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.
End Treeless Asphalt Deserts Downtown
Central City 2035 Key Element
Last year, as part of its Comprehensive Plan update process, Portland City Council passed CC 2035, an updated plan for the central city. The Key Elements of this plan give interested residents strong footing to address the surface parking lots in downtown’s West End as the fourth key element is: 4. Redevelopment. Encourage new development on surface parking lots and vacant lots..
Surface parking lot owners have negatively impacted the health and well-being of downtown residents for far too long. Besides the noise and air pollution that they bring to their neighbors these treeless asphalt deserts are more than 10 degrees hotter than surrounding areas. When it’s 105 degrees and smoky, walking by them for block after block is nearly unbearable–especially for the many downtown residents who use canes and walkers. Take a look at what I’m talking about–bearing in mind that this is DOWNTOWN Portland. . .
You might believe that with current real estate values, they will all be developed soon. But throughout the central city building boom in Portland, this hasn’t happened. In fact, Portland Art Museum’s lot depicted in Images 6 and 7 has been a surface parking lot for 88 years!
In August of 2017, commercial real estate consultant, Brian Owendoff explained to a Portland State University Real Estate class his opinion on why there will be little movement:
1. Land Price too high: very tough to make an apartment or office tower economically viable @ $600 SF for land cost.
2. The Inclusionary Zoning requirement reduces net operating income by 10%, more or less, making apartment development not economically viable.
3. Construction costs are very high due in large part to labor shortages.
All three result in project returns below what is acceptable for institutional investment or third party construction debt.
Except for the fact that some of the owners of the lots (the Goodmans, the Schnitzers and Portland Art Museum) also have the capacity to develop them, Owendoff’s market-based explanation may help explain why we’ve seen no redevelopment of the treeless asphalt deserts during the building boom.. But we can change “the market”!!! I have long suggested as a solution to this problem: the City of Portland should TAX LAND AT A HIGHER RATE THAN BUILDINGS. By taxing land at or near its development potential, owners of land that is used at less than maximum productivity–e.g.,surface parking lots–would be paying a disproportionate amount in taxes in order to keep it that way. See Land Value Tax for Downtown Portland.
Meanwhile, we could require that surface parking lots, while they remain, take a page from Ecotrust parking lot. Owners must install trees and bioswales that manage ALL stormwater onsite. They could even become fun places to hold events.
Let’s demand more from downtown Portland’s surface parking lot owners. Tell City Council that it’s not fair to downtown residents and visitors that owners of surface parking lots help destroy our air and water quality–not to mention temperature and aesthetic quality–with such impunity. You can help end treeless asphalt deserts by developing a vision for what you’d like to see on one of them. Then get your vision out via mainstream and social media. Call the owner and present it to them too. Grab a space on City Council’s agenda and present your vision. And watch for my vision for the Portland Art Museum lot soon!
Published July 9, 2019. Adapted from CC2035 Testimony of Mary Vogel/PlanGreen Sept. 7, 2017
May 8, 2018
Residential Infill Project Testimony to Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission
I’m Mary Vogel of PlanGreen and Portland Small Developer Alliance. I work for the small developers pro bono because I want to see a world where young people have the same opportunity for a livable planet in neighborhoods of their choice that much of my generation has had.
Now, speaking for the group: Our focus is on providing housing opportunity in all neighborhoods across Portland, in a small-scale incremental way that fits in with the surrounding context. So the proposed Residential Infill Project has an immense impact on what we do.
We found that there are some major issues with the RIP proposal that fundamentally work against the stated goals of the project, and aren’t in line with how small-scale infill development works. On the screen are five areas we think are most important to improve before the RIP is adopted.
Please help us implement a market-based solution to HOUSING AFFORDABILITY that we had prior to the vast downzoning to SF of 1959—not just “AFFORDABLE HOUSING” that depends upon a subsidy that’s been shrinking for the last 50 years.
Here’s a link to the YouTube video of the first hearing, testimony begins at 2:25:00.
You can get more talking points to testify to the Planning and Sustainability Commission yourself on May 15 at http://pdxsmalldevelopers.org/news/.
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
- Focus on mimicking nature, not slick design
- Consider focus on NATIVE PLANTS to create biodiversity
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
October 20, 2015
For those of us on the Greater Portland Inc. Sept. 27-30 Best Management Practices tour choosing the Regent Park Revitalization, doubtless, the most animated and enthusiastic speaker we encountered on the trip was Mitchell Kosny. Kosny is Associate Director of the Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning and a former Chair of the Board of Directors at Toronto Community Housing Corporation during the ‘roll-out’ of Regent Park revitalization. Unfortunately, Dr. Kosny may not have realized two things: 1) We had spent the earlier part of the day sitting in meetings and were ready for a tour; 2) We were from the Pacific Northwest and therefore comfortable with rain. I knew Regent Park to be just a few blocks down the street from Ryerson. So, after nearly an hour sitting in Dr. Kosny’s PowerPoint lecture when he expressed doubt about doing a tour in the rain, , , I set off on my own tour.
Regent Park is being redeveloped in five phases with three of those phases currently underway. A key tenet of the revitalization is including both rent-geared-to-income and market rate units together in the same community. I could guess which was the market rate building because I was there at rush hour when a number of young people were coming home from work and others were leaving to walk their dogs.
When the Regent Park revitalization is completed over the next 10 to 15 years, 12,500 people will live in 5,115 units across 69 acres of the largest publicly funded community in Canada. The plan includes the replacement of the 2,083 existing social housing units in Regent Park with new, energy efficient, modern units and the introduction of approximately 3,000 market units for sale.
I was happy to see that Regent Park actually has a park! It’s a large park that is separate from the athletic fields that are currently under construction. There’s a separate dog park too! A community garden at one edge of the park is the front yard of many people who live in high rise housing.
The architecture of the new buildings is a departure from the red brick of social housing projects. Although there are some townhouses too, I was a bit surprised by the focus on high-rise housing, considering the bad rep that got with Cabrini Green and Pruitt Igo iin the US. However, Toronto seems to have a long history of housing its poor in high rise housing,. Another question I have about high rises has to do with resiliency. Considering the era of increasing natural disasters we are in, most high rises will fare very poorly without power for even a week or two. With Toronto’s mandatory Green Roof Bylaw and its Green Standards policy, its new high rises may be in better shape than most to weather power outages.
The revitalization also reconnects Regent Park to Toronto’s grid of streets and avenues, and includes the creation of new commercial spaces and community facilities including a bank, grocery store, aquatic center, new community center, restaurant and an arts & cultural center.
Regent Park Aquatic Center serves people from other neighborhoods as well. I spoke to a man from Leslieville neighborhood who was waiting in the park for his daughter who was using the swimming pool.
The Arts and Culture Centre known officially as Daniels Spectrum is seen as a center point of the neighborhood. (Daniels Corporation is the development company that partnered with Toronto Community Housing to build all five phases so they got naming rights to this key facility!) This 60,000 square foot facility is home to seven arts and innovation non-profit organizations. As we have seen in the U.S., the arts can offer an exciting career path to children from all income classes so I see this center as vital to the revitalization efforts. I saw lots of people coming and going during my brief observation.
Phase 3 is progressing with the development of the athletic fields and the addition of pedestrian-friendly streets connecting to other neighborhoods. Planners believed that because of its enclave-like street design, residents were cut off from the city, even though they lived a short streetcar ride from some of its most affluent neighbourhoods and greatest cultural attractions. More social and market housing is also part of phase 3– with completion estimated to be 2018 .
It bears repeating that a key tenet of the revitalization is including both subsidized and market rate units – together in the same community. Townhouse as well as high rise; rental as well as ownership opportunities are available. This sign advertises suites from the $300.000s but I also saw from the $200,000s.
Another key tenet is access to employment. Regent Park residents can get one-on-one help with job searching, local employment opportunities, career planning, education and training, and more. The Regent Park Employment Plan has an ambitious agenda.
Never one to avoid a challenge, I also spent some time exploring the older parts of Regent Park that have not yet been demolished. I’m not sure during which phase this seemingly vacant building will come down–and with the rain, there was no one around to ask. Any tenants who have to move because of construction get one year’s notice before demolition and five months’ notice before they have to move.
While Toronto’s version of the U.S. Hope VI program is impressive, like its counterpart in Portland, New Columbia, it has not solved all its problems. There had been three fatal shootings in the neighborhood in 2010 that left even Regent Park’s supporters in doubt. TCHC maintains that by incorporating crime prevention best practices into the design of the buildings and public areas and by linking tenants to jobs and training opportunities, it is improving community safety.
In his talk, Dr. Kosny spoke about the green that is not seen. One of those unseen aspects seems to be what Margaret Wente in The Globe and Mail calls “the most successful “normalization” project ever launched in Regent Park”:
. . . an all-encompassing program called Pathways to Education, which mentors and coaches secondary-school kids through graduation and beyond, and guarantees them a bursary if they graduate. (A big advantage, in my view, is that Regent Park has no secondary school, so the kids have no choice but to venture outside the ’hood.) Pathways connects them with the world and shows them how to navigate it.
Toronto-based journalist, Doug Saunders, in his book, The Arrival City, points to three things that are crucial for integrating immigrants into the middle class: education, transportation and access to jobs. Time will tell if Regent Park is doing all three well. At the end of 2015, it appears to be headed in the right direction.
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.
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.
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