Sustainability experts embrace 'new urbanism' – Portland Business Journal

There are a few inaccuracies in this story in Portland Business Journal that I point out below, but it is still great to have it.  We’re excited to be in one of the first issues of their Sustainable Business Oregon.  Please go to the original site so you can add your own comments!

Sustainability experts embrace ‘new urbanism’

by Andy Giegerich

Mary Vogel, PlanGreen

Three Portland sustainable development consultants are among the first in the nation to receive a new accreditation for sustainable urban planning from the Chicago-based Congress for New Urbanism.
The three local recipients, Mary Vogel of PlanGreen, Michael Mehaffy of Structura Naturalis Inc., and Laurence Qamar of Laurence Qamar Architecture and Town Planning Co., are all practitioners of the new urbanist style of neighborhood planning, where the goal is to create sustainable, walkable neighborhoods.
The CNU’s exam-based accreditation program, designed in collaboration with the University of Miami, is designed for urban planning professionals working within a new sustainable neighborhood development standard called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development, or LEED-ND.
The concept essentially calls for services, jobs and residences to remain as close together as possible.
“New urbanism is about revitalizing city centers, or the cores of Main Street America,” said Qamar, a Lake Oswego-based architect. “It can also start with a suburban model, but it promotes how new development and growth should happen all the way down to the neighborhood level.”
Put another way, “There are little towns or neighborhoods where you just want to get out and walk, and feel and touch the place,” said Vogel. “New urbanism tries to achieve that sense of place and community those places tend to have.”
Vogel owns PlanGreen, a Portland ecosystems company that devises water filtration and air purification strategies. Vogel helps developers include such contingencies in their neighborhood projects.
Qamar oversaw sustainability touches on such area projects as Fairview Village and Gresham Station.
Mehaffy, owns Structura Naturalis Inc., a Lake Oswego consultancy that’s advised governments and private companies on sustainable urban development methods. He’s best known for developing Hillsboro’s Orenco Station, home to condos, several upscale shops and accessible to Portland’s light rail line. He also developed Salem’s Pringle Creek project.
The Portland planners are three of the 170 newly certified neighborhood LEED advocates nationwide.
Vogel primarily aims to incorporate more nature components in urban designs. She advises clients on redirecting stormwater so that it recharges streams and rivers, relieving burdens from existing sewer systems, collecting more water from evapotranspiration (or water both on the earth’s surface and within plants that’s evaporated) and providing habitats for native pollinators.
Like other new urbanism champions, Vogel believes the philosophy can effectively limit auto use.
“If a community is really walkable, you don’t want to be in a car,” said Vogel, a Portland newcomer who’s advised Vancouver, Wash., officials on Highway 99 sustainability-oriented redesigns. “I truly believe it’s the wave of the future. It’s the preference of younger populations because of the convergence of peak oil and climate change.”
Mehaffy noted that new urbanism doesn’t seek to eliminate car use altogether.
“It doesn’t mean we get everyone out of cars, it just means we have more cohesion, and we think more about projects that we put in remote areas,” he said. “If you look at the (most recent) recession, it was actually triggered in the far-out suburbs of the U.S.”
Mehaffy’s Orenco “town center” project is considered a solid new urbanism venture because it’s accessible by light rail. Some 25,000 Orenco-area residents and others board trains at the center’s station each day.
Qamar simply hopes new urbanism will inspire developers and builders to examine their work more holistically. Portland’s 2040 plan, overseen by the Metro regional government, laid out where regional centers, such as in downtown Gresham, can take shape. But he’s concerned that improving urban sprawl on such streets as 82nd Avenue, on Portland’s east side, might be too difficult.
Such areas could benefit from city officials’ efforts to incorporate “20-minute” neighborhood concepts into the Portland Plan. The proposals, which Portland’s planning department is developing, could provide a blueprint for growth over the next several decades.
“Ideally, there are ways to rework shopping centers and office parks and brownfields and knit together these neighborhoods in ways that make for more functioning and coherent communities,” he said. “But to get there, you have to make ways for neighbors to walk to their daily needs.”
Vogel, Qamar and Mehaffy have started their own chapter for local new urbanism proponents. The Cascadia CNU chapter, which includes branches in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., counts 100 members.
Thanks Andy and other friends at PBJ! We reallly appreciate the attention. There are a few mis-statements or misinterpretations in the article that Mehaffy, Qamar and I feel are important to clear up:
1. To say the “new urbanist style of neighborhood planning” is misleading. We have a set of principles that includes designing neighborhoods so that all residents can meet their basic needs on foot (assuming they can walk). We also believe that streets should be designed for all users, not just automobile drivers, so we design streets that are delightful to pedestrians and we are beginning to design streets that manage their own stormwater. But there is no new urbanist style.
2. Michael Mehaffy did not develop either Orenco Station or Pringle Creek. He was Project Manager for developer PacWest on Orenco and he has done work for the developer of Pringle Creek.
3. Mehaffy said that 25,000 cars drive on Cornell Road daily, and only about 5,000 people board at Orenco Station daily.
4. Laurence Qamar is based in Portland, not Lake Oswego.
3. To say that “Qamar oversaw sustainability touches on such area projects as Fairview Village and Gresham Station” perhaps gives the wrong impression. He did help make them more pleasant places to walk, but he didn’t add the kind of thing people usually think of as sustainability touches: green roofs, solar collectors, daylighting skylights, rain gardens, etc.
4. None of us feel “that improving urban sprawl on such streets as 82nd Avenue, on Portland’s east side, might be too difficult”. In fact, we have access to a “Sprawl Repair” tool kit that could help to greatly improve those places.
5. Each of us signed the petition list to start a CNU chapter in the PNW, but so did a number of our colleagues. So, to say that they “started their own chapter” may be misleading.
6. Vogel is not really “a Portland newcomer.” I have lived only one year DOWNTOWN, but I’ve lived about 6 years in other SW Portland neighborhoods (Collins View, Marshall Park, Hillsdale) and even a stint in Washington County. I’ve lived in Oregon for nearly 20 years and I know its native plants better than most native human residents. Oh, and I’m a Friends of Trees Crew Leader in Portland’s east side neighborhoods, so I know them quite well as well.
7. I usually describe my business as helping to bring ecosystems services to excellent urban design, but I was a bit surprised to see it characterized as “devises water filtration and air purification strategies.” I guess you could say it that way!

Mary Vogel, CNU-A
Putting Ecosystem Services into Excellent Urban Design
A Woman Business Enterprise in Oregon