Monthly Archives: March 2010

Go Native!

This article first appeared March 23, 2010 on Sustainable Industries Blog

“With one of the richest ecosystems on the planet, Oregon is also one of the poorest states in the nation—especially once you get away from the glitter of Portland,” bemoaned Robert Young, University of Oregon Assistant Professor of Planning, Public Policy & Management, at a recent lecture in Portland. His solution was to get more local—with food production, energy production, transportation systems and with the use of local resources in general.  “Depart from the current model of export, export, export,” he said.

I want to offer an addendum to this “get local” agenda:  Landscapes we design from here on out should get local too.  Let’s go native. Whether the site is in the urban core, rural or anywhere in between, I propose that any site certified by a “green” rating system should use only native species in its landscaping.

Serviceberry - a native tree

Serviceberry is a native flowering trees that could provide far more habitat to the native song birds whose numbers have been dwindling

Going native would help us recover native biodiversity and the ecosystem services that diverse native plant and animal species provide for free.  For example, native insects help us fend off invasions of destructive alien insects, pollinate plants, return nutrients tied up in dead plants and animals to the soil, aerate and enrich the soil and provide food for most other animals.  As communities strain under budget deficits, these free services may become even more important.

Going native would be more equitable to our native wildlife.  The base of the food chain for native wildlife is comprised of native insects and most of those insects need native plants to survive.

Finally, going native would also leave us less vulnerable to the myriad diseases and carriers that we have imported (and continue to import) on ornamental aliens—e.g., chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, dogwood anthracnose, pine blister rust, sudden oak death, hemlock woolly adelgid—and save us from the financial wreckage such infestations cause to the economy.

This week I learned about Drosophila suzukii, an Asian fruit fly that Oregon farmer Stuart Olson describes as “the most devastating insect I’ve ever seen in agriculture.”  According to the Oregonian, this spotted winged fruit fly lays its eggs in tiny holes it drills in soft fruit. The larvae eat the fruit from the inside, leaving behind nothing but a gooey mess. Originally imported into California from Asia, this pest moved into Oregon and Washington in 2009 and has already caused some fruit growers losses of 80 percent of their late-season crops and 30 percent of their income.  It may drive other countries to ban import of our fruit.

Portland AIA Center for Architecture

LEED Platinum Portland AIA Center for Architecture uses alien ornamental vines to shade its building and capture stormwater

We have a long way to go to get to my “go native” ideal—even in eco-city Portland.  On First Thursdays I often head down to Portland’s once industrial, now gentrifying Pearl District to take in the gallery openings. I regularly stop at the Center for Architecture, a former carriage house rehabbed by the Portland chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) as its office, meeting and gallery space.

While Portland AIA is to be commended for devising a landscape that provides for both stormwater filtration and solar shading to this historic 10,000 square foot LEED-EB Platinum building remodel, I am dismayed that the chapter didn’t go further with the ecosystem services its landscape could be performing.  It chose to use two species of alien ornamental climbing vines in a two-foot wide planter box along the south-facing length of the building. Another species of climbing vine—Japanese honeysuckle—took 80 years to escape cultivation and start invading east coast forests where it strangles trees. English ivy and other invasive climbers have made me wary of such vines in the Northwest.  Native vine alternatives are virgin’s bower, orange honeysuckle and California wild grape.

Non-native plants at South Waterfront

None of these plants are native, despite their proximity to the river’s edge at Portland's South Waterfront LEED Buildings

By using several species of alien ornamental, rather than native plants, AIA fails to take full advantage of the opportunity to educate both its designer members and the public about the need for biodiversity recovery.  AIA is only one of the many LEED-certified buildings in the core area of Portland that included potentially problematic species in the landscape. Asian bamboos, Asian grasses and Nandina seem ubiquitous in LEED designs.

I also believe that landscapes of native species help to give visitors and residents alike a true sense of place.  They help distinguish where one is on the planet.  Because they attract more native insects, they attract more bird species—adding further to the sense of place one gets in a fully functioning ecosystem.

Although New Urbanism focuses on “placemaking,” the New Urbanist neighborhoods that I have visited fail in this respect too.  Most have landscapes filled with the same turf grass and the same species of alien ornamentals you find anywhere in the country.

Trilliums are one of the lovely native wildflowers that rival any of the alien ornamentals with which we fill our environment

I’m working on making the use of native plants a prerequisite, rather than a point, in the Sustainable Sites (SITES) rating system ( in hopes that it will help to create a paradigm shift in landscape design. That potential would become even more pronounced with SITES integration into LEED.

Landscaping will play an increasingly vital role in keeping our communities livable and resilient as the climate changes.  To help us better address the effects of climate change, to help us provide a more authentic sense of place, to help us live more in harmony with the earth, to help our local economies thrive, GO NATIVE!

Mary Vogel is a Portland-based Congress for the New Urbanism-Accredited planning and urban design consultant offering sustainability services to local governments and private organizations.  She is a problem-solver who is helping communities become more efficient and resilient, more compact and walkable, more connected to nature’s services and more prosperous and self-reliant—better prepared for the challenges of the 21st Century.

Sustainability experts embrace ‘new urbanism’ – Portland Business Journal

There are a few inaccuracies in this story in Portland Business Journal that I point out below, but it is still great to have it.  We’re excited to be in one of the first issues of their Sustainable Business Oregon.  Please go to the original site so you can add your own comments!

Sustainability experts embrace ‘new urbanism’

by Andy Giegerich

Mary Vogel, PlanGreen

Three Portland sustainable development consultants are among the first in the nation to receive a new accreditation for sustainable urban planning from the Chicago-based Congress for New Urbanism.

The three local recipients, Mary Vogel of PlanGreen, Michael Mehaffy of Structura Naturalis Inc., and Laurence Qamar of Laurence Qamar Architecture and Town Planning Co., are all practitioners of the new urbanist style of neighborhood planning, where the goal is to create sustainable, walkable neighborhoods.

The CNU’s exam-based accreditation program, designed in collaboration with the University of Miami, is designed for urban planning professionals working within a new sustainable neighborhood development standard called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development, or LEED-ND.

The concept essentially calls for services, jobs and residences to remain as close together as possible.

“New urbanism is about revitalizing city centers, or the cores of Main Street America,” said Qamar, a Lake Oswego-based architect. “It can also start with a suburban model, but it promotes how new development and growth should happen all the way down to the neighborhood level.”

Put another way, “There are little towns or neighborhoods where you just want to get out and walk, and feel and touch the place,” said Vogel. “New urbanism tries to achieve that sense of place and community those places tend to have.”

Vogel owns PlanGreen, a Portland ecosystems company that devises water filtration and air purification strategies. Vogel helps developers include such contingencies in their neighborhood projects.

Qamar oversaw sustainability touches on such area projects as Fairview Village and Gresham Station.

Mehaffy, owns Structura Naturalis Inc., a Lake Oswego consultancy that’s advised governments and private companies on sustainable urban development methods. He’s best known for developing Hillsboro’s Orenco Station, home to condos, several upscale shops and accessible to Portland’s light rail line. He also developed Salem’s Pringle Creek project.

The Portland planners are three of the 170 newly certified neighborhood LEED advocates nationwide.

Vogel primarily aims to incorporate more nature components in urban designs. She advises clients on redirecting stormwater so that it recharges streams and rivers, relieving burdens from existing sewer systems, collecting more water from evapotranspiration (or water both on the earth’s surface and within plants that’s evaporated) and providing habitats for native pollinators.

Like other new urbanism champions, Vogel believes the philosophy can effectively limit auto use.

“If a community is really walkable, you don’t want to be in a car,” said Vogel, a Portland newcomer who’s advised Vancouver, Wash., officials on Highway 99 sustainability-oriented redesigns. “I truly believe it’s the wave of the future. It’s the preference of younger populations because of the convergence of peak oil and climate change.”

Mehaffy noted that new urbanism doesn’t seek to eliminate car use altogether.

“It doesn’t mean we get everyone out of cars, it just means we have more cohesion, and we think more about projects that we put in remote areas,” he said. “If you look at the (most recent) recession, it was actually triggered in the far-out suburbs of the U.S.”

Mehaffy’s Orenco “town center” project is considered a solid new urbanism venture because it’s accessible by light rail. Some 25,000 Orenco-area residents and others board trains at the center’s station each day.

Qamar simply hopes new urbanism will inspire developers and builders to examine their work more holistically. Portland’s 2040 plan, overseen by the Metro regional government, laid out where regional centers, such as in downtown Gresham, can take shape. But he’s concerned that improving urban sprawl on such streets as 82nd Avenue, on Portland’s east side, might be too difficult.

Such areas could benefit from city officials’ efforts to incorporate “20-minute” neighborhood concepts into the Portland Plan. The proposals, which Portland’s planning department is developing, could provide a blueprint for growth over the next several decades.

“Ideally, there are ways to rework shopping centers and office parks and brownfields and knit together these neighborhoods in ways that make for more functioning and coherent communities,” he said. “But to get there, you have to make ways for neighbors to walk to their daily needs.”

Vogel, Qamar and Mehaffy have started their own chapter for local new urbanism proponents. The Cascadia CNU chapter, which includes branches in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., counts 100 members.


Thanks Andy and other friends at PBJ! We reallly appreciate the attention. There are a few mis-statements or misinterpretations in the article that Mehaffy, Qamar and I feel are important to clear up:
1. To say the “new urbanist style of neighborhood planning” is misleading. We have a set of principles that includes designing neighborhoods so that all residents can meet their basic needs on foot (assuming they can walk). We also believe that streets should be designed for all users, not just automobile drivers, so we design streets that are delightful to pedestrians and we are beginning to design streets that manage their own stormwater. But there is no new urbanist style.
2. Michael Mehaffy did not develop either Orenco Station or Pringle Creek. He was Project Manager for developer PacWest on Orenco and he has done work for the developer of Pringle Creek.
3. Mehaffy said that 25,000 cars drive on Cornell Road daily, and only about 5,000 people board at Orenco Station daily.
4. Laurence Qamar is based in Portland, not Lake Oswego.
3. To say that “Qamar oversaw sustainability touches on such area projects as Fairview Village and Gresham Station” perhaps gives the wrong impression. He did help make them more pleasant places to walk, but he didn’t add the kind of thing people usually think of as sustainability touches: green roofs, solar collectors, daylighting skylights, rain gardens, etc.
4. None of us feel “that improving urban sprawl on such streets as 82nd Avenue, on Portland’s east side, might be too difficult”. In fact, we have access to a “Sprawl Repair” tool kit that could help to greatly improve those places.
5. Each of us signed the petition list to start a CNU chapter in the PNW, but so did a number of our colleagues. So, to say that they “started their own chapter” may be misleading.
6. Vogel is not really “a Portland newcomer.” I have lived only one year DOWNTOWN, but I’ve lived about 6 years in other SW Portland neighborhoods (Collins View, Marshall Park, Hillsdale) and even a stint in Washington County. I’ve lived in Oregon for nearly 20 years and I know its native plants better than most native human residents. Oh, and I’m a Friends of Trees Crew Leader in Portland’s east side neighborhoods, so I know them quite well as well.
7. I usually describe my business as helping to bring ecosystems services to excellent urban design, but I was a bit surprised to see it characterized as “devises water filtration and air purification strategies.” I guess you could say it that way!

Mary Vogel, CNU-A
Putting Ecosystem Services into Excellent Urban Design
A Woman Business Enterprise in Oregon


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CNU Accreditation

As the owner of PlanGreen, a planning consulting business fostering sustainability, I wanted to be in the first round of CNU-Accredited professionals because I believe that CNU has one of the most powerful messages in the nation to address what fellow new urbanist James Howard Kunstler calls the converging catastrophes of the 21st Century.  I wanted to be identified with that sustainability message and body of knowledge.

I believe that at least the vanguard of the green building movement is coming to see how potent our message is too.  Cascadia Green Building Council has scheduled Kunstler to keynote its Living Futures 2010 “Unconference” and, as a new urbanist, I was invited to blog for Sustainable Industries new blog site.  (It’s editor found me when I sent in a press release on the three Portland area business owners who received accreditation.)

As our ability to redesign the wastelands of suburbia and shape sustainable urbanism becomes more apparent, I believe our recognition in the eyes of the public and our membership will burgeon even beyond that of USGBC.  Although I have actively participated in annual Congresses and on the Pro-Urb listserv for years, I felt that the process of studying for the exam was of value in collating my knowledge.  However, like all thoughtful new urbanists, I disagreed with portions of the readings.

I would encourage others to pursue the CNU-A credential—both to further your own career in the years ahead and to help build recognition for new urbanism in building healthy and climate-friendly communities with engaged citizens.  Take the leap!