Category Archives: Climate Change

HOUSING JUSTICE IS CLIMATE JUSTICE

Is This What It Means To Be An American? If we acquiesce to a system that creates such glaring inequality, we are saying YES!

Instead we could pursue a Social Housing Development Authority at the federal level. I hope those maintaining HOUSING JUSTICE IS CLIMATE JUSTICE will embrace this concept and promote it with policymakers.

Is Freedom what we want?

On April 16, this sprawling homeless encampment at the edge of downtown Portland displayed a FREEDOM sign. Find it in the shade of the upper right corner.

Did Freedom go somewhere else?

By Jun 9 FREEDOM was gone! I’ve searched around in the rubble, but no trace of the sign. The very small tent that is partially hidden by two tarps is still there today.

Independence Day is usually a time when I see historical reviews examining where we’ve come from and analyzing where we may be going.  This July 4, 2021, I thought I would make my own attempt.  The scenes around me in downtown Portland, Oregon are of increasing sidewalk tents filled with humans that most of our business community wants to see swept away so that people with money will come back to downtown.. Some of them are willing to help build more shelters to get folks off the street. They hope to hide the glaring inequality our society has produced through it’s housing policy.

A few days ago, I was reminded of an underlying cause of this housing inequity situation by an ad in our statewide newspaper, The Oregonian.

Block 216 Fund II ad

This half-page ad in The Oregonian Jun 20 offering a tax break to the wealthy symbolizes a root cause of the housing crisis.

The ad invites readers to join Fund II for the 251 room Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the 132 luxury condominiums, along with 153,000 square feet of Class A office space. It’s a “Qualified Opportunity Zone Fund” –meaning that if you are wealthy enough, you can get a big tax break for such an investment. While downtown Portland’s designation as an “Opportunity Zone” was especially egregious when it was first declared, now, with all of its boarded up storefronts, such a designation for downtown would raise fewer eyebrows than it did when it first came out.  Regardless, there is no better symbol of what’s wrong with United States housing policy than this enormous tax break for the wealthy.

CALLING FOR HOUSING AND TAX POLICY CHANGE

Dorothy Brown is one of many writing about how housing policy fails Black families

Dorothy Brown author of THE WHITENESS OF WEALTH @DorothyABrown

There is now a chorus of authors, myself included, who are calling for a “Brave New US Housing Policy”—one that treats housing as a social good rather than an investment. We are critical of the way that US tax policy has been used to make housing into a commodity–leading to greater and greater financialization of what should be a social good..  One such author, tax professor, Dorothy A. Brown, testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on April 20, about how current tax policy greatly disadvantages Black families.

Her book, The Whiteness of Wealth gives several solutions that would lead to more equity in the housing system. Brown makes a case for a far more progressive tax policy. The change that she feels will work is to eliminate all existing deductions and exclusions, reduce or eliminate income taxes for those taxpayers who earn less than the living wage in their geographic area and, in fact, pay those earning less the difference. This solution would not only help many in the Black community, but many in what used to be the “middle class” all races.

More recently, through a post by the PLACE Initiative, I learned about Gianpaolo Baiocchi and H. Jacob Carlson, two activist academics who came together to publish Housing Is A Social Good. Baiocchi is from NYU and Carlson is from Brown University. Not only do they offer a critique of the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan strategy in the housing arena, but they also offer a proactive solution.

Image from their Boston Review article

The American Jobs Plan mirrors past efforts at affordable housing that contributed to our problems and failed Black Americans. We need to take housing out of the private market. say the authors

AMERICAN JOBS PLAN OFFERS MORE OF THE SAME

The American Jobs Plan calls for a new “Neighborhood Homes Tax Credit to attract private investment in the development and rehabilitation of affordable homes for low- and moderate-income homebuyers and homeowners”–according to the Administration.

Baiocchi and Carlson point out that “… the bulk of the proposals in the American Jobs Plan … mostly mirror earlier policies to stimulate ownership and new construction of affordable housing through subsidies and tax-breaks for private developers.”

Like Dorothy A. Brown, they point out that “These mechanisms have not only contributed to our problems, but failed African Americans. For the last several decades in the United States, the highly regressive policy of tax breaks for mortgage interest, for example, has encouraged greater household indebtedness while deeply disadvantaging African Americans.”

SOCIAL HOUSING DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY

Published Nov 2020 by NYU Gallatin, this document is a manual for how the Social Housing Development Authority would work

I will get onboard Baiocchi and Carlson’s proposal for the creation of the Social Housing Development Authority, a federal agency that would purchase distressed real estate, ensure it is livable and environmentally sound, and finance its transfer to the  social housing sector, including tenant cooperatives, community land trusts, nonprofits or public housing. And I will encourage the PLACE Initiative and other groups that I’m involved with to get aboard too.

But, before I go into greater detail, one area where the authors and I differ–they write: Through its retrofitting efforts, the SHDA would also contribute to climate mitigation efforts.” They also mention in their Notes:  “Retrofitting affordable housing is seen by many analysts as an important pillar of the Green New Deal.” I don’t disagree with those statements, but, because I believe that housing justice is climate justice, I believe their proposal relates to mitigating climate change even more than they may recognize.

Baiocchi and Carlson et al describe the institutional design of the SHDA.                                      Part 1 describes the overarching mission and organizational structure of the SHDA. Within the mission we find:                                                                                                                                               • Reverse decades of neglect, predatory practices, and discriminatory policies by focusing efforts on historically marginalized communities.                                                                                        • Invest in green infrastructure and climate mitigation by assuring that transferred properties are retrofitted.

Part 2 elaborates on how the SHDA acquires distressed properties. “It would likely prioritize housing that is at risk of predatory activity, such as what policy makers sometimes denominate “naturally occurring affordable housing” in gentrifying areas, among others.”

Part 3 outlines what happens while the SHDA holds the assets, from servicing mortgages to maintaining and rehabbing distressed property.The maintenance function of the SHDA would be a significant stimulus into the local economy through maintenance and construction jobs.”

Part 4 lays out the asset disposition process. Preferred housing providers — community land trusts, housing cooperatives,  tenant groups, non-profit housing organizations, public housing authorities, and other government agencies — gain first priority to purchase the SHDA’s assets.

Part 5 discusses two pieces of companion policy that would enhance the ability of the SHDA to carry out its mission: the repeal of the Faircloth Amendment and the establishment of a national Tenant Opportunity to Purchase (TOPA) policy.

CONCLUSION

I suspect that TAX POLICY is not something to which most of us want to pay attention. For those of us who run a small business, we may think the IRS Schedule C seems quite arcane, but, after our taxes are filed we put it out of our mind. It is the wealthy who hire tax attorneys and accountants to find every possible deduction they can take and buy into systems like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and Opportunity Zones Tax Credits who are the real beneficiaries. “These market-oriented programs are fundamentally costly to public coffers and, at their foundation, prioritize profit over public function”, write Baiocchi and Carlson.

With Senator Wyden (D-OR) the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, those of us in Oregon have a special responsibility to speak out against this long-entrenched, but highly inequitable system to say that our present  housing policy is NOT what we want as Americans . And Join me in calling for the Social Housing Development Authority proposed by the group from NYU Gallatin!

NOTES

My search for the root cause of the housing crisis in the US has been fueled by the writings of authors as divergent as Samuel Stein, Diana Lind,, Heather McGhee and Alan Durning in addition to those mentioned above. The books or articles by these authors all go into far more policy history than I covered above–as does the Boston Review piece linked in this post.

 

Brave New US Housing Policy PLACE Initiative Presentation

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Brave New U.S. Housing Policy

February 12, 2021- PlanGreen

To expedite building market rate housing, as well as more public housing, that is affordable to BIPOC communities and to young people, we need to lobby for TAX POLICY CHANGES that will shift our perceptions about “the American Dream”–away from homeownership and towards security, equity and legacy for all.  

HOUSING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A COMMODITY

For the last few years, as long as the issue was housing, I could be found on Fridays at the Q&A microphone at Portland City Club Friday Forum.  I would ask: How can you square promotion of homeownership as a means of wealth building and reform of our housing system?  

An example of a Portland City Club Friday Forum recent ad for a housing forum. This one was 11-15-19. Image from XRAY-FM.

An example of a Portland City Club Friday Forum ad for a housing forum 11-15-19. Image from XRAY-FM.

Wealth building depends upon housing being a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit.  Rather, don’t we need to see housing as a social good that all have the right to access? If I could get away with a few extra seconds, I might add: The Community Land Trust, as it was originally conceived, is a NEW MODEL OF LAND TENURE that provides security, equity and legacy, but doesn’t promote housing as a commodity. Isn’t that what we need to be moving quickly toward?

Young people at this 2016 Bernie rally showed
great enthusiasm to transform healthcare.
We need to repeat that for HOUSING in 2021-2022!
Photo by PlanGreen

Housing has NOT gone away as an issue, but you wouldn’t know it from the last two cycles of Presidential debates, which had almost no questions of any substance about housing.  As a supporter of Bernie Sanders in 2016, I became irritated with my candidate when he virtually sidestepped local Portland TV reporter Laurel Porter’s question to him about housing affordability and homelessness. I had been attempting to get him to awaken his Millennial base to the idea that we did not necessarily need to continue the current system of housing. I tried hard to get my blog Housing Affordability: Put a Bern on It  to members of his campaign and to the candidate himself, but seemingly without success.  Since Bernie was Mayor of Burlington, VT when the largest Community Land Trust in the nation was started, he understands the potential of this new system of land tenure. He even told the CLT at an annual meeting that helping to get them federal funding was the best thing he had ever done as Mayor. As Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, he can still mobilize that base.

NEW OPPORTUNITY WITH SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE

Sen Ron Wyden at Forest Grove Town Hall (with two reporters shown taking notes) lays out his tax reform priorities. They don't yet include HOUSING! Photo by Pamplin Media.

Sen Ron Wyden at Forest Grove Town Hall lays out his tax reform priorities. They don’t yet include HOUSING! Photo by Pamplin Media.

Now, young people through groups like Portland: Neighbors Welcome, Sunrise PDX, and NextUp now find that their Senior Senator, Ron Wyden, has become the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Peter Wong in a Jan. 21 article in the Portland Tribune lists the priorities for Tax Code reform that Senator Wyden laid out at a January Town Hall in Forest Grove. OR.  Corporate Taxes, Capital Gains, Energy, Health Care, and Infrastructure are priority areas, but HOUSING is not one of those priority areas—even though it is probably the largest expenditure in most Americans’ budget. (See comments for update.)

Image of front cover of Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing by Diane Lind.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that we,, shouldn’t try to plant the seed for profound change to US housing policy while Wyden is up for re-election. I loved the suggestions from Diana Lind’s  Brave New Home:Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing because they match so nicely to my own.  Lind began her book after the birth of her son because she felt isolated  and disconnected in her own single family row house–and this was before COVID-19.  She is Executive Director for the Arts + Business Council for Greater Philadelphia which hardly makes her seem like a radical.

I’d seen other authors question the mortgage interest deduction (MID) before (e.g., Matthew Desmond in Evicted and Richard Florida in The New Urban Crisis), but I believe Lind goes further when she questions the entire assumption that homeownership does or should present  a path to wealth building for most Americans.  She wonders why the government would continue its subsidization of homeownership when so many homes have now been bought up by multinational companies like Blackstone and affiliates. She also questions such a subsidy even though the mortgage interest deduction is one of the country’s largest regressive tax loopholes and even though student debt has changed the landscape of housing choices for young people. Lind travels the country exploring what people are doing for alternatives.

WE BUY UGLY HOUSES.COM HomeVestors: America's #1 Home Buyer. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen taken in east Portland, OR

WE BUY UGLY HOUSES.COM HomeVestors: America’s #1 Home Buyer. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen taken in east Portland, OR

Any system that pushes housing as an investment (hence a commodity) is bound to attract those who are ready to game the system. It should be no surprise that we see hedge funds, REITs and institutional investors buying up single-family housing and developing portfolios of thousands of properties. They comb sites like Zillow and the MLIS to find, renovate and flip undervalued properties. They buy billboards and post signs on lampposts.  Their size allows them to fix prices and this price-fixing becomes a primary reason for skyrocketing housing costs. Yet in Portland, and I believe elsewhere, these companies often face less resistance than new construction or redevelopment—even though they are likely to be bigger contributors to gentrification.

POTENTIAL ASKS TO SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE

I’ve come up with these broad directives (with a nod to Diana Lind) that will need to be further fleshed out to be actionable:

  1. Actively transition our policies away from homeownership and single-family homes. 
  2. Investigate how best to subsidize people, rather than their property. 
  3. Regulate landlords and buyers who own hundreds to thousands of properties, while finding ways to leverage their scale for good. 
  4. Rethink zoning that privileges single family homes 
  5. Rethink the variety of ways the federal government incentivizes and rewards single family housing—e.g., IRS, FHA, VA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac. 

I’We might also explore our connections to members of the coalition that got the “Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act” (H.R. 4351) passed in the US House in 2020 and help them to get an even stronger bill passed in the US Senate in 2021.  (See update in comments.)

SHIFTING PUBLIC OPINION

Evicted website https://www.evictedbook.com screen shot. Without a Home Everything Else Falls Apart.

Let’s team up with well-known authors such as: 

  • Matthew Desmond (Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
  • Richard Florida (The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class-and What We Can Do About It
  • Diana Lind (Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing)

who can get media attention of all kinds: TV, radio, social media, newspapers, magazines, etc. Locally, we might team up with Sightline Institute Founder  Alan Durning who recently authored The Problem With US Housing Policy Is That It’s Not About Housing. Durning begins: Here, I sketch the hidden reality of federal US housing policies: they are about real estate appreciation, not housing. And I spell out how they polarize wealth, exacerbate racial inequality, cut productivity and job creation, speed climate change, and exaggerate the ups and the downs of the business cycle. He plans to next address how we might form a left-right coalition to shift federal policy.

THE BUDGET AS A MORAL DOCUMENT

Photo of US flag flying at US Capitol from Oregon Center for Public Policy blog. Pop-out says In 2021 Oregon can free up money to invest in Oregonians by disconnecting from wasteful federal tax breaks.

Image from OCPP.org/agenda links to their Disconnect from Wasteful Federal Tax Breaks blog.

Many of us–especially in my Boomer generation–find it difficult to rethink long-held assumptions and perhaps to give up some financial privileges. Some of the most introspective among us–such as those in Portland’s Interfaith Alliance on Poverty have been exploring the root cause of poverty and homelessness for the several years. 

Chair, Les Wardenaar, has an eloquent “Commentary On The Budget As A Moral Document” in the January 2021 issue of the Alliance newsletter showing that he has given some deep thought to the Alliance’s series on the topic over the last few months.. He especially cites OCPP Executive Director Alejandro Queral’s presentation (Oct 2020) on the Oregon tax structure and the benefits that many of us gain from it at the obvious expense of those with lower income. That prompted him to ask himself the question: “how much of my personal finance and with it my lifestyle am I willing to sacrifice to make the system more just?”  Wardenaar goes on to conclude:

As one of my Alliance friends put it, “The Budget as a Moral Document” ultimately demonstrates that we—as Portlanders, as Oregonians, as Americans– are deliberately choosing to perpetuate social and economic injustice. We choose to force people to live on the streets. We choose to provide a sub-standard education for many of our children, thus impacting their chances of lifting themselves up. We choose to put “people of color” into a chasm of inequity that only a small minority could ever climb out of. And we make those choices year after year after year. 

Many more in the Boomer generation are even more fearful–without being quite so introspective and soul searching as those in the Alliance. Some reinforce each others fears in neighborhood associations where they attempt to block change.

HOUSING JUSTICE: CLIMATE JUSTICE AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Housing Justice is Climate Justice is a meme embraced by BIPOC advocates in Oregon and many supporters such as those in Portland: Neighbors Welcome, Sunrise PDX, and NextUp 

What if, rather than bemoan the change to our single-family neighborhoods, we embraced it instead? Ever larger American homes have become a huge factor in climate change at the same time they have led to increased loneliness. And public health officials are recognizing that loneliness is the new smoking or worse–equivalent to 15 cigarettes a day! As homes have become bigger they have led to increased emissions from heating and cooling, more furniture and appliances to fill the space and more fossil fuel to travel further distances–all with a carbon cost. “Why isn’t there a more robust public conversation about how living differently–more affordably, more communally, and more simply–could strengthen our society, economy, and health?” asks Lind.

An equitable housing policy at the federal level needs to be a policy that will expedite building market rate and public housing that is affordable and available to BIPOC communities and to young people. That will happen only when we shift our perceptions about “the American Dream” away from homeownership and towards security, equity and legacy for all.  

Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing could be around the corner–we first need to permit it, fund it and build it! And the fearful may then want to get on board.

Screen capture  of Twitter site by PlanGreen

UPDATE May 19:  While preparing a slide presentation for the PLACE Initiative Climate Summit, I found out that the Senate Finance Committee held a Tax Inequality Hearing on April 20, 2021. The first person to testify was Dorothy A. Brown, author of  The Whiteness of Wealth and tax law professor at Emory University. 

Also see my slide show embedded in my post of May 20. I’m working on including the text that goes with the slides.

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.

———————
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.

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.

PlanGreen’s City Council Priorities – Fossil Fuels and Housing

Jan.6, 2017

On November 9, the day after what for me was a cataclysmic election, and on most Wednesdays and Thursdays until the end of 2016, I found a haven in Portland City Council meetings.  Not only did I take solace in offering testimony myself, but cheering on the testimony of citizens as young as GRADE SCHOOL age.  Most of us–certainly the young– wanted Portland to not only continue, but increase its progressive agenda.  The last Council accomplished much in those final two months, but there is still plenty left to do.  Inspired by former mayoral candidate, Sarah Iannarone, I offer my own TO-DO list for Mayor Ted Wheeler and the new City Council.

Sunnyside School Student Testifying before Portland City Council, Nov. 9, 2016.

Sunnyside School Student Testifying before Portland City Council, Nov. 9, 2016. PlanGreen

In 2017, let’s help the City of Portland continue its leadership on climate change by addressing fossil fuels–both by reducing demand and by limiting their usage, transport and storage in Portland.  We also need to divest the city’s money in them¹.

Reducing Demand for Fossil Fuels

  • Make every neighborhood more walkable. This includes
    • Adopt strong Residential Infill/Missing Middle policy to create the population levels to support the services in each neighborhood that folks want to walk to.
    • Adopt Parking Management Policy improvements that help to manage demand–the type sought by Portlanders for Parking Reform and PBOT’s own Citywide Parking Strategy and its proposed Residential Parking Permit Program.
    • Strengthen the Central City 2035 Plan re: trees and streetscape adding to the plan wider sidewalks and street trees to make downtown streets more than car sewers for commuters. (BTW, while I appreciate the need to give more focus to East Portland, as Iannarone suggests, the West End of downtown still has a predominantly low-income population, many of whom are people of different ethnic origins and races. And many use walkers or wheelchairs.)
    • Insist on a revision of the Portland Art Museum Rothko Pavillion plan seeking to close off Madison Street plaza. Instead, focus on strengthening downtown walkability and resilience–e.g. negotiate a “Madison Walkway” between SW 11th and 12th to break up this superblock.  Oppose any other property owner proposing to make downtown less walkable rather than more walkable!
  • Since the greenest building is one that is already there, work with the Unreinforced Masonry Building owners in the West End—including the Art Museum—to do seismic upgrades so that fewer buildings need to be replaced after a seismic event. (PAM is not technically a URM, rather brick veneer; however, it was built in the 1930s and has not been seismically upgraded to today’s standards.)
  • Phase out the use of studded tires that are the #1 cause of road damage and hence asphalt resurfacing—a very intensive use of fossil fuels. [I know that this is a State issue, but Portland must add this to its Legislative Agenda–see Preserving Oregon’s Roads.

Limiting Fossil Fuel Transport and Storage 

Sierra Club and 350 PDX (I’m an active member of both) have played a leadership role here–along with my friends at Center for a Sustainable Economy.  I testified at the last Council’s hearings on the no new Fossil Fuel Facilities policy and stand ready to help defend it–and to help Portland get enabling legislation to REQUIRE seismic upgrades on existing fossil fuel storage facilities.

The Housing Crisis

  • In the absence of other immediately available options, partner with the member organizations of the Village Coalition  to find additional spots where the homeless can self-organize into “tiny house villages”. This way we’ll waste less human energy—releasing it to help in the climate change effort.
  • Ban no cause evictions and pursue other tenants’ rights policies in Mayor Wheeler’s Tenants Bill of Rights published during the campaign.
  • Support the Community Land Trust concept that seeks to take housing off the private commodity speculative market and put it into public trust.  This model gives participants security, equity and legacy in their housing.  Over 50 years ago, the founders of the CLT concept saw this as a new model for land tenure in America–not just a band-aid to the system to help the low-income.  I’d like to see the City of Portland help its own CLT, Proud Ground, revive the idea that there is a new model of housing for all incomes–one that has a tremendous body of law and practice already established.

Portland needs to nurture the budding activism of the school children and Millennials who gave testimony on a variety of climate-related issues over the past year by re-doubling on its progressive policy.  As Tavis Smiley admonishes on PBS “Keep the Faith!”

¹I hope that our efforts will inspire those in other cities–especially Millennials–to work locally to get their own cities do likewise–making those cities more sustainable and resilient too.  As much as I value Millennials’ migration to our city, I know we need them more in places where the fight may seem harder.

Mary Vogel is founder and principal of PlanGreen and a downtown neighborhood land use and transportation advocate.

Portland Region 2040 Vision–What’s Next?

April 4, 2016

“How do you think Metro should respond to the key issues and trends affecting the region’s ability to realize the vision of the 2040 Growth Concept?”  

I was asked this question recently and here’s what I said. . .

Since its inception in 1995, the 2040 Growth Concept has promoted compact, mixed-use, transit-oriented development in centers and corridors.  This has been central to shaping regional growth patterns, limiting sprawl and creating livable communities.  In fact, directing growth into centers & corridors has been the region’s primary strategy for preserving farms, forests and natural areas outside the Urban Growth Boundary.  Metro policymakers (and I myself) believe that compact development is the premier tool to address climate change, ensure equity, create jobs and protect the region’s quality of life.

I see three key trends that have only gotten stronger since 1995:

Trend 1: Walkable Urbanism Preference

Beaverton's Broadway Vision

Most cities in the region know that they must promote walkable urbanism–but sometimes their policymakers forget. This image is from Beaverton’s Civic Plan.

Boomers and Millenials both show a strong preference for “Walkable Urbanism.” Some suburban policymakers responses to Metro’s Climate Smart Communities (CSC) project shows that many of them are not aware that this first trend means that they should be focusing more of their infrastructure dollars towards “retrofitting suburbia” rather than building and widening roads. I worked hard to see that urban form/urban design was in the strategies tested in the CSC project (and indeed it tested at the top!), but many suburban policymakers would rather focus on electric vehicles and other technology for lowering tail pipe emissions. More needs to be done to alert them that their present course will potentially lead to stranded assets where there is little market left for suburban single-family homes that don’t provide the opportunity to walk to needed services and amenities.

Trend 2: Recognition That Inequality Hurts Us

There is a growing recognition of the unacceptable impacts of inequality (racial, social, financial).  Inequality impacts such issues as housing affordability, homelessness, displacement and even sprawl as people seek more affordable housing in towns outside the Metro Urban Growth Boundary.  Thanks to Bernie Sanders, financial inequality (the widening income gap) has become a chief topic of presidential debates and led to more discussion of the role that the Federal government should play. Meanwhile, Metro has attempted to address several aspects of inequality.

Equitable Housing Report

This report mentions Community Land Trust as a strategy. But it needs to become THE major strategy if we are to address housing costs for a 2040 workforce.

Regarding Metro’s Strategic Plan to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Metro’s COO Martha Bennett said “the priorities are to learn more about best practices, apply equity plans to its service-delivery areas, improve community engagement and use equity as a measure of decision-making in spending money.” Any build out of the 2040 Growth Plan will need to address gentrification, displacement and contracting opportunities in an equity strategy that focuses on communities of color.

Metro has pursued affordable housing strategies for many years—the latest effort being the Equitable Housing Initiative headed up by Councilor Sam Chase. From Metro’s web site: The Initiative’s Report discusses a variety of tools that could help, including financial assistance for residents, renter protections against evictions and nonprofit community land trusts. . .

I agree that Metro should utilize the Community Land Trust model, but not just for the involuntarily low-income. I would like to see governments in the region, including Metro, promoting the CLT for ALL OF US.  The original impetus behind the CLT movement was to create a new institution to keep housing permanently affordable.  The first people I ever met living in a CLT were NOT low-income, rather middle-income people who saw it as a better way. Probably the local government that best understood its potential was Burlington, VT under then-mayor Bernie Sanders.  The City of Burlington under Sanders helped to support the formation of the Burlington Community Land Trust.  It’s now the Champlain Housing Trust, the largest CLT in the US and a model for local governments looking for systemic solutions.

Champlain Housing Trust Image

Champlain Housing Trust is the largest Community Land Trust in the nation. It enables housing to be kept permanently affordable by holding title to the land under both multifamily and single family homes–both rented and owned. Image from CHT 2014 Annual Report: http://www.getahome.org/learn-more/publications.

I believe the CLT is the best tool for transforming our housing system.  By taking the land under housing off the private, commodity, speculative market, it helps to change the concept of housing from a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit. Instead it encourages us to see it as a social good that everyone needs and deserves.

“By looking at housing as a fundamental human right rather than a market good that goes to the highest bidder, and with shrewd political organizing in a hostile environment, housing advocates in Burlington have created a sustainable model for affordable housing that deserves to be emulated across the country” says Daniel Fireside in Burlington Busts the Affordable Housing Debate.

The Portland region has a Community Land Trust, Proud Ground (formerly Portland Community Land Trust and Clackamas Community Land Trust). Personally, I feel that it is far too focused on home ownership rather than a mix of ownership and rental. Nonetheless, Metro should explore developing a relationship with it similar to that of Burlington and CHT.

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

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

For the shorter term, it should work with innovative housing developer Orange Splott, LLC and its network of other small  incremental developers in promoting more alternatives to conventional home ownership. Let me repeat, these alternatives should be marketed not just to “the poor” but to ALL OF US!  For Metro, this work could come under the banner of the Equitable Housing Initiative, but it needs to be larger than “affordable housing.” Rather it needs to focus on housing affordability involving ALL income levels.  In the long run, hopefully before 2040, such efforts by Metro will help to change the concept of housing from a commodity to a social good.

Trend 3: Need for Excellent Urban Design

Residents of existing neighborhoods will be far more supportive of new development when it includes excellent urban design encompassing:

  • appropriately scaled buildings
  • streets designed for walking, biking, pushing baby strollers. . .and even cars
  • neighborhoods with diverse uses
  • people of diverse incomes, class and ethnicity
  • sufficient parks and natural areas, protected streams, wetlands, and steep slopes
  • infrastructure for arts and culture

Metro might look into working with the Regional Arts and Culture Council to produce a toolkit to encourage every community in the region to integrate arts and culture. Transportation for America has produced a Creative Placemaking Handbook that could provide a good start.

Towards a Walkable Tigard

Tigard Mayor welcomes New Urbanist Jeff Speck for two days of talks and workshops on making Tigard, a suburban community in the Portland Metro area, more walkable. Photo by PlanGreen.

Members of the Congress for the New Urbanism have a great deal of expertise in excellent urban design.  Metro should continue to develop a partnership with the Portland-based non-profit National Charrette Institute, a leading affiliate and powerful voice within CNU. As presented at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference by Council Member Craig Dirksen, the Investment Areas Approach with its Shared Investments Strategy  highlighted both the City of Tigard and the Tigard Triangle in the SW Corridor Investment Area. New Urbanists are having strong influence over Tigard’s redevelopment and this trend should be encouraged.

Metro is involved with connecting its natural area at Canemah Bluff with a riverwalk along the Willamette River.

Metro is connecting its natural area at Canemah Bluff with a riverwalk along the Willamette River. This will make Oregon City even more appealing as a place to live and work. Photo by PlanGreen.

Metro should continue its long-standing relationship with The Intertwine regarding the integration of parks and natural areas into developing centers and corridors. This coalitions of organizations have long been involved with implementation of Titles 3 and 13 of the 2040 Concept. It should consider expanding relationships with environmentally oriented organizations that represent communities of color (some of whom are in The Intertwine). As mentioned above in the inequality trend, any urban design efforts must take into account gentrification and displacement. They must also take into account inequitable air quality impacts.

What do you think about my three key trends re: implementing the 2040 Growth Concept–and my ideas on what Metro should do about them?  What are your ideas?

Toronto: Florida to the Kees with Greater Portland Inc.

Oct. 17, 2015

Richard Florida

Richard Florida, Professor; Co-founder CityLab.com; Sr. editor The Atlantic speaking to our Greater Portland, Inc. group.

Our discussion of “The Next Urban Crisis”  at University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management was another highlight of my Greater Portland Inc. trip to Toronto Sept. 27-30, 2015. There we spoke with professor, author and CityLab co-founder Richard Florida as well as  Real Estate Developer, & Architect in City blogger Brandon Donnelly.  During this discussion Spacing Magazine editor Matthew Blackett  also shared some of the interesting insights I reported on in my Part 1 blog.

Richard Florida expressed his frustration with the Mayor Rob Ford era which declared that the war on the car was over and that the problem was those young, pointy-headed university folks. “In Toronto, everyone still thinks they have the right to drive,” he lamented.  “If there’s an urban crisis, it’s the suburbs,” he said.

Florida reminded us that: “Building urbanism is a lot more expensive than building sprawl” and “The new frontier is the old frontier in the center of the city.” He left us with three points to deal with the next urban crisis: 1)  Build more housing,and make it more affordable; .2)  Build more transit;  3)  Provide a livable minimum wage–reduce the huge bifurcation we see now.

Brandon Donnelly

Brandon Donnelly described the affordability crisis for families and a solution in mid-rise housing. Photo from The Guardian

Brandon Donnelly discussed with us some of the crisis in keeping housing affordable during Toronto’s fast-paced growth. There’s a pressure on prices re: low rise, but high-rise has stayed stable, he said.  He described an Avenues and Mid-rise Building study. “ We see it as a market to build more units for families who are priced out of single family homes,” he said.

He distinguished Towers 1.0 and Towers 2.0.  Towers 1.0, many built in the suburbs, did not take as middle class housing and became largely the affordable housing of today. Towers 2.0 is basically all ownership vs. all tenants in 1.0, he said.  He finds it an encouraging sign that anchor office tenants and retailers are moving into the city as well.

Mid-rise housing

This mid-rise housing was across from a string of parks similar to Portland’s Park Blocks and gets my vote for best place to live in Toronto. Photo by PlanGreen

Park across from mid-rise housing

This park was one of a string of parks across from the mid-rise housing above. It was centrally located on the way to the Distillery District. Photo by PlanGreen

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, former Sec. of Labor, UC Berkley Professor and prolific author.at the Rotman School auditorium. Photo by PlanGreen

On our way out, we had an unexpected opportunity to hear Robert Reich, who was doing a guest lecture at the Rotman School around his book, Saving Capitalism : For the Many, Not the Few. 

I was especially impressed by how many of our group stopped to listen to his talk.  “My aim is to shatter the myths that keep us from taking the action we must take, and to provide a roadmap of what we must do – to rebuild our economic system and restore our democracy.” Reich was saying.

There is  a “huge misunderstanding” that underlies  a false political dichotomy between the so-called “free market” and government intervention. “There is no choice to be made between the free market and government. Government determines the rules of the market. The real question is what those rules are going to be and who is influencing those rules and whether the market is going to be working for the vast majority as a result, or whether it’s going to be rigged in favour of a small minority.” Reich’s book was for sale at a table outside the open-sided auditorium where he was speaking.

At Rotman we had the opportunity to hear some of the most forward-thinking leaders of the day who are dealing with questions around the environment, housing, urbanism, equity, millenials, the creative class, public involvement and the economy.

Ryerson University

The Planning students who attended our reception at Ryerson University were interested in displacement, equity and resiliency issues. Photo by PlanGreen

It was a great segue to our reception and  “Sharing Best Practices between Portland and Toronto” session at Ryerson University Architecture School.  All of the students I met at the reception were from the Ryerson School of Urban and Regional Planning rather than Architecture.  Those students were looking for answers to rising housing costs, displacement, equity, brownfields, resiliency planning in an era of climate change, etc.  I stayed after the session to talk with them. Several promised to look at my blogs on mycoremediation and suggested that one of their professors might be especially interested. So far, no one has followed up but I’m still hoping to hear from them.

Jennifer Keesmaat

Jennifer Keesmatt was our featured evening speaker. Image courtesy of York University. http://yfile.news.yorku.ca/2014/11/06/chief-toronto-planner-discussed-urban-spaces-and-achieving-a-sustainable-healthy-city/

Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, is a longtime Toronto resident, a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism (like myself), and a pedestrian advocate.  She had been a principal in the Toronto planning consultancy Dialog prior to taking the job as Toronto’s top planner.   She is also an inveterate user of Twitter @jen_keesmaat–discreetly putting out these tweets while she was on a panel with Portland Chief Planner, Joe Zehnder:

Portland is seeking to create *greenways* throughout neighbourhoods to address stormwater issues. Think “greened” street medians.  Portland has met Kyoto carbon emission reductions, even while growing. “Your midrise is hi-rise for us.” Portland Chief Planner explains that 4 story bldings are causing consternation in his city. Wow. If only.

Mountain Equipment Coop in downtown Toronto

Mountain Equipment Coop in downtown Toronto installed an extensive green roof of 6,500ft.2 during the construction of the building in 1998. Photo courtesy City of Toronto

“I talk about Portland all of the time,” she told us.  We’re growing but our air quality is getting better – as a result of our green roof policy mitigating the heat island effect.  I cringed a bit to think that while Toronto passed the world’s first mandatory green roof program in 2010, Portland discontinued its Ecoroof Incentive in 2012.

In response to moderator Ann Marie’s question about green infrastructure and resiliency in the face of climate change, Keesmaat lamented that she has only three  people working on green streets, a superstar team, but only three.

She did add that Toronto is a city of ravines and that there is an ongoing Ravine Strategy currently being developed.  She will be holding her final Chief Planner Roundtable of 2015 (Dec. 15) on the topic of Toronto’s ravine network.  I did not get the chance to ask her about the re-naturalization of the Don River, but I plan to do that at the next opportunity–maybe via Twitter!

Mycoremediation with “Spongy Parking Lots”

Aug 2, 2015

Portland’s Old Town China Town neighborhood has an abundance of surface parking lots.  In fact, it has far too many to be a vibrant neighborhood much less an expression of the eco-city that Portland purports to be.  I’ve joined with five other professional women to try to change that.  If we can’t see these central city lots immediately redeveloped to higher and better uses that house people and businesses, we at least want to see them become better parking lots–SPONGY PARKING LOTS.

Spongy Parking Lots Video image

Image borrowed from PDX Downtowner You Tube site.

My friend, Ruth Ann Barrett coined that term and even made a video about Spongy Parking Lots to share with her neighbors in Old Town/Chinatown.  She has friends who visit from California and she’s embarrassed to show them how much we waste water here in Portland.  When it rains, the water from those parking lots heats up and captures whatever pollutants vehicles leave behind on its way to the nearest storm sewer.  The surface parking lots are paved in asphalt and are major contributors to the urban heat island effect that raises the temperature as much as 10° over areas with open land and vegetation.  In turn, the extra heat increases the energy needed to cool interior spaces, and puts an extra strain on the grid by exacerbating peak energy loads and hence carbon footprint/climate change. It also contributes to smog formation adding even more public health impacts resulting from excessive outdoor temperature.

Spongy trail in an old growth forest. Photo by PlanGreen

Spongy trail in an old growth forest. Photo by PlanGreen

We’ll return to all that in a moment, but I first want you to remember walking on a trail in the woods where your feet just seemed to bounce on the earth beneath them.  That’s because that soil was kept porous and, yes, spongy, by the mycelium forming a thick mat that was turning wood to soil under your feet.  Those mycelium have fruiting bodies that we call mushrooms–which may or may not be visible during your walk.

Mycelium on log

The white stuff in this photo is mycelium. It will spread throughout the log and ultimately decompose it–creating spongy soil. Photo by PlanGreen.

That mycelium looks a bit like a very dense spider web criss-crossing to create quite a network.   It gets its nutrition by decomposing the cellulose in the log.  The ability of mycelium of mushrooms in the category of “white rot fungi”  to decompose cellulose is related to their ability to decompose numerous other substances as well: bacterial toxins such as e-coli and fecal coliform as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAHs).  Research also shows their ability to transform  bunker fuel oil, explosives, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and organochlorine pesticides–substances we hope we won’t find in OTCT parking lots.

Ecotrust Parking Lot

Built in 2001, the parking lot at Ecotrust is an outstanding model of a “Spongy Parking Lot”. It probably even has a few mushrooms by now. Photo by PlanGreen

We do have models for Spongy Parking Lots nearby.  My favorite is at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center (aka Ecotrust) in the adjacent Pearl District neighborhood.  Often on a summer day, the cars are kicked out of this pleasant parking lot for an array of fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets.  If you enlarge this photo, you will see that the lot is paved with light colored porous pavers and that those trees are planted in bioswales that also hold an array of mostly native plants.  You will see that  the parking spaces drain into those bioswales. which are about 2.5 feet deep.  Not only do the soils and plants in  the bioswales infiltrate the water from the parking lot within 24 hours, they also cool the water and filter the pollutants that come from our vehicles and pets.

BES Sediment Testing Chart

HCID-TPH is a screen to determine the presence and type of petroleum products that may exist in water or soil. Table from BES 2010 Stormwater Monitoring Report referenced below.

What could be better?  Well, Portland monitors the effectiveness of its bioswales and some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil results were variable, but levels were higher than the background soil sample sites located nearby but outside of the stormwater facilities. Metal and PAH levels found in stormwater facilities were generally similar to those found in background sample soils.  While these results show that soils in bioswales are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, soil results could be CLEANER THAN THE BACKGROUND SAMPLES in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs.  If mycelium running through the bioswale made the soil spongier and more absorbent and if those same mycelium could help the plants thrive by “eating” more of the pollutants, then I maintain we would have an even spongier parking lot.  A spongier parking lot could better utilize and clean the water running off it into bioswales.  As its trees and plants grow better with less pollutants in its soil, the spongier parking lot will decrease the urban heat island effect even more and become an important strategy for both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

I hope you will read my previous three short blogs on mycoremediation/mycofiltration (http://plangreen.net/blog) to better understand the technology I am proposing.  I plan one more mycoremediation blog on monitoring.

_____________________________

¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report