Tag Archives: redevelopment

Housing Affordability – Put a Bern on It

April 14, 2016

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders speaking at the Moda Center on Aug. 9, 2015 to a crowd of 28,000. Most people don’t know that he helped to found one of the most evolutionary housing organizations in the nation. Photo by PlanGreen

Bernie Sanders is a housing affordability hero to a group of people in Burlington, VT.  As Mayor of Burlington, Bernie was able to get the city to seed the founding of the Burlington Community Land Trust (BCLT) with a $220,000 grant. Sanders was at first skeptical about the limited equity concept the BCLT promoted. But he came to see the Community Land Trust (CLT) as both a means of achieving permanent affordability as well as a new model of land tenure for America.  Now he admits that helping to found the BCLT was “the best thing I ever did as Mayor.”

Burlington Community Land Trust has since expanded into three counties around Burlington (Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin) and changed its name after its merger with an affordable rental non-profit in 2006 . It’s now the Champlain Housing Trust. With over $309 million in assets, CHT is the largest CLT in the nation. Its 2015 Annual Report shows that it owned 389 buildings (2227 units) of affordable rental housing, 33 commercial/industrial buildings and the land under 570 single family shared-equity homes. And it’s adding more units every year. This year, they are in process of developing another 160 permanently affordable units in a larger 700 unit development on the Burlington waterfront. In all, they control an impressive 7.6% of the Burlington area’s total housing stock.

How it works:

Champlain Housing Trust Image

Champlain Housing Trust is the largest Community Land Trust in the nation. It enables housing to be kept permanently affordable by holding title to the land under it. Image from CHT 2014 Annual Report.

Community Land Trusts are nonprofit organizations, with a board composed of representatives of the public, members of professions with technical expertise, and the tenants of the CLT. The CLT obtains land through a number of means (purchase, donations,  foreclosures, etc.) and removes it from the private, commodity speculative market. If there are not already buildings on the land, the CLT may build and either lease or sell the buildings with restrictive covenants. The CLT retains ownership of the land and sets a formula for shared equity as the properties appreciate. This formula is applied when the home on the property is sold.

As explained by Daniel Fireside writing in Dollars & Sense:  When a normal home is offered for sale on the usual terms, it does virtually nothing to make the overall housing market more affordable. A land trust home, by contrast, creates a permanently affordable property because the land it sits on is removed from the speculative market. Most of the appreciation is retained by the housing trust (and by extension, the community), rather than the individual. In this way the trust model creates a bridge between purely public and purely private property.

This limited equity model still allows a reasonable return. In Burlington, the 233 homeowners who have resold a CHT home have realized, on average, a 31% annualized IRR [internal rate of return]!  The model also allows the CLT to intercede in the case of a foreclosure. A study by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy showed that, as of 2010, homeowners within a land trust were 10 times less likely to default on their homes than their private-market counterparts.

A New Model of Land Tenure

O'dell Apts So Burlington

Champlain Housing Trust holds the land under O’Dell Apartments in So. Burlington in permanent trust. Renters get a say in policies. Photo from Google Maps w/assistance from CHT’s Chris Donnelly.

The original impetus behind the CLT movement was to create a new institution to keep housing permanently affordable.  The first people I ever met living in a CLT in the 1980s were NOT low-income, rather middle-income professionals who saw the CLT as a better way to live while also making a statement that we need a new model of land tenure. I believe the CLT is the best tool for transforming our housing system.  By taking the land under housing off the private, commodity, speculative market, it helps to change the concept of housing from a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit. Instead it encourages us to see it as a social good that everyone needs and deserves.  Involvement in the CLT also gives both renters and homeowners a say in how properties are managed.  And it gives them a sense of community with all members of the CLT.

CLTs can work in both hot and cold markets.  John Davis, former Chair of the Board of the Institute for Community Economics¹ and now a CLT consultant, says in an interview he did for Democracy Collaborative with Steve Dubb in 2011:

Most housing and community development programs in the United States have been designed as if there is no business cycle. What community land trusts are particularly good at is preventing the loss of homes, homeowners, and public investment at both the top and the bottom of the business cycle. We run counter to the threats and dangers that a fluctuating economy imposes on low- and moderate-income people.

Proud Ground – The Portland Region’s Community Land Trust

Multifamily Woolsey Corner in the New Columbia area of Portland was developed as a Community Land Trust by Proud Ground utilizing Orange Splott as its builder. Photo courtesy of Orange Splott.

Multifamily Woolsey Corner in the New Columbia area of Portland was developed as a Community Land Trust property by Proud Ground utilizing Orange Splot as its builder. Photo courtesy of Orange Splot.

Proud Ground (a merger of Portland Community Land Trust and Clackamas Community Land Trust). It currently focuses on helping a limited subset of moderate-income people get into homeownership. (See Oregonian OpEd: One Way to Turn Moderate Income Portlanders into Homeowners by PG’s Diane Linn and Roger Henshaw). It has partnered with Bank of America to do an important study, Solving the Affordable Homeownership Gap that gives data about an out-of control housing market that is has largely been taken over by an investor class. To me, this study helps to demonstrate how unsustainable the current housing system is and why we need more systemic solutions than simply getting a few more people into such an anxiety-inducing system.  Nonetheless, Proud Ground has many ways to get involved in making housing more permanently affordable on its website.

Achieving Housing Affordability for the Long-Term

To achieve real housing affordability for all in the Portland region, we will need to move beyond promoting the Community Land Trust model solely for the moderate-income and solely for homeownership. We will need to take a cue from Champlain Housing Trust and push Proud Ground to serve both rental and owner properties and to gain far more foothold in the Portland area market.  It may be a long-term process, but we can take heart from the progress that Champlain Housing Trust has made in Burlington since 1984–nearly 8% of all housing.  Various levels of local, regional and state government and private foundations, institutions and individuals owning property will need to partner with Community Land Trusts to change our housing model.

Moda Center crowd, Aug. 9, 2015

People came from all over the region to fill the Moda Center while 9000 waited outside in the August heat. It will take this kind of enthusiasm to change our housing system! Photo by PlanGreen

Ultimately, changing our housing model won’t just happen in Burlington or in Portland. Although I do believe strongly that we all need to work for change from the bottom up, it will help greatly to have a supportive federal government to promote and achieve this concept nationwide.

Put a Bern on Housing Affordability²

Let Bernie know that you want him to promote the CLT model of housing affordability.

Let Bernie know that you want him to promote the CLT model of housing affordability.

There is already a National Community Land Trust Network (now Grounded Solutions Network) that has been bringing leaders from CLTs across the nation together to discuss issues and best practices in CLTs for many years.  They also push for policy change.  Intersections 2016 claims to be “the only national conference dedicated to permanently affordable housing and the creation and preservation of just, equitable and inclusive communities across the country and around the globe.” The conference is expected to draw more than 350 professionals to Park City, Utah, September 26-29, 2016.

Grounded Solutions Network is likely our best chance to help us understand and then achieve change that needs to happen at the federal level. Meanwhile, let Bernie know you want him to repeat “the best thing I ever did as Mayor” on a larger scale–for ALL OF US.  Let’s work to put a Bern on housing affordability.

 

Notes:

¹Founded in 1979, the Institute for Community Economics (ICE) pioneered the modern community land trust (CLT) model, Today ICE is a federally certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) offering loans and more to create community land trusts. I worked for ICE in the 1990s.

²Most Portlanders will likely appreciate the take-off in my title on Portlandia’s “Put a bird on it.”  A national audience may not.

Many thanks to Chris Donnelly of Champlain Housing Trust for spending nearly an hour on the phone with me answering my questions.

Another article worth reading:  How Bernie Sanders Made Burlington Affordable  by Jake Blumbart in Slate Jan. 19, 2016.

Toronto’s Regent Park Explored

October 20, 2015

For those of us on the Greater Portland Inc. Sept. 27-30 Best Management Practices tour choosing the Regent Park Revitalization, doubtless, the most animated and enthusiastic speaker we encountered on the trip was Mitchell Kosny.  Kosny is Associate Director of the Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning and a former Chair of the Board of Directors at Toronto Community Housing Corporation during the ‘roll-out’ of Regent Park revitalization.  Unfortunately, Dr. Kosny may not have realized two things: 1) We had spent the earlier part of the day sitting in meetings and were ready for a tour; 2) We were from the Pacific Northwest and therefore comfortable with rain.  I knew Regent Park to be just a few blocks down the street from Ryerson.  So, after nearly an hour sitting in Dr. Kosny’s PowerPoint lecture when he expressed doubt about doing a tour in the rain, , , I set off on my own tour.

RegentParkLocationMap

Regent Park is directly east of Ryerson University and very close to the rest of downtown. Image courtesy of UoT student paper: http://www.torontohousing.ca/webfm_send/11574

Regent Park Twin Towers

Regent Park identical towers. One is market rate, one is subsidized. Photo by PlanGreen

Regent Park is being redeveloped in five phases with three of those phases currently underway. A key tenet of the revitalization is including both rent-geared-to-income and market rate units together in the same community. I could guess which was the market rate building because I was there at rush hour when a number of young people were coming home from work and others were leaving to walk their dogs.

When the Regent Park revitalization is completed over the next 10 to 15 years, 12,500 people will live in 5,115 units across 69 acres of the largest publicly funded community in Canada. The plan includes the replacement of the 2,083 existing social housing units in Regent Park with new, energy efficient, modern units and the introduction of approximately 3,000 market units for sale.

Regent Park Sign

Regent Park is both the name of a park and a neighborhood that is re-branding itself. The park is separate from the athletic fields, but does have a community garden at one edge and an aquatic center at another. Photo by PlanGreen

I was happy to see that Regent Park actually has a park!  It’s a large park that is separate from the athletic fields that are currently under construction.  There’s a separate dog park too!  A community garden at one edge of the park is the front yard of many people who live in high rise housing.

Regent Park Community Garden

A community garden at one edge of Regent Park is close to much high density housing. Photo by PlanGreen

The architecture of the new buildings is a departure from the red brick of social housing projects.  Although there are some townhouses too, I was a bit surprised by the focus on high-rise housing, considering the bad rep that got with Cabrini Green and Pruitt Igo iin the US. However, Toronto seems to have a long history of housing its poor in high rise housing,.  Another question I have about high rises has to do with resiliency.  Considering the era of increasing natural disasters we are in, most high rises will fare very poorly without power for even a week or two. With Toronto’s mandatory Green Roof Bylaw and its Green Standards policy, its new high rises may be in better shape than most to weather power outages.

The revitalization also reconnects Regent Park to Toronto’s grid of streets and avenues, and includes the creation of new commercial spaces and community facilities including a bank, grocery store, aquatic center, new community center, restaurant and an arts & cultural center.

Regent Park Aquatic Center

Regent Park Aquatic Center is a regional swim center that brings in folks from other neighborhoods too. Photo by PlanGreen

Regent Park Aquatic Center serves people from other neighborhoods as well. I spoke to a man from Leslieville neighborhood who was waiting in the park for his daughter who was using the swimming pool.

Daniels Spectrum Artspace

The Arts and Culture Centre with Paint Box condominiums atop it. is the center point of the cultural regeneration of the neighborhood. This 60,000 sf facility is home to seven arts and innovation non-profit organizations. Yes, intersections are often too wide to be truly comfortable to the pedestrian in Toronto. Photo by PlanGreen

The Arts and Culture Centre known officially  as Daniels Spectrum is seen as a center point of the neighborhood. (Daniels Corporation is the development company that partnered with Toronto Community Housing to build all five phases so they got naming rights to this key facility!)  This 60,000 square foot facility is home to seven arts and innovation non-profit organizations. As we have seen in the U.S., the arts can offer an exciting career path to children from all income classes so I see this center as vital to the revitalization efforts.  I saw lots of people coming and going during my brief observation.

RP Athletic Fields Administrative Office

The Phase 3 construction of athletic fields is underway, along with the construction of new streets. Photo by PlanGreen

Phase 3 is progressing with the development of the athletic fields and the addition of pedestrian-friendly streets connecting to other neighborhoods. Planners believed that because of its enclave-like street design, residents were cut off from the city, even though they lived a short streetcar ride from some of its most affluent neighbourhoods and greatest cultural attractions. More social and market housing  is also part of phase 3– with completion estimated to be 2018 .

RP The Bartholomew

A Daniels ad for The Bartholomew condominium community–a mix of high rise and row houses. Photo by PlanGreen

 

It bears repeating that a key tenet of the revitalization is including both subsidized and market rate units – together in the same community. Townhouse as well as high rise; rental as well as ownership opportunities are available.  This sign advertises suites from the $300.000s but I also saw from the $200,000s.

Another key tenet is access to employment.  Regent Park residents can get one-on-one help with job searching, local employment opportunities, career planning, education and training, and more.  The Regent Park Employment Plan has an ambitious agenda.

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These are typical units in the old social housing. Photo by PlanGreen

RP - No Loitering

This “No Loitering No Trespassing No Alcoholic Beverages sign hints at old problems the community is trying to overcome.  The sign also reminded me  that Regent Park had become synonymous with poverty, crime and unemployment. Photo by PlanGreen

Never one to avoid a challenge, I also spent some time exploring the older parts of Regent Park that have not yet been demolished.  I’m not sure during which phase this seemingly vacant building will come down–and with the rain, there was no one around to ask.  Any tenants who have to move because of construction get one year’s notice before demolition and five months’ notice before they have to move.

While Toronto’s version of the U.S. Hope VI program is impressive, like its counterpart in Portland, New Columbia, it has not solved all its problems.  There had been three fatal shootings in the neighborhood in 2010 that left even Regent Park’s supporters in doubt. TCHC maintains that by incorporating crime prevention best practices into the design of the buildings and public areas and by linking tenants to jobs and training opportunities, it is improving community safety.

In his talk, Dr. Kosny spoke about the green that is not seen.  One of those unseen aspects seems to be what Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail calls “the most successful “normalization” project ever launched in Regent Park”:

. . . an all-encompassing program called Pathways to Education, which mentors and coaches secondary-school kids through graduation and beyond, and guarantees them a bursary if they graduate. (A big advantage, in my view, is that Regent Park has no secondary school, so the kids have no choice but to venture outside the ’hood.) Pathways connects them with the world and shows them how to navigate it.

Regent Park Is Greener

Regent Park Is Growing Greener Every Day reads this sign near the community garden. Photo by PlanGreen

Toronto-based journalist, Doug Saunders, in his book, The Arrival City, points to three things that are crucial for integrating immigrants into the middle class:  education, transportation and access to jobs.  Time will tell if Regent Park is doing all three well.  At the end of 2015, it appears to be headed in the right direction.

Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?

October 10, 2015  

Native plants at Don's Edge

All I could think when I looked down at the Don River mouth was “well, they are native plants at least!” Photo by PlanGreen

In 2007 when I wrote Greening Waterfront Development: Toronto, I was highly impressed with official plans for greening Toronto’s waterfront.  Our two day tour with Greater Portland Inc, had Waterfront Revitalization on the agenda, but we didn’t get to the area that I wanted to see–the re-naturalizing of the mouth of the Don River.

So after our debriefing on Sept. 30, I rented a bike at HI Toronto  and headed towards the Waterfront Trail then east towards the Don River. I wanted to document the progress Toronto had made in their plans to transform the mouth of this highly channelized river that I had written about in my 2007 article. I soon ran out of separated bike trail and plush new development and came to a channel with a short bridge over it.  With a bit of incredulity in my voice, I asked “Is THIS the mouth of the Don River?” of the fellow who turned out to be the drawbridge operator.

Don River Mouth and Drawbridge

I had already crossed this drawbridge when it opened for a barge carrying dredge materials. Photo by PlanGreen.

He assured me that it was. Then I asked “What about the re-naturalization they were going to be doing?”  He told me that volunteers had been doing some planting in the park down the way so I headed into the  industrial area along Villers Street making a first stop at a small public pier to capture the drawbridge opening. I was crestfallen to see the mouth of the river was still in its concrete channel and brown from sediment. Active dredging was still taking place.  In fact, the drawbridge was opening for a barge carrying dredge material upriver in what is called the Keating Channel.

I'm passionate about community ecological restoration efforts, but what I saw was not at the scale that needs to happen. Photo by PlanGreen

I’m passionate about community ecological restoration efforts, but what I saw was not at the scale that needs to happen. Photo by PlanGreen

I did find some native species and a sign corroborating what the drawbridge operator had told me. But the scale of the ecological restoration that needs to be done there came nowhere close to the scale of the earth moving and skyscraper building that is taking place nearby. In fact, it seemed to be the proverbial drop in the bucket.

I found it disappointing that any city with 180 towering cranes in its core area alone was not making equally fast progress with the ecological restoration of one of its major rivers. It leads me to ask what kind of public benefit is the City extracting from each of these developments?

Barging Dredge up the Don

I certainly hope that the planned restoration includes removal of this ramp along the Don River too. Photo by PlanGreen

Recommendations to re-naturalize the mouth of the Don River have been in existence since 1991.  According to a Wikipedia article on the DonIn 2007, the Toronto Waterfront Development Corporation (now WaterfrontToronto) held a design competition that looked at four different configurations for the mouth of the Don. The winning bid was made by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.[16] The environmental assessment is expected to be complete in 2008 and construction is scheduled to begin in 2010.[17]  That Environmental Assessment was only passed by the province January 26, 2015–a 7 year lag!  This was not because of the economic “recession.”  We were told that did not phase Toronto.

MVVA Plan for Re-Naturalizing Mouth of the Don

This 2007 award-winning plan by Michael Van Valkenburg associates can be found here http://www.mvvainc.com/project.php?id=60–along with many other tantalizing images.

When I reviewed the plans by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, I was reminded that Instead of creating naturalized banks along the straight course of the existing channel connecting the Don River with the lake, as was originally suggested in the project brief, MVVA’s design keeps the Keating Channel as an urban artifact and neighborhood amenity and creates a new mouth for the river that flows logically from the upstream source, bypassing the abrupt right turn created by the channel. A large new meandering riverfront park becomes the centerpiece of a new mixed-use neighborhood.

October 12, 2015

An interesting explanation for the delay of the re-naturalization of the Don River that I was expecting to see can be found in Planning Nature and the City: Toronto’s Lower Don River and Port Lands  by Gene Desfor and Jennifer Bonnell:

. . . in the fall of 2011 Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford, their right-wing allies, and competing development agencies, attempted to hijack current waterfront planning processes and radically alter plans for the Port Lands. Those sympathetic to Mayor Ford’s vision see these lands primarily as a way to ease budget woes by selling prime waterfront property to international developers. As the Toronto Star editorialized, “The Fords’ ludicrous vision for the future – complete with a megamall, monorail and giant Ferris wheel – was so abysmal that a tide of Torontonians rose up in protest. Most city councillors broke with the mayor’s program and quashed the takeover [of Waterfront Toronto].”31 At the time of writing [no date provided], a political solution is being sought in which Waterfront Toronto, the City, and various special purpose government organizations are working to design a compromise between Ford’s “ludicrous vision” and the plan based on the MVVA proposal.

Don Lands Map

There are three distinct plans for revitalization around the Don River:: West Don Lands (pale plum), Lower Don Lands (lime green) and Portl Lands (turquoise blue and light turquoise). Map courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

According to Waterfront Toronto website, construction of the Lower Don Lands Plan and the Port Lands Plan is yet to come.  There is no mention of the above controversy on their site.

A Waterfront Toronto newsroom article announced that on July 14, 2015 it, along with federal, provincial and city government partners, came up with $5M to take the next steps on the proposal to naturalize the Don River:

The due diligence work being primarily undertaken by Waterfront Toronto will provide governments with additional assurance on the estimated $975 million cost of this project, which includes rerouting the Don River to the middle of the Port Lands between the Ship Channel and the Keating Channel, remediating the area’s contaminated soil, creating new parks, wetlands and resilient urban infrastructure that will remove the flooding risk, unlock a vast area for revitalization and development – including the creation of a new community called Villiers Island – and create billions of dollars of economic development opportunities.

New Precinct Map

These new precincts are estimated to bring $3.6 billion in value, 7,672 person years of employment and $346 million in tax revenues. First partners must reroute the Don River, remediate the area’s contaminated soil, and create new parks, wetlands and resilient urban infrastructure that will remove the flooding risk. Image courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

The first phase of this due diligence work is scheduled to be completed by November of this year [2015],  and “will enable government funding of the project by providing confirmation of the cost of the project, strategies to mitigate the risks associated with the project, and an implementation strategy.”

The project would be ready to start by 2017 and take approximately seven years to complete.  An independent study by PwC done for Waterfront Toronto in 2014 estimates that “the project will generate $3.6 billion in value to the Canadian economy, 7,672 person years of employment and $346 million in tax revenues to all levels of government.”

So, to answer the question my title asks, “Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?”–LOOK FOR IT IN 2024!  That estimate, of course, will depend upon continued economic progress–progress that seems a bit uncertain right now.

City Creek Center as Biodiversity Engine?

DSCN0940June 2013 – City Creek Center was started in 2003 by the real estate investment arm of the Latter Day Saints. The intent was to bring back Salt Lake City’s Main Street in a downtown that was losing out to the suburbs. It’s a mixed-use project that includes retail shops, office space and 435 condominiums and 110 apartments. No public subsidy was received so the project does not include “affordable housing.”

It’s also a green roof project in that its 90,000 square feet of plantings, courtyards, roof gardens and water features cover a 6000 space parking structure. What a waterproofing challenge!

City-Creek-CenterTRAX

Both sides of the first Main Street TRAX stop are bordered by the Center. Photo courtesy of UTA.

“The things the LDS Church is doing with City Creek Center are going to be a positive boost to walkability and transit in Utah” according to “Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet,” a national report of the Sierra Club.  The Center brought more residents, employees, shoppers and diners to use the light rail system called TRAX.

Opening in 2012, with final touches added in 2013, this downtown revitalization project took 10 years to complete.  With development continuing throughout the crash in real estate, it was one of the only privately-funded projects of its size in the US that continued to build over the last few years. I happened to meet the Portland-based ZGF architect who was their project manager for the residential portion this week (at an event in Portland, first week of June 2013) and she confirmed how important this project was to her firm.  It also kept 2000 others employed throughout the development cycle and now employs over 7000 people.  It had about 16 million visitors in its first year of operation.

You can read more about the economic development aspects of City Creek Center elsewhere e.g., Salt Lake Tribune.  What I’m going to look at here is what role City Creek Center plays in putting Salt Lake City on the path to becoming the engine of biodiversity that Richard Louv exhorted CNU 21 attendees to work towards in our work.

DSCN0967

Although I’m not a fan of shopping centers, the creek kept me coming back day-after-day

City Creek Center was actually in the middle of my route to and from the Grand America Hotel where CNU21 was held from May 29 to June 1, 2013. Even though I’m NOT a fan of shopping centers, once I saw the creek there, I happily sauntered through it every day of my five-day stay.  It gave me a taste of what I was missing in the nearby canyons as I made my way to The Grand America each day.  The creek stimulated for me feelings of peacefulness—and a desire to get out into the real thing.

I recognized immediately the trees native to this area: Populus tremuloides – aspen; Betulae occidentalis – water birch; and Prunus virginiana – chokecherry. They were planted along a lovely creek that bubbled through boulders of native sandstone.  Below the canopy level, there were native sedges and rushes and shrubs– and a few plants I didn’t recognize as native. Tough non-native shrubs were brought in to overcome the trampling the natives were experiencing.

DSCN0966

Developers made an extraordinary effort to re-create the iconic creek that was so critical in Salt Lake City’s founding

I appreciated the fact that the developers named this center after a natural feature that used to be there—AND that they made an extraordinary attempt to re-create that natural feature in their development. The creek flows across three city blocks, and drops 37 feet in elevation from beginning to end. Some 600 boulders were brought in from an area near Park City and 627 native trees from nurseries in Oregon and Idaho.

As it meanders along pedestrian walkways and cafes, the recreated creek features three waterfalls and a fountain with 50-foot-high jets. The creek varies in width from one foot to 28 feet and from four inches to 18 inches in depth.  Some parts of the creek were stocked with Bonneville cutthroat trout and rainbow trout and those fish are now reproducing.

A 17-foot waterfall at Regent Court cascades at 2,500 gallons per minute over 14 ton Utah sandstone boulders.  The landscape is actually comprised of 13 different water features that recirculate their potable water. According to Ross Nadeau, Landscape Architect project manager, “We looked at utilizing City Creek itself and then at the de-watering water from the site, but we couldn’t make either work because of the filtration costs.”

DSCN0970

The creek serves as a draw for shoppers, employees and residents

City Creek Center received a LEED ND rating of Silver for its multiple efforts to be sustainable.  “The heart and namesake of our development is the re-creation of City Creek, which many years ago used to run through the downtown area of Salt Lake City,” said Val Fagre, former City Creek Reserve project manager—now retired. The craftsmanship put into building the creek is extraordinary.  And I can vouch that the creek serves as a draw for shoppers, employees and residents of City Creek Center. In the two times I ate at the Food Court there, I went to extra effort to sit near the creek. The Center also seems to attract plenty of young people to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights.

Nearby, City Creek Canyon has been protected from the beginning of the city’s history (over 150 years) to protect drinking water and wildlife habitat.  According to students in a class project in General Ecology at Westminster College:

GlacierLily

Glacier lilies are found along the City Creek Canyon Nature Trail

By learning the names of the native trees and shrubs that support the wildlife in City Creek Canyon along the nature trail loop, one can see which plants may be useful in backyard landscaping. Native plants introduced into the urban landscape around houses and yards help wildlife to survive in the city and help conserve water.

Based upon the students’ observations (I didn’t get there), City Creek Canyon could qualify as an engine of biodiversity.  But could City Creek Center qualify?

citycreekpark-(2)

City Creek Preserve could help City Creek Park become a true gateway to City Creek Canyon wildlife corridor–as well as give it a role in flood protection. Right now, it’s a concrete ditch (lower right). Photo courtesy of SLC Parks.

I missed the small signs that interpret the plants and fish of City Creek Center so it was not apparent to me how it was being used to influence further biodiversity–but the signage is there.  Does the experience of being in a pleasant environment lead people to go home and attempt to mimic what they saw while shopping or dining? Perhaps the center could be more proactive and run some “naturescaping” classes and host some native plant sales by local groups.  The project I would most like to see is for City Creek Preserve to work with the City’s Department of Parks and Public Lands to restore City Creek Park, to a more natural condition making it a better gateway to City Creek Canyon.  A stream buffer and wetlands could be quite important there to prevent or alleviate flooding in the future, e.g., heavy snow melt flooded State Street in 1983. The City is already undertaking some watershed restoration projects funded by Chevron as mitigation for an oil spill.  Hopefully, it won’t take such a negative event for City Creek Preserve to offer such assistance in order to increase its role as a biodiversity engine.

The boulders came from Brown’s Canyon quarry, a 100 year-old business near Park City.    Does that quarry have a biodiversity management plan (a BMP for quarries developed by World Wildlife Fund)? If not, what role should City Creek Preserve play in suggesting they start one?  Of course, such a suggestion would carry more weight before the stone was purchased.

The developers took their project through the pilot phase of LEED ND.  But did they consider Sustainable Sites, a system focused on measuring and rewarding a project that protects, restores and regenerates ecosystem services – benefits provided by natural ecosystems such as cleaning air and water, climate regulation and human health benefits.

I believe City Creek Center would score well in the “Human Health & Well-being” category.  But I’m still concerned about all of the water and power used in this engineered ecosystem. Tell us what you think below: Does City Creek Center pass muster as a biodiversity engine for Salt Lake City?  Why or why not?

 

Portland: A New Kind of City II

In Portland: A New Kind of City I, I argued that if Portland is to achieve some of its other policies in the Watershed Health and Environment chapter of Working Draft 1, Portland Comprehensive Plan, policies such as Biodiversity and Habitat Corridors, it is important for any policy on Vegetation to stress the importance of NATIVE vegetation–in part, because native species of insects, the base of the food chain, need native plants to survive.

I want to now draw your attention to policies under the “Design With Nature” section of the Urban Design and Development chapter–one of the sections with the greatest potential to lead to transformational design and a new kind of city.

Policy 5.45 Greening the built environment. Encourage the incorporation and preservation of large healthy trees, native trees, and other vegetation in development. 5.45.a. Prioritize integrating natural elements and systems, including trees, green spaces, and vegetated stormwater management systems, into centers. 

Change Policy 5.45 and 5.45.a. to:  5.45 Encourage the preservation of existing large healthy trees and encourage the incorporation of native trees and other native vegetation into development.  5.45.a. Prioritize integrating natural elements and systems, including native trees, natural areas, and stormwater management systems utilizing native vegetation into centers.

Invasive English ivy and Himalayan blackberry growing along the Willamette River in February. Green is not always "green"!

Invasive English ivy and Himalayan blackberry growing along the Willamette River in February this content. Green is not always “green”!

My further comments on Policy 5.45: “Greening the built environment” should make clear that green is not always “green”. We have a number of trees and vegetation that actually threaten watershed health and community livability rather than benefit it.  This policy needs to be more explicit on what is green.

I realize that with global warming, plant zones are changing. That doesn’t mean that we should be welcoming more alien ornamentals from all over the world. Rather, we might monitor the robustness of our native species and possibly look to bring in more species from areas of southern Oregon or northern California. 

Policy 5.46 Commentary: (Policies in the Working Draft have commentaries on the left pages) Habitat and wildlife‐friendly design, promotes development that integrates green infrastructure, habitat‐and bird‐friendly design, and the use of appropriate, NON-INVASIVE PLANTS (emphasis mine) for pollinators. . .

Change to:  Habitat and wildlife‐friendly design, promotes development that integrates green infrastructure, habitat‐and bird‐friendly design,and the use of native plants for pollinators and other native wildlife species.

My comments on Policy 5.46 Commentary: In Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy cites numerous

Photo by Clay RuthThe larvae of native insects need native plants to survive.

Photo by Clay Ruth
The larvae of native insects need native plants to survive.

scientific studies (including his own) to show that even if some of our adult native insect species can use alien ornamental plants, their larvae cannot. Insects need NATIVE plant species to procreate the web of life. Since our native insects are the base of the food chain for birds and many other species of wildlife, they need native plants too. You need to define habitat, at least in part, as native vegetation—in both the commentary and the policies.

Policy 5.46. Habitat and wildlife-friendly design. Encourage habitat and wildlife-friendly neighborhood, site, and building design.

. . . 5.46.b. Encourage the incorporation of habitat into landscaping, sustainable stormwater facilities, and other features of the built environment.

Change 5.46.b to:  In order to provide habitat, encourage the incorporation native vegetation into landscaping, sustainable stormwater facilities, and other features of the built environment.

The Nature PrincipleCov

Louv points out that all plants are not the same in their ability to support food webs.

I’ll rest my comments on Policy 5.46 with a quote from Richard Louv in his book The Nature Principle:

All plants are not the same.  Unfortunately, all plants are not equal in their ability to support food webs.  Food webs develop locally over thousands of generations, with each member of the web adapting to the particular traits of the other members of the web.

I also request that Portland add a definition of habitat in the Glossary that includes native vegetation. 

I’m really not a one horse planner.  I really care about so many other aspects of urban design and development. But I feel that it is so vitally important that Portland planners and designers recognize the importance of native vegetation in achieving the City’s  goals. Unfortunately, such recognition does not appear to be the case at present.  The landscape features along central Portland’s portion of the Willamette River are currently filled with alien ornamentals and its sustainable storm water facilities continue to be filled with them too. Portland has many LEED-rated buildings, but native plants are rare in their landscapes as well. And yet this Comprehensive Plan foresees far more landscape integrated into our built environment.  It is critical to get the policy right and work with landscape architectural professionals and their schools so that we’ll have people competent to implement the policy.

I’ll have more comments on other sections of Working Draft 1, but for now I want to go out and promote this exciting document and get YOU to comment too! Thanks for doing such a great job on so many fronts, Portland planners!

Portland: A New Kind of City I

. . . As of 2008, more people now live in cities than in the countryside, worldwide. This is a huge moment in human history. This means one of two things: either human connection to nature will continue to disintegrate, or this will lead to the beginning of a new kind of city, one with new kinds of workplaces and homes that actually connect people to nature.         Richard Louv, Leaf Litter, Winter Solstice 2012

CompPlanGuideCov

The Portland Comp Plan Working Draft 1 released in January, 2013 begins to envision that new kind of city for this “huge moment in history.” It includes a transportation network that aspires to integrate nature into neighborhoods through civic corridors, neighborhood greenways and habitat connections. By doing that it seeks to: 1) increase people’s access to the outdoors, 2) provide corridors for wildlife movement, and 3) catch and treat stormwater.Its Watershed Health and the Environment chapter encourages the protection/enhancement of natural systems and their role in promoting public health—as you might expect from a chapter with that heading. However the emphasis on “designing with nature” in both its Design and Development chapter and its Transportation chapter is what really sets this plan apart and makes it transformational. It puts Portland ahead of the curve in creating Louv’s new kind of city!

The fact that we have such wise and forward-thinking planners and advisory groups to create such a draft plan does NOT mean that the work is over, however.  The devil is in the details!  So, I hope that you will review those details, attend a community workshop or two, and add your thoughts. Below, I’m sharing some of my own comments on the Comp Plan Working Draft 1 in hopes that you will voice your support for them as well as develop your own points.

I was excited to see the draft Comp Plan promise (p,14) “encouraging building and site designs that have native plants and more permeable surfaces and mimic nature, so that pollutants stay out of rivers and streams.” Only once in the actual policies, however, is there any mention of native vegetation. And that one citation is followed by an exception big enough to let an area that could be a haven for more native wildlife—the west side of the Willamette River from the Steel to the Ross Island Bridges—stand as is: largely bereft of native vegetation.

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It’s difficult to find native plants along the west side of the Willamette River from Steel Bridge to Ross Island Bridge

Policy 4.3 Vegetation. Protect, enhance and restore native AND OTHER BENEFICIAL (emphasis mine) vegetation in riparian corridors, wetlands, floodplains and upland areas.

Change to:

Policy 4.3 Vegetation. Protect, enhance and restore native vegetation throughout the landscape.

4.3a. Riparian Corridors, Wetlands, And Floodplains:  Protect, enhance and restore native vegetation in critical wildlife areas such as riparian corridors, wetlands, and floodplains.

4.3b. Upland Areas:  Protect and enhance native and other beneficial tree species. Restore the landscape with diverse native species including trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

My further comments on Policy 4.3: Since riparian corridors, wetlands, and floodplains are the most critical areas for wildlife they are the most important to be restored to predominantly native plants.  What we plant from here on out along our rivers, streams and wetlands should be native check over here. Remove “and other beneficial” vegetation from the policy.

Chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of Delaware, Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home argues that if alien species were providing as many ecosystem services in their new homes as they did where they evolved, they would support about the same number of insect species in both areas—but they do not. He states:

For an alien species to contribute to the ecosystem it has invaded, it must interact with the other species in that ecosystem in the same ways that the species it has displaced interacted. . . This contribution is most likely when species have evolved together over long periods of time.

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Tallamy’s slide show at Oregon Community Trees conference left community foresters committed to using native trees.

Upland areas could be separate. I would not argue against enhancing the lives of some non-invasive, non-native trees (such as our large old elms) via treatment. I’m not yet ready to maintain that all of the street trees the city plants should be native—only that many, many more of them should be. Tallamy keynoted an Oregon Community Trees conference last year where he made the same point I’m making–as well as a lasting impression on attendees involved with community trees. “When I talk about the value of biodiversity, he said, I am talking about a natural resource that is critical to our long-term persistence in North America.”

 The Comp Plan needs to stress the need to plant more NATIVE trees and plants in upland areas too.  See my next blog, Portland: A New Kind of City II  for further comments on Working Draft 1 of the Portland Comp Plan.

What’s Next Portland? Real Estate in the New Economy

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.