically encourage walking.
“Make Streets Complete”, “Make Way for Pedestrians”, “Make Your City Bike-Friendly for Everyone”, “Get Well-Connected”, “Put Parking in its Place” and “Make Way for Transit and Transit-Oriented Development” cover the transportation aspects of sustainable urban design. Having just developed a presentation on the Neighborhood Planning and Design section of LEED-ND, I was overjoyed to see these chapters cover the same ideas and many of the same metrics in such an easily understandable way. (Cool Planning’s lead author, Mitch Rohse, would be a great recruit to help re-write LEED-ND.)
“Change Travel Habits” explains transportation demand management (TDM) in as forthright a way as any I’ve seen. It includes the table of TDM strategies described in Victoria Transport Policy Institute’s Online TDM Encyclopedia.
“Find Better Models for Big Trip Generators” points out that school-related trips increase morning rush-hour traffic by as much as 30 percent, while big-box stores can generate as many as 10,000 car trips a day. This chapter lists strategies for local governments to encourage climate-friendly school sitings as well as a more climate-friendly prototype for the big-box store—including identify vacant buildings suitable for large (multi-level) retail stores that are accessible by low-carbon transportation modes and encourage retailers to recycle older buildings downtown or in compact centers.
“Green Your Buildings” and “Plant Trees in Your Town” address some of the Green Infrastructure and Buildings credits in LEED-ND. However, these chapters fail to address two of my favorite GIB credits—District Heating and Cooling and Vegetative Roofs.
Cool Planning closes with chapters on developing a climate action plan and measuring its effectiveness. It offers the caveat that climate action plans typically include several major sections such as building and energy, consumption and solid waste and local government operation. Its own focus, however, is limited to greenhouse gas emissions affected by community design, land use and transportation. A good climate action plan, it notes, will address all sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
A favorite passage from the handbook states:
It’s important to note that the strategies described here do not impose great burdens or call for great sacrifice. They are not bad-tasting medicine a community must reluctantly swallow to cure the problem of climate change. Quite the contrary: these strategies can yield multiple dividends. They not only can help to slow global warming but also can make your community more livable. Moreover, they can improve the everyday lives of people in the community by saving them money and time in their daily travels.
The handbook itself is well designed with sidebars, call-outs, images, resource lists and footnotes citing research to support statements. If you don’t live in Oregon, insist that your state publish a similar handbook with local examples from its own communities. But don’t delay until that’s done. Download Oregon’s today and start using it. If you are involved in a LEED-ND project (or hope to be), Cool Planning would make a great handout for policy-makers to warm them up to the idea of creating incentives for LEED-ND.