Monthly Archives: June 2020

Residential Infill Project and Historic Resources

June 12, 2020 – Originally given June 3, 2020 as oral testimony to Portland City Council on behalf of Portland, OR Small Developer Alliance. Items in brackets were added to the testimony for this blog.

Portland Small Developer Alliance Logo

Hello Mayor and Commissioners:

I’m Mary Vogel, Principal of PlanGreen and co-founder of Portland Small Developer Alliance.  After the events of this week, I hope the amendments before you—as well as the RIP [Residential Infill Project] itself—can play a small role in allaying some of the pent up anger at a housing system that especially excludes African Americans.

African American Historic Resources Endangered by RIP

In consideration of Denyse McGriff’s March 10 testimony about unequal impact of RIP on African American historic resources, we DO NOT suggest eliminating Amendment 7—(Although we would like to see it revised).  Could it instead apply only to the area that was part of the 1993 Albina Plan? Or could we come up with a revised amendment that addresses McGriff’s concerns without becoming a loophole for wealthy neighborhoods to avoid the RIP?

African American historic preservation activist Denyse McGriff believes AA historic resources will be hurt by RIP

Example of AHC's work with Portland's African American Community

[When I talked to Denyse McGriff, now a City Commission member for Oregon City, she told me that her involvement in historic preservation spans several decades.  She is on the Board of Oregon’s Architectural Heritage Center and is proud of some of the work they have done with the African American community. “Cornerstones of Community: Buildings of Portland’s African American History” (adjacent) is an example. Others can be found on AHC’s website.]

Wealthy Neighborhoods Try to Weasel Out of RIP

This way wealthy neighborhoods with historic designations won’t be able to weasel out of providing more housing choice—as those testifying against Amendment 7 fear. [E.g., see Ethan Seltzer’s excellent short testimony on Map App.]

[For those of you who won’t go to links, Ethan writes in part: The RIP is one of the most important planning decisions the City will be making in my entire time in Portland, now going back over 40 years. . . Rather, it’s past time to expect that every neighborhood offer the opportunity for broad range of housing options to be found there. . .First, I am in opposition to Amendment Package 7. As written, it could apply the term “contributing structure” to an entire district. This only furthers the perversion with which historic districts have been created throughout the city, mostly, in my view, with dubious links to history and too little specificity regarding the rationale for historic significance.

My own neighborhood, Alameda, were it to be proposed for historic status, would, like all of the other historic districts in the city have to be recognized for it’s legacy of overt racial and ethnic segregation and exclusion, the true historic legacy of these neighborhoods. Amendment package 7 simply creates another barrier to real housing production and reform due to its sweeping language and invitation for imprecise application. . .]

Adaptive Re-use Recommendations

If the goal is to encourage adaptive re-use of historic resources—the City needs to provide building code changes and appropriate incentives to ensure their success.  In Small Developer Alliance’s Feb 13 testimony, Garlynn Woodsong had in-depth suggestions for regulatory changes

fire sprinklers, window openings, and insulation that make it very difficult and expensive to do adaptive re-use of historic resources

The Dekum Charles was redeveloped by Woodsong Associates from a single-family to four condos. Woodsong concluded that he could have torn down and rebuilt the same house for much less time and money. Photo: PlanGreen.

Amongst the areas it covered were  Building Code Classification (commercial v residential)–then such common items in the Oregon State Building Code as fire sprinklers, window openings, insulation, sound transmission, elevators and greywater that make it very difficult and expensive to do internal conversions/adaptive re-use of existing homes. Portland’s City Code largely obstructs adaptive re-use of large single-family homes for group living as well.

Building Code Change Coalition

We are aware that City staff is already working to change some of these regulations at both the state and local level and we hope we can coalesce folks to support the City’s efforts in the building code change process as soon as you pass RIP!  Continued work on such changes—as well as incentives—will make it economically feasible to adapt and re-use historic homes at reduced cost without any sacrifices to safety or health.

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Mary Vogel, CNU-A/PlanGreen consults on climate resiliency and climate justice and co-founder of the Portland, OR Small Developer Alliance, a group related to CNU and the Incremental Development Alliance. She welcomes your response to this blog.

Slow Street to Downtown Greenway

June 11, 2020, first given as oral testimony May 28, 2020

This blog calls for equity for the low-income people on the front lines of air pollution in downtown Portland. It was written as a testimony for a May 28 hearing on the re-adoption of Portland’s Central City 2035 Plan,

Honorable Mayor and Commissioners:

I’m Mary Vogel, a climate resiliency/climate justice consultant based in downtown’s West End who has been involved in Central City 2035 since its inception. So much air-time was given to neighbors who wanted height limits in the West End to be limited to 100 feet, that those of us from SW 12th Avenue didn’t get sufficient consideration of our health, safety, air quality and other resiliency concerns.

Frontline for Worst Air Quality

Residents in the low-income buildings (both subsidized and market rate)  that populate much of SW 12th   Ave. are downtown’s buffer to the worst of the air and noise pollution from I-405. And that’s some of the worst in the nation—see Figure 1.

This Toxicity Index Covers airborne cancer risk, respiratory hazards and lead exposure. Adjacent Census Tracts have same rating. Source USEPA EJ Screen and Upstream Research.

 

Urban Greenway

So, I am asking you to consider a new design for SW 12th Ave from SW Montgomery to West Burnside—one that better fits the original proposal from Portland Bureau of Transportation. That proposal was to make SW 12th the Urban Greenway my neighbors and I deserve to better protect our health!

I was puzzled about what happened to that Urban Greenway–until investigative journalists Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland and Sarah Mirk of Portland Mercury explained how West End business owners and Portland Business Alliance got the project nixed.

  • Checking in on the SW 12th Avenue project  Maus explains how a letter from these scions of the Portland business community with property in the West End wrote a letter demanding a study:
      • John Underhill – Jake’s Restaurant
      • Jordan Menashe – Menashe Properties
      • Greg Goodman – City Center Parking
      • Christopher Robbins – McMenamin’s
      • Steve Roselli – Harsch Investment
      • Brian Wilson – Kalberer Companies
      • Don Singer – Singer Properties
      • Mark Edlen – Gerding Edlen
      • Alix Nathan – Mark Spencer Hotel Block
  • Businesses Protest Planned Downtown Bike Lane  “At the heart of this issue is how businesses view bikes in the central city” writes Mirk.

Both of these articles focus mostly on the bike lane, rather than the Greenway. But the Greenway would address the needs of a far broader spectrum of people. It would also contribute far more to livability and urban biodiversity.

Re-Design for Climate Justice

I want you to consider adding to CC2035’s Transportation System Plan–and to subsequent street plans–an improved version of this crude version I did on Streetmix.

The three motor vehicle travel lanes would be necked down to a single “Sharrow” for motorized and non-motorized vehicles.  I keep parking lanes on both sides of the street  to help the churches and businesses losing parking when the surface parking lots that dominate the street are re-developed. Planting strips are my stand in for stormwater planter basins that will filter stormwater using native plants. Some, but not all, parklets could be “Street Seats” (a PBOT program) for restaurants. In any case, they would only take up part of each block. The rest of the space would be devoted to stormwater planters, bike corrals, and bike or scooter share facilities. New buildings would vary in height up to 15 stories+. Where a curb cut for a loading dock or garage or underground utilities take up a tree space, green walls will be required up the first 10 stories of the building. All of this would contribute to renewed health–for residents, for businesses and for the environment.

My plan assumes that you will keep the ecoroof requirement in CC 2035 that I myself and others worked so hard to get into that policy. One of my advocacy groups put out a distress call that you may be planning to eliminate it.

In the name of climate justice and equity, I’m asking you to put the SW 12th Avenue Urban Greenway back into CC 2035. Please bring it back to protect those of us on the frontline of pollution. THANK YOU!

Slow Street/Safe Street

We realize full design and implementation may take awhile.  So, please make SW 12th a Slow Street/Safe Street by necking it down to one lane throughout its length–along the lines of the image above. One lane has been done many times in the past six years for two-block segments due to construction. There has been little to no impact on motor vehicle traffic.  A SLOW STREET now will make a great Tactical Urbanism approach to ultimately achieving the URBAN GREENWAY that SW 12th Avenue residents deserve.

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Mary Vogel, CNU-A/PlanGreen consults on climate resiliency and climate justice and is co-founder of Portland, OR Small Developer Alliance, a group related to CNU and the Incremental Development Alliance. She welcomes your response to this blog.

Housing Density and Pandemic: Study the Facts

June 7, 2020

Portland City Council held hearings on three policies involving housing density in May and June. One of them–the Residential Infill Project–has been FIVE YEARS in the making.  A number of neighbors point to the current pandemic as a reason NOT to amend zoning regulations that would add more density to their single-family neighborhood (or historic district in the case of Central City 2035). I think that would be a big mistake as there is abundant evidence that density is NOT dangerous!  In fact, denser communities give their residents better infrastructure to shelter in place.

Facts Don’t Support Argument

Congress for New Urbanism journal editor Rob Steuteville’s Facts Don’t Support the Density is Dangerous Narrative was the first data I saw on the topic. Two comparisons that were particularly telling were:

• Suburban Montgomery County, PA v. Philadelphia, PA. As of Friday April 3, the county had one case per 2,924 people where Philadelphia had one case per 3,940 people. So Montgomery County had a greater infection rate, yet it has one-seventh the density.
• In New York City infection rates in Stanten Island were approximately the same as Manhattan—with 8.5 times the density.

I’ve taken quotes from a few more studies that may be helpful in assuaging our neighbors’ fears that further density in their neighborhood may fuel pandemics.

Density Is Not Destiny

Vancouver, BC is nearly 3x denser than Portland, OR, but it had a lower rate of infection--45 v 54; Seattle, which is about half as dense, had a rate of 205

Vancouver, BC is nearly 3x denser than Portland, OR, but it had a lower rate of infection–45 v 54; Seattle, which is about half as dense, had a rate of 205. Photo: Global News

 

In  Density is Not Destiny: Covid in Cascadia in City Observatory Joe Cortwright states “Vancouver [BC] is in the same region, and roughly the same size as Portland and Seattle. It is far denser, and yet it has performed the best of the three in fighting the spread of the Corona virus. It should be pretty compelling evidence that density is not a determining factor of whether one is vulnerable to the pandemic or not..”

 

The New Face of Urban Density

In late April, San Francisco had only 1300 confirmed COVID-19 cases compared to 8450 in Los Angeles. Photo: AARP Guide

In late April, San Francisco had only 1300 confirmed COVID-19 cases compared to 8450 in Los Angeles. Photo: AARP Guide

Liam Dillon, LA Times staff writer in Coronavirus: The New Face of Urban Density writes “At the same time, there’s lots of evidence that shows density isn’t destiny. . . “An analysis by New York University’s Furman Center found no relationship between the coronavirus and overall population density within New York City, with neighborhoods in Manhattan, the city’s densest borough, having some of the lowest infection rates.” “. . . The same is true for America’s next densest big city, San Francisco, which. . . [in late April] had reported only about 1,300 confirmed cases — compared with more than 8,450 in the city of Los Angeles.”  The LA Times continues to track figures throughout the state and the ratio holds today.

Evidence from China

Some of China’s densest cities--Shenghai, Zhuhai (shown here), Shenzhen, Beijing and Tianjin--have managed to keep the lowest infection rates.

Some of China’s densest cities–Shenghai, Zhuhai (shown here), Shenzhen, Beijing and Tianjin–have managed to keep the lowest infection rates. Photo: Shutterstock

On a World Bank Blog, Wanli Fang and Sameh Wahba’s write in Urban Density Is Not the Enemy in the Coronavirus Fight: Evidence from China:
“. . .To find out whether or not population density is a key factor in the spread of the coronavirus, we collected data for 284 Chinese cities.” They found that China’s densest cities tended to have the lowest infection rates. They surmised that “Higher densities, in some cases, can even be a blessing rather than a curse in fighting epidemics. . .For instance, in dense urban areas where the coverage of high-speed internet and door-to-door delivery services are conveniently available at competitive prices, it is easier for residents to stay at home and avoid unnecessary contact with others.”

Crowding Is Dangerous and New Zoning Policies Will Help

The NYU Furman Center study and the China study too, did find that the virus is more prevalent in areas where more people are crowding into homes—say six people into a two-bedroom apartment.  So it’s CROWDING that is dangerous, not density.

Crowding exists in Portland too, BUT rarely in the neighborhoods where neighbors are expressing the greatest concern. Adopting the housing policies under discussion: Expanding Opportunities for Affordable Housing and Residential Infill Project and Re-adoption of Central City 2035 will likely help to lessen, not exacerbate, such over-crowding in the Portland lower-income neighborhoods that currently experience it.

There is abundant evidence that density is NOT dangerous!  In fact, denser communities give their residents better infrastructure to shelter in place.  Regardless of whether you support proposed infill housing policies or not. I hope you will continue to educate yourselves! Please study the facts!

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Mary Vogel, CNU-A/PlanGreen consults on climate resiliency and climate justice. She is also co-founder of  Portland, OR Small Developer Alliance, a group related to CNU and the Incremental Development Alliance. She welcomes your response to this blog.