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.
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.
Oct. 17, 2015
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 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.
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.
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.
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 @–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.
“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!
October 15, 2015
The Toronto Best Management Practices (BMP) visit sponsored by Greater Portland, Inc.(GPI) from Sept. 27-30, 2015 was a chance to visit with some of the players who are making Canada’s largest city #2 in Fast Company’s global ranking of smart cities, and #1 in North America and “the most civil and civilized city in the world” according to National Geographic.
I had a little different trip than my 51 other colleagues because I came a little earlier and left a little later than most of them did. I also stayed in a different venue, so I had different views out my back window and front door.
Our first stop on the BMP trip was at Evergreen Brick Works, a “community environmental centre that inspires and equips visitors to live, work and play more sustainably.” It is also home to Evergreen, a national organization whose mission is “inspiring action to green cities.” Approximately 180 employees help Evergreen to promote that mission in four areas of focus: greenspace, children, food and CityWorks (urban planning). If you took Dharma Rain Zen Center ( a group redeveloping a brownfield in far northeast Portland) and combined it with Groundwork Portland, Willamette Riverkeeper, Audubon Society of Portland and Zenger Farm, then topped it off with a national organization like the Sierra Club, you might have something close in Portland.
Although very close to Toronto’s core, you feel as if you are a world away there. Evergreen staff have organized the planting of tens of thousands of native trees and plants by community volunteers. They have also worked with partners to restore a large wetland on their site and a trail through the Don Valley watershed and its ravines.
Evergreen CEO Geoff Cape, along with Planning Director Jennifer Keesmaat and several other speakers stressed that ravines help to define Toronto. “The ravines are to Toronto what canals are to Venice and hills are to San Francisco. They are the heart of the city’s emotional geography, and understanding Toronto requires an understanding of the ravines.” – Robert Fulford, Accidental City
On June 7, 2013, more than 60 mm of rain fell across the Toronto region, resulting in widespread water damage, flooding and road closures. According to an EBW blog post:
“The most significant flooding took place in the Don Valley, right where Evergreen calls home—shutting down the Don Valley Parkway and putting parts of the Brick Works under more than two feet of water! This is not the first time we’ve had to close the site due to excessive amounts of rain but it is certainly the largest flood we have had since moving into the Brick Works in September 2010.”
I found only one reference on the Evergreen site about the re-naturalization of the mouth of the Don River. It is described as a project of Waterfront Toronto in the History of the Lower Don Project. I am watching the CityWorks portion of Evergreen’s site for the day when they advocate taking out the Don River Parkway that so greatly confines the river (except when it doesn’t) and getting the Don River out of its concrete channel altogether.
Our next stop was to the Spacing Magazine retail store where publisher Matthew Blackett told us that he is working with Evergreen and the City of Toronto to create city planning podcasts aimed at a millennial audience. “Growing Conversations is our strategy to reach youth, newcomers, renters and those we’re not presently engaging in the official “consultations” the city planning department holds,” he said. His store sells many books about urbanism as well as locally designed products relating to urbanism –and, of course, the magazine.
Blackett, also on our agenda in the afternoon, claims that ‘most of Toronto’s growth is happening downtown–the fastest growing in NA- and that youth18-34 are a driving force behind the downtown condo boom. He said the government will give you 10% down payment interest free and forgiveable as long as you stay in the condo. The top three Issues he sees for this age group: affordable housing; equity; and the environment.
My hope is that this new generation will insist on speedier implementation of environmental restoration plans–e.g., for the mouth of the Don River–and greater awareness with regard to how all aspects of the City’s future are tied to working with nature in an era of climate change.
Nov. 12, 2013 Guest blog by Carolyn Foster, University of Washington Community Environment & Planning student and Summer 2013 PlanGreen intern
The 19th annual Rail~Volution Conference was hosted by the Puget Sound Region in Seattle, WA on October 20 thru 23, 2013. The conference featured many workshops exploring how we can build livable communities through transit. This is especially important to the Puget Sound Region because they are anticipating 1.2 million more residents by 2030. To accommodate this, the region must plan for density in urban growth centers and make smart investments in transportation.
Because PlanGreen principal, Mary Vogel, urged me to apply promptly as soon as she got notice from Rail-Volution, I was privileged to receive a scholarship to this conference. The first workshop I attended was “Rail~Volution 101” intended for first time attendees. One of the speakers was Earl Blumenauer, Congressman of Oregon’s Third District, who has notable experience with working towards livable communities. He founded Portland’s Regional Rail Summit in 1991 which eventually became the Rail~Volution conference in 1995. He spoke of the importance of citizen infrastructure in making a successful light rail system. In Portland, he funded a transportation class to allow citizens to work with the Portland transportation agencies to implement their own community projects. This is still happening! To him, strengthening this citizen infrastructure is a key to success. Learn more at portlandtransport.com.
Another speaker at the “Rail~Volution 101” workshop, G.B. Harrington, of G.B. Placemaking in Portland introduced me to the concept of Transit Oriented Development versus Transit Adjacent Development. He argued that it is not enough for development to be by transit, but it must be shaped by transit. Other speakers at this workshop included the Executive Director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, and the Mayor of Normal, Illinois. They excitedly shared projects that had been accomplished in their town to make their communities more livable. What particularly struck me was when the mayor of Normal explained how the addition of a roundabout fixed a bad traffic snarl. To me, this displays the power of incrementalsim to solve urban issues. To learn more about the project in Normal, visit normal.org
The second workshop I attended was titled “Design Matters.” The panel consisted of a planner, an architect, and a landscape architect. The planner, William Anderson, of San Diego, urged everyone involved in a project to “leave their discipline ego behind” in favor of effective collaboration and problem solving. Jeff Potter, architect from Dallas, TX, argued that “place is not designed, it is experienced.” William also argued the importance of making seamless connections to neighborhoods through transit to avoid making a community “just a place to pass through.” All panelists spoke to the important of context specific design that gives a place a sense of unique identity.
Tuesday night was the Pecha Kucha Slam, described as “cutting edge ideas presented rapid-fire.
20 slides x 20 seconds = less than 7 minutes per topic.” 12 professionals presented a wide variety of topics from developing airports to keeping your employees healthy and fit. There was also a range of presentation styles: from serious to satirical to downright silly. Terra Lingley, Transportation Planner at CH2M Hill in Portland presented about Portland’s Streetcar Mobile Musicfest where local bands perform on the streetcars for free (except you still have to pay the streetcar fare). This was a big hit with the crowd!
I was connected with a mentor, Circe Torruellas, of the Washington DC Department of Transportation. She shared with me her experience with transit planning in our nation’s capital. She also introduced me to people she knows in Portland who were at the conference including Art Pearce, of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
At the conference, I networked, had fun, and learned many things, including some information that went over my head such as the details surrounding how to finance Transit Oriented Development. There is a wealth of information about the conference on their website: railvolution.org including a list of attendees and some webcasted sessions. My experience at the conference has made me very excited to continue down the path to be an urban planner.
Below is the Draft Testimony of Mary Vogel,CNU-A, principal of PlanGreen, regarding the Lacamas Northshore proposal that Carolyn Foster covered in her blog earlier in August.
I know that you are concerned with the city’s economy—in the long term, not just today. I suspect that you believe that the proposed master plan will help the city’s economy. But I want you to consider some future trends before you make up your minds.
Maureen McAvey, Senior Resident Fellow for the Urban Land Institute (ULI) in Washington, DC was in Portland last year to discuss the ULI publication “What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy“. The event notice read: A paradigm shift is unfolding over the course of this decade, driven by an extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends. Taken together, these trends will dramatically change development through 2020. My notes indicate that McAvey said:
- More single-family homes are being occupied by renters, changing the feel and politics of suburban communities
- Seventy-five percent of households in the Portland area do not have children under 18
- 47 percent are non-families
- Twenty-somethings on tight budgets prefer places to congregate with friends — in parks, bars, restaurant clusters and building common areas — and can tolerate smaller living spaces.
Arthur C. Nelson, one of the nation’s most prescient housing market researchers, says declining homeownership, tighter lending standards, a sell-off of single-family houses by the nation’s fastest growing demographic — senior citizens—and even rising household sizes due to more multigenerational living will have an impact on the market you may be trying to attract with the single family home portion of the plan.
Nelson, professor of city and regional planning at the University of Utah, reports that the US faces a massive oversupply of large-lot single family houses and an undersupply of multifamily units. By 2020, Nelson sees 1.5 to 2 million homes from seniors coming on the market, and between 2020 and 2030, there will be a national net surplus of 4 million homes that they cannot sell. And Nelson believes those are conservative figures for what has been dubbed “The Great Senior Sell-Off.”
The 2009 American Housing Survey (AHS) found that 28 percent of houses are attached, 29 percent are detached on small lots, and 43 percent are detached on large lots. Three studies — by National Association of Realtors, the Robert Charles Lesser & Co. (RCLCo), and Nelson — all found a nearly identical, imbalance in US housing supply and demand. Only 24 to 25 percent of Americans would prefer to live in large-lot single-family houses (see graph “Housing preference versus supply”).
Consequently, there’s an oversupply of approximately 28 million units in what developer, professor and author Christopher Lineberger calls “the drivable suburbs.” Attached housing and small-lot housing, on the other hand, are undersupplied — by about 12 million and 13.5 million units, respectively.
This imbalance is likely to grow in the years to come, reports Nelson. The generation that is currently moving into the housing market — Millennials — is the most urban-oriented cohort since World War II. Melina Druggall with RCLCo reported at a National Association of Home Builders conference in January 2011 that 81 percent of Gen Y renters want to live in an urban setting. (Wall Street Journal reported that number as 88% at that time and they were quoted in numerous sources such as Better Cities & Towns and Grist).
Ninety percent of the increase in the demand for new housing will be households without children, and 47 percent will be senior citizens (the latter resulting from the rising tide of Baby Boomers who started turning 65 last year). Both of these demographic groups—the Millennials and the Boomers—lean toward multifamily and away from large-lot SFH.
Referring to a recent National Association of Realtors (NAR) finding on percentage of households that prefer to live downtown or in mixed-use city or suburban neighborhoods, Nelson says “Back in ‘70s or ‘80s, people wanted drivable suburbs. Now 70 percent want to walk to discernable destinations, from transit to grocery stores. This wasn’t the case until recently.” Nelson believes the most popular locations will be mixed-use, walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods.
This Lacamas Northshore master plan is being portrayed as both walkable and mixed-use, but the concept plan I’ve seen so far indicates to me that it is not. The zoning proposal shows a segregation of uses. Business parks, by their very nature, are drive-to! The single-family and the multi-family seem quite segregated from each other and all are segregated from the shopping area.
As far as economic development is concerned, there is increasing evidence that the kind of high tech, light industrial firms that you hope to attract are choosing to locate near where their employees want to live. Consider the choice of Amazon to locate adjacent to downtown Seattle and Adobe Systems to locate in downtown San Jose.
I hope you will take into account the “extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends” that ULI talks about before making your decision on this zoning change and the future development that it presages. I agree that a master plan with changed zoning is what is now most desirable for this area–but NOT the kind of segregation of uses we see in this plan. I urge you to delay approval of a zoning change–until you can get it right!