Category Archives: Sustainable Urbanism
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?
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
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.)
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.
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:
- Actively transition our policies away from homeownership and single-family homes.
- Investigate how best to subsidize people, rather than their property.
- Regulate landlords and buyers who own hundreds to thousands of properties, while finding ways to leverage their scale for good.
- Rethink zoning that privileges single family homes
- 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
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
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.
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.
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.
Sustainable Stormwater Management – a Review
March 8, 2018
Sustainable Stormwater Management: A Landscape-Driven Approach to Planning and Design
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!
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?
October 10, 2015
In 2007 when I wrote Greening Waterfront Development: Toronto, I was highly impressed with official plans for greening Toronto’s waterfront. Our two day tour with Greater Portland Inc, had Waterfront Revitalization on the agenda, but we didn’t get to the area that I wanted to see–the re-naturalizing of the mouth of the Don River.
So after our debriefing on Sept. 30, I rented a bike at HI Toronto and headed towards the Waterfront Trail then east towards the Don River. I wanted to document the progress Toronto had made in their plans to transform the mouth of this highly channelized river that I had written about in my 2007 article. I soon ran out of separated bike trail and plush new development and came to a channel with a short bridge over it. With a bit of incredulity in my voice, I asked “Is THIS the mouth of the Don River?” of the fellow who turned out to be the drawbridge operator.
He assured me that it was. Then I asked “What about the re-naturalization they were going to be doing?” He told me that volunteers had been doing some planting in the park down the way so I headed into the industrial area along Villers Street making a first stop at a small public pier to capture the drawbridge opening. I was crestfallen to see the mouth of the river was still in its concrete channel and brown from sediment. Active dredging was still taking place. In fact, the drawbridge was opening for a barge carrying dredge material upriver in what is called the Keating Channel.
I did find some native species and a sign corroborating what the drawbridge operator had told me. But the scale of the ecological restoration that needs to be done there came nowhere close to the scale of the earth moving and skyscraper building that is taking place nearby. In fact, it seemed to be the proverbial drop in the bucket.
I found it disappointing that any city with 180 towering cranes in its core area alone was not making equally fast progress with the ecological restoration of one of its major rivers. It leads me to ask what kind of public benefit is the City extracting from each of these developments?
Recommendations to re-naturalize the mouth of the Don River have been in existence since 1991. According to a Wikipedia article on the Don: In 2007, the Toronto Waterfront Development Corporation (now WaterfrontToronto) held a design competition that looked at four different configurations for the mouth of the Don. The winning bid was made by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The environmental assessment is expected to be complete in 2008 and construction is scheduled to begin in 2010. That Environmental Assessment was only passed by the province January 26, 2015–a 7 year lag! This was not because of the economic “recession.” We were told that did not phase Toronto.
When I reviewed the plans by Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, I was reminded that Instead of creating naturalized banks along the straight course of the existing channel connecting the Don River with the lake, as was originally suggested in the project brief, MVVA’s design keeps the Keating Channel as an urban artifact and neighborhood amenity and creates a new mouth for the river that flows logically from the upstream source, bypassing the abrupt right turn created by the channel. A large new meandering riverfront park becomes the centerpiece of a new mixed-use neighborhood.
October 12, 2015
An interesting explanation for the delay of the re-naturalization of the Don River that I was expecting to see can be found in Planning Nature and the City: Toronto’s Lower Don River and Port Lands by Gene Desfor and Jennifer Bonnell:
. . . in the fall of 2011 Mayor Rob Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford, their right-wing allies, and competing development agencies, attempted to hijack current waterfront planning processes and radically alter plans for the Port Lands. Those sympathetic to Mayor Ford’s vision see these lands primarily as a way to ease budget woes by selling prime waterfront property to international developers. As the Toronto Star editorialized, “The Fords’ ludicrous vision for the future – complete with a megamall, monorail and giant Ferris wheel – was so abysmal that a tide of Torontonians rose up in protest. Most city councillors broke with the mayor’s program and quashed the takeover [of Waterfront Toronto].”31 At the time of writing [no date provided], a political solution is being sought in which Waterfront Toronto, the City, and various special purpose government organizations are working to design a compromise between Ford’s “ludicrous vision” and the plan based on the MVVA proposal.
According to Waterfront Toronto website, construction of the Lower Don Lands Plan and the Port Lands Plan is yet to come. There is no mention of the above controversy on their site.
A Waterfront Toronto newsroom article announced that on July 14, 2015 it, along with federal, provincial and city government partners, came up with $5M to take the next steps on the proposal to naturalize the Don River:
The due diligence work being primarily undertaken by Waterfront Toronto will provide governments with additional assurance on the estimated $975 million cost of this project, which includes rerouting the Don River to the middle of the Port Lands between the Ship Channel and the Keating Channel, remediating the area’s contaminated soil, creating new parks, wetlands and resilient urban infrastructure that will remove the flooding risk, unlock a vast area for revitalization and development – including the creation of a new community called Villiers Island – and create billions of dollars of economic development opportunities.
The first phase of this due diligence work is scheduled to be completed by November of this year , and “will enable government funding of the project by providing confirmation of the cost of the project, strategies to mitigate the risks associated with the project, and an implementation strategy.”
The project would be ready to start by 2017 and take approximately seven years to complete. An independent study by PwC done for Waterfront Toronto in 2014 estimates that “the project will generate $3.6 billion in value to the Canadian economy, 7,672 person years of employment and $346 million in tax revenues to all levels of government.”
So, to answer the question my title asks, “Where is Toronto’s Green Waterfront in 2015?”–LOOK FOR IT IN 2024! That estimate, of course, will depend upon continued economic progress–progress that seems a bit uncertain right now.
Mycoremediation: Testing Results In The Field
August 6, 2015
When Jordan Weiss set out to use mushrooms to help clean up the soils and filter the water at the former landfill/brownfield site purchased by the Dharma Rain Zen Center (DRZC), he did so based upon the mycoremediation research of others such as Paul Stamets and his team at Fungi Perfecti. He didn’t set up the effort as a research project. He didn’t have funders to answer to as he volunteered his time and even many of the materials. He taught workshops that brought in the volunteer labor from the Zen Center, the Oregon Mycological Society and neighbors and friends.
Now, to take the project to the next level as a mycoremediation model for the Portland area, Jordan and others involved with the project, like myself, would like funding. Funders always want data–not just university lab data or even other people’s field data, but data from the project they are asked to fund. I’m working with Jordan to figure out what baseline data is out there re: water quality and soils and what more data we need to collect to prove that mushrooms are removing toxins on this site and can do so throughout the Portland area.
The Phase I Environmental Site Assessment for the DRZC site is of little help with regard to pollutants in water or stormwater. Essentially, its conclusion was: No analytical testing of shallow groundwater has been reported to ODEQ. In the Phase II ESA, eight soil samples were tested in the area where the food garden is now. High levels of PAHs were found in this soil, causing DRZC to build boxes and import clean soil for vegetable gardening. The area where the raingarden is does not seem to have been tested.
The best place to do future myco-remediation installations may be in the food garden area at the edges of the boxes since that soil had already been tested prior to any mycoremediation efforts, . After the mushrooms get established, DRZC and its partners could continue to test the underlying soils for levels of PAHs. The hypothesis is that the mushrooms and their mycelia will reduce or eliminate the PAHs.
PAHs (such as acenaphthylene’s, anthracene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, fluorine, phenanthrene and pyrene) are listed by the EPA as possible carcinogens and maximum allowable standards are set for them.
We will want to do stormwater testing too. The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Reports for both 2008 and 2010 tell us what water quality data BES monitors for in its stormwater facilities. From the chart in the Appendix of the 2008 report, we see that they monitor for oil, grease, E. coli, metals, total phosphorous and orthophosphate phosphorous, ammonia-nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen in water.
Here’s what they test in the sediments:
That HCID/TPH is a way to screen for PAHs and other petroleum products in the soil. We do know that BES also does separate soil sampling. Some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil 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 green street stormwater facilities (bioswales, raingardens) are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, we hope to show that with the use of mushrooms, soil results could be cleaner than the background samples in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs.
Since the only water sampling that revealed toxins at DRZC was the seep in the northeast corner of the site², our approach for monitoring the raingarden could start with the first rains of Fall 2015. We would largely be monitoring for pollutants from the parking area west of the raingarden. Parking lots are well-known for contaminating stormwater with PAHs when it rains.
The Portland area is fortunate to have a second mycoremediation project underway in our region. In July 2015, I set up a meeting with Clean Water Services Jared Kinnear and Pacific University toxicology professor Deke Gunderson to learn from their project to test mushrooms for cleaning street sweepings. They hope to get the street sweepings–what appears to be the compost I buy in bags at Ace Hardware– to the point that it is judged safe for farmers’ fields. They set up their project in conjunction with Fungi Perfecti which provided both the protocols and the mycelium inoculated wood chips for the research.
The project has evolved from what was originally conceived. Because of time and labor constraints and the preliminary results, the project was modified from the original one that would have tested five species of fungi to just testing Stropharia rugoso annulata (King stropharia) and Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster mushroom). Then it was narrowed down again when the researchers found that the oyster mycelium stayed on the wood chips rather than spreading throughout the mixture of wood chips and street sweepings.
So they are now testing the ability of King stropharia mycelium to eliminate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or at least reduce them to a level that they are safe to spread on farm fields. The levels of PAHs are tested on a chromatograph at Pacific University. Since once the inoculated wood chips were added to the street sweepings, the levels of PAHs were so low that they were difficult to fully measure, the team decided to spike the experimental samples with PAHs in order to measure the effectiveness of the mushrooms.
The EPA has recognized 7 PAHs as priority chemicals due to their persistence in the environment.³ The most common way to be exposed is by breathing contaminated air but exposure can also come from eating contaminated food. While we were there we met one of Dr. Gunderson’s students ,Hailey Jongeward, who has since shared with me her PowerPoint report on the project.
“Of the 7 priority chemicals we found traces of all 7 in the starting material, increasing the importance of this project” she wrote. Those chemicals are: acenaphthylene’s, anthracene, benzo(g,h,i)perylene, fluorine, phenanthrene and pyrene.
Hailey also shared the photos of the subject material to the right. Boxes get different ratios of wood chips to spores so that may account for the difference in the two boxes. Both show that the mycelium is spreading, but the lower one more than the upper one. Hailey also told me she is working in partnership with fellow Pacific University students Jake Prevou and Natalie Kimura.
I believe that the monitoring of the Dharma Rain Zen Center project needs to take on some similar elements as the Clean Water Services project and monitor soils for reduction of PAHs. It would also be useful to test the water flowing into and back out of the raingarden, but that may prove more difficult because it was not designed for doing such testing. Our best bet may be one identified in the Phase II ESA: “a location south of the seep had water discharge from piping, which was traced to a stormwater surface drainage feature.”
It is exciting to be part of the initiation of a technology–or rather a protocol for utilizing an ecosystem service from the seen and unseen mysteries of the natural world. As we enter an era of climate change, such services will become more and more critical for adapting to changes, mitigating the impacts and healing our past wounds to the earth. I want my business, PlanGreen, to be at the forefront of utilizing the services that nature provides for free.
Please see my previous four posts on mycoremediation on http://plangreen.net/blog/. You may want to FOLLOW this site for the latest news. And do post your comments and questions below.
UPDATE, Sept. 21, 2015
Dharma Rain Zen Center started an Indiiegogo campaign http://igg.me/at/PlantingZen/x on Sept. 21, 2015 that allows you to contribute to their restoration and community building work. Your dollars will be matched dollar for dollar. I hope you will help if you can!
¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report
²Levels of arsenic slightly higher than allowed for drinking water standards was found in the northeast corner seep.
³See fact sheet on PAHs from the EPA Office of Solid Waste at http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastemin/minimize/factshts/pahs.pdf
PDX Climate Action Plan 2015 Needs Urban Design
June 24, 2015 Testimony of Mary Vogel, PlanGreen to Portland City Council
There is a great deal to like in the Portland/MultCo Climate Action Plan 2015 and I applaud it as far as it goes. But one of the things missing is attention to URBAN DESIGN not just Urban Form. It needs to include implementation actions on evaluating existing land use policies that shape urban design for impact on climate change. That mandate could be included on p. 80, Urban Form and Transportation Chapter under either Decision-Making or Planning Scenarios Evaluation.
Here’s one example! We need to change a policy that:
Promotes private automobile use
Leads to less community interaction
Makes our sidewalks less safe and useable for pedestrians
Displaces on-street parking spaces that make pedestrians feel safer
Usurps public parking space
Makes sidewalks less useable by pedestrians
Disrupts the look and feel of the neighborhood
Displaces street trees that both protect and add comfort for the pedestrian
Displaces garden space that could be used to grow food
That is the requirement for off-street parking for every new house more than 500’ from a transit stop. Please make sure that a review of this policy and other existing policies is part of the Climate Action Plan. That will greatly strengthen the plan!
I’m adding a couple of examples that were not in my original testimony in order to show both the worst and best of Portland’s central city urban design with regard to parking.
Even Portland’s numerous graffiti artists don’t seem to find these garage doors compelling places for their art–even though the doors front a street in one of the densest and most popular neighborhoods in Portland.
Most pedestrians don’t find this wasteland a compelling place to be either. In fact, they cross the street in order to avoid them. How does such awful urban design continue to exist in one of the most popular neighborhoods in Portland?
Okay, we can keep some off-street parking. In really popular neighborhoods that folks from the suburbs flock to on evenings and weekends, residents with cars can really benefit from off-street parking. This 12 unit condo building with it’s single driveway and garage exists immediately adjacent another abomination like the one above at NW 23rd & Pettygrove in Portland. This building is an example of how off-street parking should be done–if it is done at all.
Let me know your thoughts! I will pass them on to Portland policymakers and planners.
Mycoremediation: Cleaning Soils and Water along the Willamette River!
January 10, 2014
In a recent workshop the City of Portland, Oregon sponsored for its Willamette River Central Reach Plan , planners asked for habitat enhancement “projects that would have larger bang for the buck”. . . “projects that would have a multiplier effect in terms of watershed health.” Mycofiltration—the use of mycorrhizal mushrooms and their mycelia to filter pollutants would rank high on both of these criteria.
Mycofiltration will reduce harmful pollutants commonly found in urban stormwater runoff, such as heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. It also eliminates E-coli and other bacteria from pet wastes and waterfowl. Because adding mushroom spores to remediation sites is very inexpensive and low-impact, it has the potential to be a sustainable option well into the future.
In most places, stormwater runoff goes directly into streams, rivers and oceans and recycles through the watershed carrying the pollutants with it. And that it is a big problem for salmon and wildlife survival. Mycofiltration should be added as a treatment to enhance the activity of existing stormwater management biofiltration cells such as the rain gardens, bioswales and green streets that are plentiful in Portland. By adding Garden Giant (Stropharia rugosoannulata) mycelium to the soil mix, harmful substances that come from heavily trafficked roads such as I-5, I-84 and the motor vehicle bridges in the Central Reach: Broadway, Steel, Burnside, Morrison, Hawthorne, Markham, Ross Island can be transformed into carbohydrates and nutrients — which are actually useful to surrounding soil and plants cheap cialis overnight delivery.
By adding mycofilters to biofiltration cells installed in places where people walk their dogs such as South Waterfront, Riverplace, Waterfront Park, Eastbank Esplanade, etc., E-coli and other bacteria from pet wastes that were not properly disposed of can become a nutrient rather than a pollutant. Having these mushrooms in the mix can actually help the native plants we are planting in streambank restoration and biofiltration cell facilities grow more robustly. Instead of dealing with pollutants, their roots are getting more nutrients.
I was fortunate enough to meet inspirational mushroom guru, Paul Stamets (here he is giving a TED talk) when he was first starting his farm near Olympia, WA in the 1980s. He had just wowed the Washington Department of Ecology with the use of mushrooms to clean up the E-Coli and fecal coliform problem caused by his farm animals. In a single year he had achieved a 99% reduction in pollutants despite doubling the number of animals on the farm.
Since that time, I have gone on to found my business PlanGreen around using ecosystem services to deal with urban stormwater and other environmental problems/opportunities. I believe, as Stamets does, that the Earth has its own immune system and that we need to learn to better work with that immune system. Although I have been excited about the efforts that Portland and other communities throughout the nation are making in biofiltration—using plants and soil to filter stormwater–I have long wondered why we were not utilizing mushrooms as well.
So, I was thrilled to see “Can Mushrooms Help Fight Stormwater Pollution?” as a link on the Oregon Environmental Council’s “Oregon Stormwater” listserve. The story (first published on Sightline’s blog on Nov. 13, 2013 , then picked up by Public Broadcasting’s Earthfix) indicates that Fungi Perfecti is looking for partners to help further the research it did under a grant from EPA. The study itself, Fungi Perfecti, LLC.: EPA Phase I, Mycofiltration Biotechnology Research Summary, concludes that additional research is needed to clearly define treatment design and operating parameters.
That sounds like a challenge that Portland area jurisdictions would relish. So PlanGreen is seeking to broker partnerships between Fungi Perfecti and receptive jurisdictions. Beyond treatment design and operating parameters, some of the issues to be resolved by those partnerships might be[i]:
- Whether or not the mushrooms grown on decomposing toxic wastes are safe to eat.
- To what degree of decomposition by mycelium of toxic soils makes the soils safe for food crops [including food for wildlife]
- How economically practical will it be to remove mushrooms that have hyper-accumulated heavy metals. . .? Which species are best for hyper accumulating specific metals?
- How to finance/design composting centers around population centers near pollution threats.
However, whether or not our cities, ports and other transportation agencies can qualify for the robust monitoring needed for the Fungi Perfecti research, we have enough anecdotal evidence (and PlanGreen and its partners have enough knowledge and materials) to get to the starting gate right now. As Stamets says in his book, Mycelium Running, “Now is the time to ensure the future of our planet and our species by partnering, or running, with mycelium.”
[i] These issues were borrowed from Stamets’ The Petroleum Problem, on the Fungi Perfecti website.
Please see May 6, 2015 post titled Mycoremediation: Mushrooms Cleaning Soils and Water in Portland for further information on this topic.
What Are We Willing to Sacrifice to Find New Industrial Lands?
12-3-13 Guest blog by Bob Sallinger, Conservation Director, Audubon Society of Portland; first printed in Audubon’s newsletter the Warbler, Dec. 2013
The City of Portland has reached a major decision point that will define whether it retains its reputation as a “green” city in the coming decades. Over the next year, the City will complete work on its Comprehensive Plan Update. The Comprehenisive Plan is the land use plan for the City that guides future growth and development. Among the most difficult issues to be addressed in this process is the challenge of finding new industrial lands. Under Statewide Land Use Planning Goal 9, cities are supposed to maintain a 20-year supply of industrial land.
However, Portland is a landlocked city surrounded by other cities and has run out of undeveloped industrial parcels on which to expand. Analysis conducted by the City and Metro, based in large part on information provided by self-interested industrial landowners, has determined that Portland needs approximately 670 acres of new industrial land. As a result much of the Comprehensive Plan Update process has focused on a desperate search to find these 670 acres. Proposals to meet this demand for new industrial land include developing 300 acres of irreplaceable wildlife habitat on West Hayden Island, converting significant portions of 4 golf courses in North Portland to industrial use, limiting environmental regulations on industrial lands, integrating industrial development into neighborhoods, and cleaning up brownfields and restoring them to productive use. In short, the City is considering sacrificing the health of our environment, our valuable greenspaces, and the livability of our neighborhoods in order to meet this arbitrary target. However, there are some important things to understand that are often left out of the discussion.
First, it is critical to understand that the land use system does allow the City to inform the State that it has run out of land and is unable to meet industrial land targets. State land use planning goals do not require the City to sacrifice our environment or our neighborhoods in order to meet industrial land goals. In fact Goal 9 explicitly states that industrial land objectives “should consider as a major determinant, the carrying capacity of the air, land and water resources of the planning area.” Instead, Portland should inform the State that it will meet job targets through strategies other than creation of new industrial lands.
Second, the City has over 900 acres of brownfields — contaminated industrial sites that have either limited or no productive use. In short there are more than enough brownfield sites to meet the industrial land deficit. The problem has been that owners of these sites have been reticent to invest the capital to clean them up and put them back into productive use generic cialis overnight shipping. It is absolutely critical that the City develop an aggressive strategy to hold polluters accountable for these sites through a combination of enforcement actions and incentives.
Finally, to the degree an industrial land crisis exists at all, it is a self-inflicted crisis. Although City forecasts predict a surplus of commercial and residential property, the City and industrial stakeholders have spent the last 15 years rapidly converting industrial lands to residential and commercial uses. Today the City brags about the transformation of the Pearl District and South Waterfront from “industrial wasteland” to high-end development. The Port of Portland, one of the loudest advocates for more industrial land, sold its property at Terminal One to make way for low-rise condos and it converted industrial land next to Portland International Airport for a big-box shopping center. Whether intentional or not, the strategy pursued by both industrial interests and the City over the past 15 years has been one of allowing industrial land owners to cash out by upzoning their industrial land to more profitable use and then backfilling the industrial land deficit through conversion of greenspace.
Audubon is participating in the Comprehensive Plan Update Process and will be advocating for the following strategy:
- The City should inform the State that it has run out of adequate undeveloped land to meet industrial land forecasts and therefore will develop other strategies to meet jobs supply objectives. This does not mean that the City will never add new industrial land to the inventory, but it does mean that the City will not be held hostage to an artificial target that would necessitate destruction of natural areas, open space, and neighborhoods.
- The City should develop an aggressive strategy to force industrial polluters to clean up brownfields. This should include a combination of enforcement actions as well as non-subsidy-based incentives.
- The City should put in place regulatory and non- regulatory programs to increase use intensification on the existing industrial landbase, something that is already occurring in cities in Europe and Asia that have a limited land supply.
- The City should put in place strong protections to prevent the rezoning of existing industrial lands except in extraordinary cases.
- The City and State should take a hard look at strategies to promote real collaboration and cooperation and potentially unification of the Columbia River Ports in order to maximize efficient use of land, promote a sustainable regional Port economy, and stabilize our Port system, which is on the brink of system failure. This is something which has been in the Port of Portland’s Marine Terminals Master Plan since 1991 but which has never been seriously pursued.
We will keep you updated about opportunities to comment on the Comprehensive Plan Update during the coming year.
You can leave comments for Bob below and write him at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on his list re: the Comp Plan.
Exciting Rail-Volution 2013 Confirms My Path
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.