Author Archives: Mary Vogel

About Mary Vogel

Mary Vogel is the President of PlanGreen.

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.

End Treeless Asphalt Deserts Downtown

Central City 2035 Key Element

Last year, as part of its Comprehensive Plan update process, Portland City Council passed CC 2035, an updated plan for the central city. The Key Elements of this plan give interested residents strong footing to address the surface parking lots in downtown’s West End as the fourth key element is:  4. Redevelopment. Encourage new development on surface parking lots and vacant lots..

Surface parking lot owners have negatively impacted the health and well-being of  downtown residents for far too long. Besides the noise and air pollution that they bring to their neighbors these treeless asphalt deserts are more than 10 degrees hotter than surrounding areas. When it’s 105 degrees and smoky, walking by them for block after block is nearly unbearable–especially for the many downtown residents who use canes and walkers.  Take a look at what I’m talking about–bearing in mind that this is DOWNTOWN Portland. . .

SW 12th & Main looking north

Image 1 Treeless asphalt desert SW12th and Main looking north towards Salmon St. The tree on the right is a highly invasive Ailanthus that has since been removed.–leaving residents of the Pinecone Apartments with no shade from the southwest sun. Photo by PlanGreen.

SW 12th & Salmon looking southwest

Image2. Treeless asphalt desert SW12th and Salmon looking southwest with First Unitarian Church in background. Photo by PlanGreen.

SW 12th & Taylor looking northeast

Image 3. Treeless asphalt desert, SW12th and Taylor St. looking northeast to Morrison St where there are two food carts. Photo by PlanGreen.

Image 4. SW 12th and Washington St. is the only lot that has a development proposal, 11 West–submitted by the owners of the lot and their development partners. Photo by PlanGreen.

SW 11th and Main St looking west

Image 5. SW 11th and Main St looking west with First Unitarian Church in the background. The church occupies the whole block and has four historic Hawthorne trees in front of Eliot Chapel. Photo by PlanGreen.

SW Main St. and Park Ave. looking west

Image 6. SW Main St. and Park Ave. Three half block treeless asphalt deserts in a row looking west up SW Main. Photo by PlanGreen.

SW 10th and Main

Image 7. SW 10th and Main St. looking north. Note the Museum Parking sign, the only hint that this lot is owned by Portland Art Museum although the Early Bird sign makes one think its City Center Parking. Photo by PlanGreen.

You might believe that with current real estate values, they will all be developed soon. But throughout the central city building boom in Portland, this hasn’t happened. In fact, Portland Art Museum’s lot depicted in Images 6 and 7 has been a surface parking lot for 88 years!

In August of 2017, commercial real estate consultant, Brian Owendoff explained to a Portland State University Real Estate class his opinion on why there will be little movement:

1. Land Price too high: very tough to make an apartment or office tower economically viable @ $600 SF for land cost.
2. The Inclusionary Zoning requirement reduces net operating income by 10%, more or less, making apartment development not economically viable.
3. Construction costs are very high due in large part to labor shortages.
All three result in project returns below what is acceptable for institutional investment or third party construction debt.

Some Solutions 

Except for the fact that some of the owners of the lots (the Goodmans, the Schnitzers and Portland Art Museum) also have the capacity to develop them, Owendoff’s market-based explanation may help explain why we’ve seen no redevelopment of the treeless asphalt deserts during the building boom.. But we can change “the market”!!!  I have long suggested as a solution to this problem: the City of Portland should TAX LAND AT A HIGHER RATE THAN BUILDINGS.  By taxing land at or near its development potential, owners of land that is used at less than maximum productivity–e.g.,surface parking lots–would be paying a disproportionate amount in taxes in order to keep it that way. See Land Value Tax for Downtown Portland.

Meanwhile, we could require that surface parking lots, while they remain, take a page from Ecotrust parking lot. Owners must install trees and bioswales that manage ALL stormwater onsite. They could even become fun places to hold events.     

Ecotrust Parking Lot on NW 10th

Ecotrust parking lot is enclosed on two sides by trees and mostly native shrubs and wildflowers. The surface is porous pavers. Its a delightful place to hold events, Photo: Green Hammer 

Let’s demand more from downtown Portland’s surface parking lot owners. Tell City Council that it’s not fair to downtown residents and visitors that owners of surface parking lots help destroy our air and water quality–not to mention temperature and aesthetic quality–with such impunity. You can help end treeless asphalt deserts by developing a vision for what you’d like to see on one of them. Then get your vision out via mainstream and social media. Call the owner and present it to them too. Grab a space on City Council’s agenda and present your vision. And watch for my vision for the Portland Art Museum lot soon!

Published July 9, 2019. Adapted from CC2035 Testimony of Mary Vogel/PlanGreen Sept. 7, 2017

Missing Middle Housing Since the 1700’s

May 22, 2018  I just returned from the 26th Annual Congress of the Congress for the New Urbanism in Savannah, GA where I took the opportunity to go on the “Missing Middle Housing: Found!” walking tour with Savannah architect, Eric Brown, his two young staff members and about two dozen Congress attendees.  It was revealing!

As a city that has preserved a great deal of its 285-year history in its buildings and neighborhood layout, Savannah (founded 1733) is an ideal place to understand how what we now call “Missing Middle Housing” was an integral part of the development of our towns and cities in this nation since the 1700s.  Duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes along with carriage houses and lane houses coexisted nicely beside single family homes and mansions.

Since the current top priority of the Portland Small Developer Alliance is to get fourplexes allowed as a use by right in all Portland neighborhoods, I will focus on fourplexes first.  I believe the images speak for themselves but do read the captions!

Fourplex Clapboard

This fourplex with 2-way shared stoops was built as worker housing. It fits in well with the mix of homes, including single family, on this well-landscaped street. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Fourplex next to Single Family

This is the same street as the previous photo. The grey/blue building in the background is also a fourplex–with each entry having its own stoop. It has Single Family homes on either side. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Four Row Houses w English Basements

This series of four row houses seemed common in the 1800s when these were built. They are each painted a separate color and at least one has a canopy over the stoop. Each have English Basements that are often rented out separately. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

While many of Savannah’s row houses from the 1800s came in sets of four, some are in sets of three–as illustrated below.  I’m calling this a triplex!

Triplex Row House

This series of three row houses, while part of one structure, are sold separately as fee simple–as are the fourplex row houses above. They may have been workers housing for the staff of the elegant Single Family home next to it on the left. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Three Floor w Flags

The realtor is advertising this structure as three floors–implying that each could be separate units. The bottom floor is used for a business (a day spa). And the flogs make it appear that there may be separate households sharing the other two floors. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Duplexes were somewhat common too. They came in a variety of forms.

Duplex with English Basements

These duplexes with English Basements are being sold by different realty companies. This corner lot structure first appeared to be one large single family home. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Duplex Mimic SF

Another duplex that first appears to be a single family home. Note the difference in setback from the structure on the left. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Double Row House with English Basements

This double row house has substantial English basements that are often separately occupied–offering rental income or business space for the owners. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Built for Bridget Carey

Some of the row houses had simple signs about original ownership. I was surprised about how many seemed to be built for women. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Built for MargaretDibble

I talked to the current occupants of this home, originally built for Margaret Dibble. The woman of the couple had served many years on the neighborhood association board and was excited that CNU was in town. Although the siding of this home is different, it shares a wall with the Bridget Carey house. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Although many of the English basements serve as ADUs, I found this one off a courtyard that appeared to be a shared space.

ADUs off Courtyard

There appear to be two apartments off of this enchanting shared courtyard. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Corner Single Family w Carriage House

This corner single family home has a carriage house in the rear–a lovely accessory dwelling unit or ADU. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Corner Carriage House

It appears that a second story was added over an original carriage house. Today, the upper story has a separate entrance, leaving one to believe that it holds two small apartments. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Apartment buildings were an occasional part of the scene too.

Small Apartment Building with retail

This small apartment building was the only place I saw off-street parking on my tour–and that was likely added afterwards as the building probably had neighboring structures that were torn down to make way for it. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

I saw a number of drivers parallel park on the street while I was taking these photographs.  They did not appear to have been circling to find a place as there were empty places on the street–even though I was photographing during “rush hour”.

I hope that the above images make a compelling case that fourplexes, triplexes, duplexes, ADUs and small apartment buildings can fit nicely into a neighborhood.  They were certainly part of our early historic heritage–a heritage that I hope we will learn from as we now make single family-only neighborhoods a part of our history–a part of our history that has proved unsustainable.  Let’s give our young people the opportunity to share our close-in walkable neighborhoods with housing prices that allow them to thrive.  Let’s give our small developers the opportunity to build in ways that make sense for our current desire for 20-minute neighborhoods. The survival of our planet may depend upon it!

FOR PSC COMMISSIONERS READING THIS POST

The following is an amendment proposed by Portland Small Developer Alliance that we would like you to sponsor:

PSC Proposed Amendment to RIP

Allow four housing units on all residentially-zoned lots, by right, if within walking distance along a continuous pedestrian network to transit. Four units is considered by the Federal Housing Administration for mortgage lending to be a “house.” It is common sense to synchronize our zoning regulations with existing federal policy and definition. Given the high cost of land and development in Portland, new single-family houses on full-size lots affordable to average residents cannot be built. Dividing up the costs of site acquisition, design, permitting costs, impact fees, construction, and lending by four units allows the resulting cost per new home constructed to be affordable to a middle-class Portland household. Unit counts have a tiny impact on the surrounding community compared to building scale; within the regulated size of new projects, we should allow more units. Allowing a fourth unit gives us the opportunity to make the units we build more affordable to more people while still maintaining the scale and character of the neighborhoods we all enjoy.

Residential Infill Project Needs Improvements

May 8, 2018

Residential Infill Project Testimony to Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission

I’m Mary Vogel of PlanGreen and Portland Small Developer Alliance. I work for the small developers pro bono because I want to see a world where young people have the same opportunity for a livable planet in neighborhoods of their choice that much of my generation has had.

Now, speaking for the group: Our focus is on providing housing opportunity in all neighborhoods across Portland, in a small-scale incremental way that fits in with the surrounding context. So the proposed Residential Infill Project has an immense impact on what we do.

We found that there are some major issues with the RIP proposal that fundamentally work against the stated goals of the project, and aren’t in line with how small-scale infill development works. On the screen are five areas we think are most important to improve before the RIP is adopted.

1. Five Improvements-1

Number one:

Allow Four Homes on all properties

On the left is the Dekum Charles, a fourplex by Woodsong Partners, that neighbors are happy to see in their neighborhood. http://dekumcharlescondos.com

 

Fourplexes for Affordability

This table shows what costs look like when you hold the land acquisition costs stable across four housing types.  The fourplex at $360,000 is about a third what the single family home costs—a price far more manageable by the average Portland household.

Number two:4. Five Improvements-2

FAR Bonus for 3 or more units

Pictured is Citizen Flats, another project by Woodsong Partners that neighbors asked about investing in–they liked it so much. http://citizenflatscondos.com

Please help us implement a market-based solution to HOUSING AFFORDABILITY that we had prior to the vast downzoning to SF of 1959—not just “AFFORDABLE HOUSING” that depends upon a subsidy that’s been shrinking for the last 50 years.

Here’s a link to the YouTube video of the first hearing, testimony begins at 2:25:00.

You can get more talking points to testify to the Planning and Sustainability Commission  yourself on May 15 at http://pdxsmalldevelopers.org/news/.

 

Sustainable Stormwater Management by Tom Liptan

Sustainable Stormwater Management – a Review

March 8, 2018

Sustainable Stormwater Management: A Landscape-Driven Approach to Planning and Design

Sustainable Stormwater Management: A Landscape Driven Approach to Planning and Design

Preview the book at Timer Press: http://www.timberpress.com/books/sustainable_stormwater_management/liptan/9781604694864

by Thomas Liptan, with writer David Santan, Jr

strikes an optimistic note about the future of our cities in an era of climate change:

Indeed, the cities of the future will be garden cities. Not for aesthetics, though beauty will follow as a by-product, but for the energy savings, water management, shelter from extreme heat and precipitation, noise buffers, and perhaps most importantly the habitat and urban wildlife these plants will support. Our cities will come alive with people, plants, and creatures thriving in interdependent coexistences” (p252)

Primary author, Tom Liptan, is hoping to change the nature of urban design itself.  As a sustainable cities advocate, such change is a vision that I share.

Liptan adds yet another term to the sustainable stormwater management lexicon: landscape stormwater management. No American city has implemented more of these LSM approaches than Portland, Oregon (where they both live—as does this reviewer). Portland has roughly 7,000 green stormwater facilities in place—including a few in its downtown! They not only manage stormwater, they “conserve water and energy, reduce urban heat island effect and thermal gain in waterways, recharge groundwater supplies, create habitat and support biodiversity, buffer noise, and provide a healthier, more adaptive, more resilient infrastructure”(p18). I will add that they make a walk or bike ride more pleasant and interesting and they are cheaper and more effective than pipes as well!

Tabor 2 River Green Street

This Green Street planter at SE 41st & Clay is one of Portland’s 7,000 landscape stormwater facilities. The Tabor to the River project where this street lies https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/47591 saved the city $63M and added multiple benefits. Image by PlanGreen, taken Winter 2018.

I first met primary author, landscape architect, Tom Liptan, in the early 90’s when he gave a presentation for a local builders group on green roofs in Europe. He issued a call for us to start applying green roof technology in Portland. Ultimately, Liptan became the Ecoroof Technical Manager in the Sustainable Stormwater Division of the City’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES). Today we participate together  in Portland’s Green Roof Info Thinktank (GRIT). He and I were early advocates for restoring Portland area streams—a movement that gave impetus to the practices in this book.

This book is not just about Portland and its 7,000 LSM facilities. It’s about a design philosophy that puts the water in the landscape rather than storm drains and pipes. And it uses examples of LSM design from all over the world. Although it has lots of information you’d find in a manual: site assessment, site design, construction, inspection, cost considerations, operations and maintenance—it’s style and unusual organization makes it far more interesting than most manuals or handbooks.

As a professional who has long-criticized gizmo green, I appreciate Liptan’s statement that “a good designer relies on principles of design rather than products.” He won my heart when he exhorts us to “look first to native materials and natural systems” and employ “Design with native plants first and foremost.” It’s not immediately apparent to me that many designers in Portland actually do that—so Liptan and I have a lot more exhorting to do. I’m hoping this book and my review will help.

Sustainable Stormwater Management is organized into two major sections: Landscape Stormwater Design: Water Management from a Landscape Architectural Perspective and Landscape Stormwater Management: Vegetative Approaches to Water Management. The four chapters of the first section cover guiding principles, economics, policy and politics and something of an exhortation to the landscape architecture profession that Liptan sees as the potential leaders of this movement.

It is true that landscape architects have a jealously-guarded stranglehold over specifying plants in commercial facilities in Oregon. As a streams and natural areas restoration volunteer and native plant/ecology focused tour leader, I throw up my hands about this stranglehold every time I examine a rain garden or stormwater planter facility in Portland and see mostly over-used, alien ornamental species—some of which are invasive elsewhere. And I’ve spent much time reporting deliberately planted INVASIVE species in the past.

I now advocate that only those trained (formally or informally) in ecological restoration be allowed to design Portland’s stormwater facilities. (Just like most architects get little training in urban design, most landscape architects get little training in plants before they get their credentials—though the latter seems to be a more tightly kept secret.) Liptan admits this later in the book: Addressing the engineering, architecture and landscape architecture disciplines: “Water, soil and plants as stormwater management elements are new territory and we all have a lot to learn”(p249). “Good designers are not born but educated. . .Better education for designers and city review staff can reduce the waste of money and space.” (p250) Portland would do well to reward and learn from those of us who agree with Liptan.

The far longer second section, Landscape Stormwater Management: Vegetative Approaches to Water Management, has most of the data, tables, rules of thumb and cautions that you might find in a manual. But, with its pleas for further research, rallying cries for creative approaches, page-after-page of captioned photos and its call to design with nature using native materials, this book goes beyond a manual.

Sandy Boulevard Rain Garden

Sandy Boulevard Green Street Rain Garden in Hollywood Neighborhood of Portland. Image by PlanGreen.

Chapter 5—Water-Accepting Landscapes—is the chapter that covers Rain Gardens and Stormwater Planters, Green Streets, and Rainwater Harvesting amongst other topics. Liptan barely uses the term bioswale conceding that it is like a long rain garden. Rather he distinguishes between rain gardens with their sloped sides and planters with their vertical structural sides. Besides that there are three types of either system: 1) infiltration landscapes, 2) partial infiltration landscapes, and 3) flow-through landscapes.

Although Liptan devotes only a half page of text under the heading “Green Street” he does have ten pages with captioned photos of green streets.   The reader can find more green street commentary in his discussions of Nashville’s Deaderick Street, Seattle’s SEA Street, Ballard (Seattle) Roadside Rain Garden Project, Portland’s Tabor to the River, Halsey Green Street and Headwaters at Tryon Creek projects. In fact much of the latter half of Chapter 5 on Site Design is devoted to making green streets work better—covering such areas as site assessment, sizing, directing flows, plantings and soils, construction, plumbing, cost considerations and operations and maintenance (O&M). (Although I understand “The intent is to focus on the outcome of the approach rather than a specific type of implementation. . .,” I found this organization a bit confusing.)

I’ve long been impressed by Tom Liptan’s minimalist approach: “The ideal LSM design should never need irrigation, pruning, or fertilization.” He cautions that O&M plans must state explicitly how plantings should be managed, otherwise most landscape contractors will default to their standard approach: “Spray it, soak it, mow it, blow it away.” Ninety percent of street planters in Portland are not irrigated—resulting in huge O&M savings. (However, as a Green Street Steward in downtown Portland, last summer I was begging nearby retailers to water the downtown planters I steward so that they wouldn’t lose any more plants.)

Most of Chapter 6—Vegetative (Living) Cover of Impervious Surfaces—is devoted to what Portland

Central Library Ecoroof in downtown Portland

Central Library Ecoroof in downtown Portland. Image courtesy of Timber Press.

calls ecoroofs, with Liptan using the more generalized term “vegetative roofs” to appeal to a wider audience. However he moves through vegetative walls, vegetative planters, trees, and vines before returning to research on vegetative roofs and then to their design.

He is again minimalist: Simpler vegetative roof designs found in Europe are “as good or better than most North American designs.” I would be disappointed if I didn’t see the Red Cinder Ecoroof design that Liptan developed in Portland. It’s comprised of a moisture mat, soil, and sedums planted in red cinder mulch. It’s low cost, low-maintenance, self-sustaining with no irrigation and adaptable to any roof or membrane system AND it protects the roof membrane, manages stormwater and creates habitat. “The sedums with the red cinder retard colonization by other plants for many years,” maintains Liptan.   Some additional recommendations he makes for vegetative roofs: 1) some kind of mineral mulch if not red cinder—for both moisture retention and shading the soil; 2) integrate solar panels on your roof so the plants can benefit from the shade; 3) manage solar reflections on vegetation where possible—one solution is to cover dead plants with a thin layer of rock to protect the soil and perhaps allow some plants to return.

Tanner Springs Park

Tanner Springs Park doesn’t really daylight Tanner Creek, just replicates such daylighting. But the nearby nature it brings in is great for education. Image by PlanGreen.

Chapter 7 asks the reader to think about how much impervious surface we really need then moves on to discussing porous pavement, depaving and stream daylighting. Liptan sees a bright future for buried creeks to reappear in our cities proclaiming that “A daylighted stream can be the nexus for the dramatic green transformation of an entire neighborhood.” Both the daylighting and depaving movements have been led for many years by unpaid volunteers who have formed non-profits and enlisted more volunteers to get the work done. I’m glad to see Liptan exhorting design professionals to do more in this arena.

Liptan’s is a captivating vision for change in the way we design/re-design our cities. I hope more designers and advocates too will take to heart a fragment from the book that is going up on my bathroom mirror: “…the door to creativity stands open. Enter unencumbered by the boxes of conformity, and be amazed.”

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Mary Vogel is a CNU accredited planner and founder of PlanGreen, a Woman Business Enterprise in Portland, OR that has paddled upstream for years to bring ecosystem services to excellent urban design. After achieving on-the-ground restorations and some important policy accomplishments in several of Portland’s and the region’s long-range plans pro bono, she would like to get paid work—perhaps outside of Oregon where she can best use her skills.

Toward Implementation of Green Infrastructure in Japan

Jan. 22, 2018

In this presentation I review the paper “Toward Implementation of Green Infrastructure in Japan Through the Examination of the City of Portland’s Green Infrastructure Projects” by Takanori Fukuoka and Sadahisa Kato. I add to the authors’ three recommendations with three recommendations of my own based upon my knowledge of Portland’s green infrastructure. The paper was originally published in the Journal of the Japanese Institute of Landscape Architecture.

Dr. Vivek Shandas and I received an email from Sadahisa Kato that read: “Tak and I are in the center of the Japanese GI movement. We’ve been trying hard to connect academics, industry people (developers), and policy makers. We are seeing more and more public symposiums on GI. We’ve also published the first comprehensive GI book, filled with case studies– together with 40 authors.

Fukuoka and Kato first set the historical context by examining some of the federal and local events that led Portland to undertake such a wide-ranging green infrastructure program. The history included the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, the development of US Environmental Protection Agency’s Low Impact Development program in the 90’s, and EPA’s Innovative Wet Weather Grants in 2005. At the local level, the history included the Combined Sewer Overflow lawsuit in 1991, the creation of Bureau of Environmental Services Sustainable Stormwater Division in 2002, Water Quality Friendly Streets in 2003, the Watershed Management Plan in 2006 and the Grey to Green Initiative in 2008. They do not list the National Invasive Species Act of 1973 nor the listing of various species of salmon in 1998 that were further impetus for Portland’s program.

Their Case Study Research is based upon Interviews, Discussion, Site Visits, and Categorization. Their categorization is based upon project types, project information, managed stormwater areas, implemented stormwater tools and environmental benefits from the projects.

The ten sites Fukuoka and Kato categorized based upon the previously mentioned criteria are viewable in the above list.  This is a good mix of relatively old and new facilities of various types.

The green street benefits the authors chose to emphasize are viewable above.

This is one of three photos included in the paper: a flow-through planter at the west edge of the PSU campus. The plant in the foreground (lower left corner) is Nandina (aka Heavenly bamboo). When I first returned to Portland in 2007, the City had been planting it in nearly all GS facilities. I asked them over and over again to STOP this practice as the plant is invasive from Washington, DC to Florida—and possibly soon here. I haven’t seen any recent GS plantings of Nandina by the City, so someone may have listened.

This rain garden green street facility is set back from the street in a location that had empty space because of the street configuration. Rain gardens often add a park-like quality to these leftover spaces—in addition to filtering stormwater.

This photo shows one of Portland’s earliest green roofs—located on the Multnomah County Headquarters Building. Plant selection criteria included adaptability to roof conditions, ecological function, local availability, drought tolerance, seasonal interest, aesthetics, and maintenance requirements. I hope that habitat for native species and biological diversity are part of ecological function.  Ekorufu is the Japanese spelling for Ecoroof—a word popularized by the City of Portland.

Fukuoka and Kato Recommendation One for Japan: For each planning, design, construction and management phase:  1. Use multi-departmental teams AND 2. Stress flexibility and cooperation.

Fukuoka and Kato Recommendation Two: Plan and design for: A stormwater management manual defining criteria for sustainable stormwater management for new development and redevelopment, public and private AND A series of stormwater management manuals with a wealth of illustrations and examples from Portland, with a focus on: Architecture; Construction outside of the site; and References in urban scale

I was somewhat relieved that illustrations and examples from Portland did not include PLANTS although I would have liked to see more discussion of plants in the paper

Fukuoka and Kato Recommendation Three: Actively promote: Grants for pilot projects with a focus on public facilities AND An aggressive subsidies menu which also targets private business.

I first summarize my recommendations to Japan

  1. Focus on mimicking nature, not slick design
  2. Consider focus on NATIVE PLANTS to create biodiversity
  3. Consider using fungi to capture toxins

My Recommendation #1:  To focus on mimicking nature—not slick design, stress the need for designers—both municipality-employed and consultant—to have training in: ecological restoration; native plant horticulture and perhaps even a bonus for mycoremediation –using fungi to take up toxins…

Before today when most facilities are done in-house, Portland geared its Requests for Proposals to landscape architecture and civil engineering firms rather than ecological restoration firms when it sought consultants. The private sector still does.  The City’s in-house staff does not necessarily have such training either.

My Recommendation #2: Consider More Focus on Native Plants to Create Biodiversity

While the authors mention the creation of biodiversity as a function of Green Streets, they don’t address plant species—a vital part of creating biodiversity. In another paper, Sada says “These scattered green spaces, “bits of nature,” even if they are not connected, can increase the overall habitat quality of the urban matrix.”

YES! Green Streets CAN increase the overall habitat quality of the urban matrix, but only if they are designed to do so by professionals who know ecological restoration. I’ve been fighting for years to get Portland to use only NATIVE plant species. Native plants are the base of the food chain because the larvae of many native insects need native plants to develop. Insects are in turn the base of the food chain for birds and other native wildlife. This slide of a Green Street on East Burnside does show largely native plants.

Yellow flag iris was first planted in the stormwater planters on the opposite side of the plaza from what’s shown here at South Waterfront—a private passageway, but subsidized and approved by the City of Portland. After much effort on my part over a couple of years, they were finally removed, but not before much damage was done. I recently discovered that they have volunteered in this planter across the way, so it’s still there. The sunny area in the background of the first slide is the Willamette River. With the river so close by, you can see why Iris pseudacorus has now shown up at the mouth of tributary streams like Tryon and Stevens Creeks and tributary rivers like the Clackamas and Tualatin Rivers. There it degrades fish habitat and bird nesting and rearing sites.

Portland now has Iris pseudacorus on its invasive list, BUT it lists Iris ensata as an alternative—a plant ranked as an invasive by USDA so it is NOT an appropriate alternative, even if not yet invasive in Oregon. Multiple species of Cotoneaster are listed as invasive by the California Invasive Plant Council. It seems irresponsible to approve the planting of ANY species of Cotoneaster (the plant in the foreground of the photo on the right) on a major flyway like the Willamette River.

My Recommendation 3: Consider Using Fungi to Take Up Toxins and Improve Soil

Portland Green Streets currently need their top layer of soil removed and replaced periodically to stay permeable and also so that toxins they accumulate will not kill plants. Japan might consider some pilot projects in mycoremediation—as some mushroom and fungal species can both transform the toxins captured while keeping tilth in the soil. The photo shows fungal mycelia decomposing twine made of wood fibers. Those same mycelia can do a great job of decomposing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other toxins from motor vehicles as well—even heavy metals. I have written about mycoremediation research—including Washington County, Oregon’s Clean Water Services on my blog: PlanGreen.net/blog. Look for mycoremediation blogs from May 2015 to Aug 2015.

Portland has much that is great in its green infrastructure efforts. But many of its 1900+ Green Streets could do much better at increasing habitat and biodiversity through the use of native plants–and perhaps mycoremediation. It is my hope that Japan will show us how by putting biodiversity front and center in its GI program as both preserving biodiversity and installing/protecting green infrastructure are crucial to addressing climate change—and keeping snow on these two iconic peaks. I also hope that those students in Portland viewing this video will someday take over the bureaucracy and work to change the issues this presentation points out.

Community Land Trusts Gaining Ground Fast

Tony Pickett speaking on Community Land Trusts as a tool against displacement at Oregon Metro on March 17, 2017

Tony Pickett speaking on Community Land Trusts as a tool against displacement at Oregon Metro on March 17, 2017

The Community Land Trust (CLT) concept is gaining ground FAST, not only in North America, but around the world says developer Tony Pickett: Advancing ‘in-placement’: Four housing and development lessons from Denver and Atlanta by Tony Pickett. To prevent gentrification and to develop permanent housing affordability, Pickett is working to develop the Community Land Trust concept in both Atlanta and Denver.

This slide from his March 17, 2017 slide show in Portland briefly explains the CLT concept: Typical CLT Model explained

After his presentation at Oregon Metro, Pickett met with a few Transit Oriented Development (TOD) managers and public officials from around the Portland metro region. Says Pickett: “Control of TOD land for shared-equity housing can accomplish the critical linkage of low-cost public transit access and affordable high-quality housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families.”  One might hope that the wheels are in place for shared equity housing, both rental and for sale, at every existing and future MAX station around the region. But it will take more than this one time, singular effort by Metro. We need to put pressure  on elected officials in the Portland region to adopt the CLT model with Transit-Oriented Development that Pickett promotes .

In both Atlanta and Denver, land-banked properties at transit stations and future stations are developed under the CLT model—not just housing, but community centers and small business space–even a charter school. Portland metropolitan agencies such as Metro and Trimet have done some of this land banking in our region, but their model has often been to sell off the land to a private developer who meets their guidelines. Those of us from the Portland region need to be more active in insisting our public agencies support the CLT model.

The reason I’m excited about CLTs is well-expressed by Gabriel Metcalf, author of Democratic by Design: Community land trusts represent the nascent form of an alternative system of land ownership. In that sense, they illustrate the broader strategy of alternative institutions as a way to make change: create the alternative, and then try to grow it, with the goal of displacing the mainstream set of institutions over time.[1]  CLTs are a new model of land tenure that could ultimately replace our current housing system.

Thankfully, a number of cities around the globe —not just Denver and Atlanta–are seeing the CLT as a solution to gentrification and skyrocketing costs. Even Vancouver, BC, a city that Portland sometimes likes to emulate, is adopting the concept. According to A Speculation-Free Zone in The Globe and Mail[2]:

Vancouver Land Trust Foundation Project under construction

 A growing number of people in British Columbia are viewing this fledgling organization, and community land trusts in general, as the way to provide an important new option in the escalating struggle over housing. . . . Advocates talk passionately about how land trusts help remove property from the speculative land market and preserve it forever.

Vancouver Community Land Trust Foundation is vying to become the largest Community Land Trust in North America. Burlington, VT now has that honor!  Again, from The Globe and Mail:  But, in the Vancouver version, people are also attracted by the other power of land trusts – their ability to harness the energy of hundreds of isolated non-profit housing societies and co-ops, combining their land equity and their clout to be able to finance new development.  We also need to exert pressure on the Portland area’s various Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and other non-profit housing builders to join under a Community Land Trust umbrella–either under our existing CLT, Proud Ground–or an umbrella organization that we create.  

In New York City the New York City Community Land Initiative (https://nyccli.org) is an alliance of over two dozen organizations, academics, affordable-housing developers and community activists who educate the public about community land trusts and advocate for their inclusion in city policy.  (Which organization or academic in the Portland region will help put together a similar coalition to take on the work mentioned above?)

NYCCLI was successful in getting Mayor DeBlasio and the NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) to release a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) from groups interested in forming community land trusts using city-owned property.

In a press release, HPD writes: “The CLT’s land ownership, paired with a governance structure that reflects the interests of CLT affordable housing residents and the broader community, can offer a unique housing model that empowers residents and neighborhoods. . . The release goes on to say that it is evaluating making city-owned properties in East Harlem, the South Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens available for development and operation by one or more CLTs.

NYCCLI lauds HPD saying it has “taken a big step by recognizing the potential of CLTs to advance a truly progressive housing policy.” There was no word on the HPD or NYCCLI sites about whether any decision has been made.

Tony Pickett, for his part, could hardly be busier, with invitations from around the globe to help form CLT’s. He shows the growth of the movement in the US alone in this slide:

Unfortunately, the graph stops at 2010.  Fortunately, the trajectory since then has been even more geometric.

If you are really interested but need more inspiration to take action, think about going to Intersections 2017, the national Community Land Trust conference in Oakland, CA this year: https://groundedsolutionsnetwork.swoogo.com/Intersections2017  Intersections 2017 in Oakland

 

[1]http://www.rooflines.org/4392/interview_with_gabriel_metcalf_author_of_democratic_by_design/

[2] A Speculation-Free Zone http://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/vancouver/how-community-land-trusts-could-help-build-affordable-vancouverhousing/article34026679/

Whole New System of Land Tenure Needed

Mary Vogel/PlanGreen Testimony to Portland City Council on Relocation Assistance  Proposal – Feb. 2, 2017  

To even begin to solve the housing crisis, a whole new system of land tenure is needed.  Relocation assistance for involuntary displacements of tenants seems like a fine and just idea–until you hear the landlords side and their schemes for getting around your proposed ordinance.

I didn’t come prepared to testify today, because under the current system of housing, both sides have compelling arguments. As long as we continue to pursue a housing system that sees housing as a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit, as long as we see it as a builder of individual wealth through the accrual of speculative value, there will be such dilemmas. These are dilemmas that cannot be resolved under the present system.

Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, VT is the largest CLT in North America. Logo compliments of CHT.

However, there is a whole new system of land tenure that has been around for over 50 years and built a tremendous body of law and custom as well as homes on the ground. That system provides security, equity and legacy to the resident, but the greatest part of the increase in value accrues to the entire community through the Community Land Trust. I wish I had some easy solutions for getting to there from here. I’m afraid that my best idea didn’t get traction and fizzled at the end of the primaries. That idea was to get Bernie Sanders, who played an important role in founding Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, VT —now the largest Community Land Trust in the nation—to talk about this new model of land tenure to his young followers during his campaign. (See Housing Affordability – Put a Bern on It.) He could have opened so many eyes to a different system and created tremendous demand for it.

We could have built on that demand to pull Portland Community Land Trust (now Proud Ground) out of its role of needing to chase after attention amongst all the various non-profits pursuing affordable housing dollars. We could have expanded its mission from a provider of home ownership opportunities for a tiny percentage of working class people to a central role in our strategy to address housing affordability with a whole new system of land tenure.

Proud Ground CLT office on Interstate Ave. in Portland

The arrow points to the Proud Ground office in the Patton Park Apt. Building on Interstate Ave. Image compliments of Proud Ground. Unfortunately, the building itself is not part of the CLT.

At this point, in an overheated market, I’m not sure how we get there from here. But WE CAN FIGURE IT OUT COLLECTIVELY.  Each of you on the City Council commands far greater media and public attention than I do. If each Council Member learned all you can about the CLT model—perhaps sending one of your number to Burlington, Vt.  to visit Champlain Housing Trust as well as the CLT experts at Burlington Associates—meanwhile each of you study their web sites and start talking and talking about the need for this new model, .

In closing, I want to quote a Jan 17 post from Bob Morris, a friend on Facebook:  What a great time to be alive and an American! There are as many opportunities now to take an active part in making our country better and living up to our highest ideals as at any time in my life. Who will be our new Freedom Riders, lunch counter sitters, voter registrars, river keepers, forest conservators, wild animal protectors, peace spreaders, truth speakers. I can’t wait to meet them. What will you do?  I will add to Bob’s list Community Land Trust builders. . .

Feb 19, 2017 Addendum to the above testimony:  

I was delighted to find out yesterday that Vancouver, BC has been working on a plan to do what I am calling for–on the scale I am suggesting.   A Speculation-Free Zone, an article in The Globe and Mail describes the efforts of the Vancouver Community Land Trust Foundation to become an alternative to the speculative model of housing.  Their vision is to become the largest CLT in North America.

NYC Opens Door Wide to Community Land Trusts in Next City also shows the momentum of the CLT model as cities seek to find systemic solutions to their housing crisis as it is finally becoming obvious the patchwork solutions are not working.

In the late 70s/early 80s, I worked for the Institute for Community Economics, the pre-imenent group building the CLT movement in the US for several decades. I am available to consult on this model through my business, PlanGreen–if there is interest.