On November 9, the day after what for me was a cataclysmic election, and on most Wednesdays and Thursdays until the end of 2016, I found a haven in Portland City Council meetings. Not only did I take solace in offering testimony myself, but cheering on the testimony of citizens as young as GRADE SCHOOL age. Most of us–certainly the young– wanted Portland to not only continue, but increase its progressive agenda. The last Council accomplished much in those final two months, but there is still plenty left to do. Inspired by former mayoral candidate, Sarah Iannarone, I offer my own TO-DO list for Mayor Ted Wheeler and the new City Council.
In 2017, let’s help the City of Portland continue its leadership on climate change by addressing fossil fuels–both by reducing demand and by limiting their usage, transport and storage in Portland. We also need to divest the city’s money in them¹.
Reducing Demand for Fossil Fuels
- Make every neighborhood more walkable. This includes
- Adopt strong Residential Infill/Missing Middle policy to create the population levels to support the services in each neighborhood that folks want to walk to.
- Adopt Parking Management Policy improvements that help to manage demand–the type sought by Portlanders for Parking Reform and PBOT’s own Citywide Parking Strategy and its proposed Residential Parking Permit Program.
- Strengthen the Central City 2035 Plan re: trees and streetscape adding to the plan wider sidewalks and street trees to make downtown streets more than car sewers for commuters. (BTW, while I appreciate the need to give more focus to East Portland, as Iannarone suggests, the West End of downtown still has a predominantly low-income population, many of whom are people of different ethnic origins and races. And many use walkers or wheelchairs.)
- Insist on a revision of the Portland Art Museum Rothko Pavillion plan seeking to close off Madison Street plaza. Instead, focus on strengthening downtown walkability and resilience–e.g. negotiate a “Madison Walkway” between SW 11th and 12th to break up this superblock. Oppose any other property owner proposing to make downtown less walkable rather than more walkable!
- Since the greenest building is one that is already there, work with the Unreinforced Masonry Building owners in the West End—including the Art Museum—to do seismic upgrades so that fewer buildings need to be replaced after a seismic event. (PAM is not technically a URM, rather brick veneer; however, it was built in the 1930s and has not been seismically upgraded to today’s standards.)
- Phase out the use of studded tires that are the #1 cause of road damage and hence asphalt resurfacing—a very intensive use of fossil fuels. [I know that this is a State issue, but Portland must add this to its Legislative Agenda–see Preserving Oregon’s Roads.
Limiting Fossil Fuel Transport and Storage
Sierra Club and 350 PDX (I’m an active member of both) have played a leadership role here–along with my friends at Center for a Sustainable Economy. I testified at the last Council’s hearings on the no new Fossil Fuel Facilities policy and stand ready to help defend it–and to help Portland get enabling legislation to REQUIRE seismic upgrades on existing fossil fuel storage facilities.
The Housing Crisis
- In the absence of other immediately available options, partner with the member organizations of the Village Coalition to find additional spots where the homeless can self-organize into “tiny house villages”. This way we’ll waste less human energy—releasing it to help in the climate change effort.
- Ban no cause evictions and pursue other tenants’ rights policies in Mayor Wheeler’s Tenants Bill of Rights published during the campaign.
- Support the Community Land Trust concept that seeks to take housing off the private commodity speculative market and put it into public trust. This model gives participants security, equity and legacy in their housing. Over 50 years ago, the founders of the CLT concept saw this as a new model for land tenure in America–not just a band-aid to the system to help the low-income. I’d like to see the City of Portland help its own CLT, Proud Ground, revive the idea that there is a new model of housing for all incomes–one that has a tremendous body of law and practice already established.
Portland needs to nurture the budding activism of the school children and Millennials who gave testimony on a variety of climate-related issues over the past year by re-doubling on its progressive policy. As Tavis Smiley admonishes on PBS “Keep the Faith!”
¹I hope that our efforts will inspire those in other cities–especially Millennials–to work locally to get their own cities do likewise–making those cities more sustainable and resilient too. As much as I value Millennials’ migration to our city, I know we need them more in places where the fight may seem harder.
Mary Vogel is founder and principal of PlanGreen and a downtown neighborhood land use and transportation advocate.
Oct. 17, 2015
Our discussion of “The Next Urban Crisis” at University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management was another highlight of my Greater Portland Inc. trip to Toronto Sept. 27-30, 2015. There we spoke with professor, author and CityLab co-founder Richard Florida as well as Real Estate Developer, & Architect in City blogger Brandon Donnelly. During this discussion Spacing Magazine editor Matthew Blackett also shared some of the interesting insights I reported on in my Part 1 blog.
Richard Florida expressed his frustration with the Mayor Rob Ford era which declared that the war on the car was over and that the problem was those young, pointy-headed university folks. “In Toronto, everyone still thinks they have the right to drive,” he lamented. “If there’s an urban crisis, it’s the suburbs,” he said.
Florida reminded us that: “Building urbanism is a lot more expensive than building sprawl” and “The new frontier is the old frontier in the center of the city.” He left us with three points to deal with the next urban crisis: 1) Build more housing,and make it more affordable; .2) Build more transit; 3) Provide a livable minimum wage–reduce the huge bifurcation we see now.
Brandon Donnelly discussed with us some of the crisis in keeping housing affordable during Toronto’s fast-paced growth. There’s a pressure on prices re: low rise, but high-rise has stayed stable, he said. He described an Avenues and Mid-rise Building study. “ We see it as a market to build more units for families who are priced out of single family homes,” he said.
He distinguished Towers 1.0 and Towers 2.0. Towers 1.0, many built in the suburbs, did not take as middle class housing and became largely the affordable housing of today. Towers 2.0 is basically all ownership vs. all tenants in 1.0, he said. He finds it an encouraging sign that anchor office tenants and retailers are moving into the city as well.
On our way out, we had an unexpected opportunity to hear Robert Reich, who was doing a guest lecture at the Rotman School around his book, Saving Capitalism : For the Many, Not the Few.
I was especially impressed by how many of our group stopped to listen to his talk. “My aim is to shatter the myths that keep us from taking the action we must take, and to provide a roadmap of what we must do – to rebuild our economic system and restore our democracy.” Reich was saying.
There is a “huge misunderstanding” that underlies a false political dichotomy between the so-called “free market” and government intervention. “There is no choice to be made between the free market and government. Government determines the rules of the market. The real question is what those rules are going to be and who is influencing those rules and whether the market is going to be working for the vast majority as a result, or whether it’s going to be rigged in favour of a small minority.” Reich’s book was for sale at a table outside the open-sided auditorium where he was speaking.
At Rotman we had the opportunity to hear some of the most forward-thinking leaders of the day who are dealing with questions around the environment, housing, urbanism, equity, millenials, the creative class, public involvement and the economy.
It was a great segue to our reception and “Sharing Best Practices between Portland and Toronto” session at Ryerson University Architecture School. All of the students I met at the reception were from the Ryerson School of Urban and Regional Planning rather than Architecture. Those students were looking for answers to rising housing costs, displacement, equity, brownfields, resiliency planning in an era of climate change, etc. I stayed after the session to talk with them. Several promised to look at my blogs on mycoremediation and suggested that one of their professors might be especially interested. So far, no one has followed up but I’m still hoping to hear from them.
Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, is a longtime Toronto resident, a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism (like myself), and a pedestrian advocate. She had been a principal in the Toronto planning consultancy Dialog prior to taking the job as Toronto’s top planner. She is also an inveterate user of Twitter @–discreetly putting out these tweets while she was on a panel with Portland Chief Planner, Joe Zehnder:
Portland is seeking to create *greenways* throughout neighbourhoods to address stormwater issues. Think “greened” street medians. Portland has met Kyoto carbon emission reductions, even while growing. “Your midrise is hi-rise for us.” Portland Chief Planner explains that 4 story bldings are causing consternation in his city. Wow. If only.
“I talk about Portland all of the time,” she told us. We’re growing but our air quality is getting better – as a result of our green roof policy mitigating the heat island effect. I cringed a bit to think that while Toronto passed the world’s first mandatory green roof program in 2010, Portland discontinued its Ecoroof Incentive in 2012.
In response to moderator Ann Marie’s question about green infrastructure and resiliency in the face of climate change, Keesmaat lamented that she has only three people working on green streets, a superstar team, but only three.
She did add that Toronto is a city of ravines and that there is an ongoing Ravine Strategy currently being developed. She will be holding her final Chief Planner Roundtable of 2015 (Dec. 15) on the topic of Toronto’s ravine network. I did not get the chance to ask her about the re-naturalization of the Don River, but I plan to do that at the next opportunity–maybe via Twitter!
Aug 2, 2015
Portland’s Old Town China Town neighborhood has an abundance of surface parking lots. In fact, it has far too many to be a vibrant neighborhood much less an expression of the eco-city that Portland purports to be. I’ve joined with five other professional women to try to change that. If we can’t see these central city lots immediately redeveloped to higher and better uses that house people and businesses, we at least want to see them become better parking lots–SPONGY PARKING LOTS.
My friend, Ruth Ann Barrett coined that term and even made a video about Spongy Parking Lots to share with her neighbors in Old Town/Chinatown. She has friends who visit from California and she’s embarrassed to show them how much we waste water here in Portland. When it rains, the water from those parking lots heats up and captures whatever pollutants vehicles leave behind on its way to the nearest storm sewer. The surface parking lots are paved in asphalt and are major contributors to the urban heat island effect that raises the temperature as much as 10° over areas with open land and vegetation. In turn, the extra heat increases the energy needed to cool interior spaces, and puts an extra strain on the grid by exacerbating peak energy loads and hence carbon footprint/climate change. It also contributes to smog formation adding even more public health impacts resulting from excessive outdoor temperature.
We’ll return to all that in a moment, but I first want you to remember walking on a trail in the woods where your feet just seemed to bounce on the earth beneath them. That’s because that soil was kept porous and, yes, spongy, by the mycelium forming a thick mat that was turning wood to soil under your feet. Those mycelium have fruiting bodies that we call mushrooms–which may or may not be visible during your walk.
That mycelium looks a bit like a very dense spider web criss-crossing to create quite a network. It gets its nutrition by decomposing the cellulose in the log. The ability of mycelium of mushrooms in the category of “white rot fungi” to decompose cellulose is related to their ability to decompose numerous other substances as well: bacterial toxins such as e-coli and fecal coliform as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAHs). Research also shows their ability to transform bunker fuel oil, explosives, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and organochlorine pesticides–substances we hope we won’t find in OTCT parking lots.
We do have models for Spongy Parking Lots nearby. My favorite is at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center (aka Ecotrust) in the adjacent Pearl District neighborhood. Often on a summer day, the cars are kicked out of this pleasant parking lot for an array of fairs, festivals and farmers’ markets. If you enlarge this photo, you will see that the lot is paved with light colored porous pavers and that those trees are planted in bioswales that also hold an array of mostly native plants. You will see that the parking spaces drain into those bioswales. which are about 2.5 feet deep. Not only do the soils and plants in the bioswales infiltrate the water from the parking lot within 24 hours, they also cool the water and filter the pollutants that come from our vehicles and pets.
What could be better? Well, Portland monitors the effectiveness of its bioswales and some of the latest soil sampling data¹ shows that E-coli and heavy oil results were variable, but levels were higher than the background soil sample sites located nearby but outside of the stormwater facilities. Metal and PAH levels found in stormwater facilities were generally similar to those found in background sample soils. While these results show that soils in bioswales are likely taking up E-coli and heavy oil from runoff that would otherwise go down a storm drain, soil results could be CLEANER THAN THE BACKGROUND SAMPLES in all categories tested: E-coli, heavy oil, metals and PAHs. If mycelium running through the bioswale made the soil spongier and more absorbent and if those same mycelium could help the plants thrive by “eating” more of the pollutants, then I maintain we would have an even spongier parking lot. A spongier parking lot could better utilize and clean the water running off it into bioswales. As its trees and plants grow better with less pollutants in its soil, the spongier parking lot will decrease the urban heat island effect even more and become an important strategy for both mitigating and adapting to climate change.
I hope you will read my previous three short blogs on mycoremediation/mycofiltration (http://plangreen.net/blog) to better understand the technology I am proposing. I plan one more mycoremediation blog on monitoring.
¹Bureau of Environmental Services • City of Portland 2010 Stormwater Management Facility Monitoring Report
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.
This document was first posted in 2009 as a Google Doc that I encouraged neighborhood residents, workers, students and churchgoers downtown to edit and enlarge. Several people sent me good ideas, but no one else took on the tough job of editing.
I sent it out to a committee of Portland movers and shakers who were advising the Mayor on a new Central City Urban Renewal Area. Then, as everyone’s attention shifted to jobs and economic development, I moved on too. Now, two recent events prompted me to post it:
- My attendance at the City of Portland Central City 2035 Steering Committee Meeting;
- My preparation to lead a discussion on The Nature Principle, a book that gives a more universal framework to my vision.
Portland Development Commission recently asked those of us on the Downtown Neighborhood Association Land Use and Transportation Committee “What is your vision for downtown?” While I knew that they were seeking something that fell into step with the tenor of the times, I submitted this vision in response to that request. Hey! I’m an Aquarian who focuses on big picture and long-term.
I will address the public realm first, and what we might do there to set an example to private developers, property owners and residents alike. I will start with the largest part of the public realm, the streets and address how we might go one step further than we are currently doing to make them sustainable.
Then I’ll move on to our parks, then parking garages, then vacant or soon-to-be-vacant land, then courtyards (which might be made semi-public), etc. I’ll suggest some technologies, practices and uses that will address the global environmental impacts we are facing: climate change, peak oil and loss of biodiversity/extinction of species. Portland’s Watershed Management Plan does a world class job of addressing the latter issue so some of my vision speaks to how we can help implement it downtown.
I also suggest a form-based code to help insure great urban design and truly walkable neighborhoods. I briefly address creating jobs for a portion of the existing downtown population; attracting green businesses; using innovative models to develop workforce housing; supporting existing institutions including arts and service organizations and schools and churches.
Green Street Retrofits, Connectivity Corridors and Placemaking
The first part of my vision addresses infrastructure including what is now considered part of green infrastructure. I suggest retrofitting key streets as “green street” connectivity corridors, e.g., SW Salmon Street/SW Park Place. Green streets are streets with bioswales or infiltration planters in the public right-of-way that not only manage stormwater, but also encourage the recovery of biodiversity with NATIVE PLANTS AND TREES. Such a street, or couplet of streets, might stretch from Washington Park (which still has pockets of native landscape) to the Willamette River. Other streets that might be appropriate are SW Main, SW Jefferson and SW Columbia. These streets could serve as a connectivity corridor between the park and the river for birds and other wildlife. These ideas might also implement former Portland Urban Design Director, Arun Jain’s call for “streets as less of a conduit and more of a place.”
If we used a highly diverse mix of natives species in the bioswales—not only the native shrubs, ferns, rushes and grasses that are typically used–but also wildflowers, we could show that we can have color, beauty, interest and diversity in our native landscape while giving residents and visitors alike a true sense of place and providing habitat for critical parts of the ecosystem.
It may seem strange to bring up biodiversity recovery as a priority for our central city core area, but, in the long run it will:
- save us money by allowing ecosystem services to function
- attract and keep more residents in the area
- enhance our reputation for sustainability
- keep Portland in the leadership on sustainability by putting us ahead of the curve on Sustainable Sites
(Hopefully, the integration of the Sustainable Sites rating system (http://www.sustainablesites.org/) into LEED will raise the critical importance and value of using/restoring native species in the landscape. I am hoping Sustainable Sites will be the tsunami wave for landscape architecture that LEED was for architecture.)
While downtowns are not usually the first place one would think to restore biodiversity, I maintain that
because downtown is a place that best projects our image to our visitors and the outside world and that most people in the region visit—if only occasionally, it is a great place to demonstrate biodiversity recovery and educate about it, displaying our values to our residents and our visitors alike.
Entomologist, Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home gives both research and anecdotes that show that our native insects need native plants to survive. Hence, so do our native birds, amphibians and some small mammals.
. . .Biodiversity is essential to the stability—indeed, the very existence—of most ecosystems. We remove species from our nation’s ecosystems at the risk of their complete collapse. . . . More energy in the system means that the system will be more productive. . .and, from a selfish human perspective, produce more ecosystem services for us, make more fish, more lumber, and more oxygen, filter more water, sequester more carbon dioxide, buffer larger weather systems, and so on). . . Biodiversity also benefits ecosystems by making them less susceptible to alien invaders (Kennedy et al. 2002).
Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home
It’s not the plants alone we would be attempting to recover, but also the insect species that pollinate plants, return nutrients tied up in dead plants and animals to the soil, keep populations of insect herbivores in check, aerate and enrich the soil and provide food for most other animals. These and other ecosystem services produced by a healthy ecosystem will be especially critical as the planet warms—to help us fend off invasions of destructive alien insects and keep our soils healthy. To further explain ecosystem services, I might ask, “How would you like the job of pollinating every apple tree in the state of Oregon every year?” While it is nearly impossible for humans to do this, bees do it for free.
Another issue we should consider is the alien ornamentals we currently use in nearly all of our human built landscape have brought us Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, dogwood anthracnose, sudden oak death, hemlock wooly adelgid, and other pathogens that are endangering some of the tree species we will need most to adapt to climate change. Even though we know better, we are still importing invaders. Some diseases, like greening disease (the worst citrus disease in the world) have arrived in this decade on a plant that has become quite ubiquitous–star jasmine. Brought in by an insect on this alien ornamental, in just 7 months greening disease had spread to kill citrus trees in 12 counties in Florida.
Biodiversity Recovery Examples in Other Cities
Other cities are installing examples of biodiversity recovery in their downtowns. In Washington, DC, the National Museum of Natural History has planted the entire street edge on the NW 11th Street side of its property in a native plant butterfly garden with interpretive signage and the US Botanic Garden has a permanent native pollinator garden and display on its property. Finally, the US Senate has installed a rain garden of diverse native species to both filter stormwater from one of its parking lots and rival its ornamental gardens in beauty.
The Corporatelands Natural Landscaping Program in Chicago encourages and supports large institutions to replace their turf grass landscapes with natural landscapes of plants and grasses native to the Chicago region. The program has partnered with Columbia College on the Chicago Loop, to create a native prairie garden in a former parking lot space at 11th and Wabash. They maintain “This beautiful garden is designed to carry the message that biodiversity can work in a very urban downtown environment and that it can also be attractive.” Corporatelands also partnered with one of Chicago’s largest developers, the John Buck Company, to make the planter beds at its prime downtown location, 222 N. Riverside Plaza, a model for how native species can complement a more traditional planting scheme. The entire Chicago region has adopted Biodiversity Recovery Plan.
Costs and Benefits
Researchers have valued the ecosystem services provided by insects at $57 billion each year. What downtown Portland would gain in ecosystem services would be far greater than the cost of adding the additional native plant landscaping. And this green street landscaping I am suggesting would also help us deal with stormwater. The city has calculated the life cycle costs of green streets to be lower than the conventional curb, gutter and storm drain and it is moving ahead despite city budget difficulties on a sustainable stormwater project involving streets from Mt. Tabor to the Willamette River on the eastside. That project will not only retrofit streets with stormwater planters and more street trees, but also stimulate more actions by private property owners such as installing ecoroofs and/or rain gardens and disconnecting downspouts into cisterns or rain barrels or vegetation.
Retrofitting the streets such as those suggested above—and perhaps additional downtown streets—will make a statement and set an example for a greater percentage of our residents and visitors teaching more people about our world class Portland Stormwater Management Plan. This scientifically-based plan needs to be integrated into every economic development and land use decision and plan as its implementation will make a great contribution toward saving our salmon and other species. It will take us a long way toward addressing the impacts of climate change on our water supply as well. Of course, Portland will want to use educational signage to help in teaching people to take action on their own property or public space.
A Review by Mary Vogel CNU-A, PlanGreen
I recently attended an Oregon Global Warming Commission event where its chair, Angus Duncan, made a relatively brief presentation on the commission’s Roadmap to 2020 explaining that in 2007, Oregon set a 2020 greenhouse gas reduction goal that is almost 30 percent below today’s levels (10 percent below 1990 levels). In the breakout session, the “Efficiency of Cities” table had two skeptics who were afraid that the state was proposing to curtail their choices and put everyone into large buildings in crowded cities. (Duncan had suggested that New York City was a model for sustainability in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per person and it was this idea that they latched onto.) I found myself wishing that I had brought along my copy of Oregon’s Cool Planning: A Handbook on Strategies to Slow Climate Change as the message in its images, captions and chapters might allay their fears—and even help them believe that their future might be more convenient and neighborly and less expensive in both time and money. Healthier too!
Cool Planning is LEED-ND in plain English—especially the New Urbanist portion of it! While it is aimed at local elected officials, planning commissioners, planners, community organizations and developers, it is easily readable by anyone with a community college education. Many of its examples are taken from Oregon cities other than Portland. Since no other city in the state has a population greater than 160,000, it is useful in many parts of the nation, including small town America.
The central premise of the handbook: “If communities grow smart, VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled, or the amount of driving we do) will decline, CO2 emissions will lessen, and we will help reduce climate change.” The authors go on to state a message central to New Urbanists: “If we live in an area in which the places we want to go are at some distance and randomly scattered, we drive more. If we live in well-centered, compact communities in which work, schools and shops are conveniently nearby and good transportation choices abound, we drive less.”
With chapters such as “Grow More Compact” and “Get Centered”, the handbook does not shy away from the density issue. It does debunk myths about density and show its relationship to greater amenities. “Mix Up Your Land Uses” and “Recycle Urban Land and Buildings” point to the fact that the smaller, well-connected blocks, higher densities, mixed land uses, narrower tree-lined streets w/sidewalks, pedestrian-friendly architecture and the compact development in central locations found in historic neighborhoods embody the design features that typically encourage walking.
“Make Streets Complete”, “Make Way for Pedestrians”, “Make Your City Bike-Friendly for Everyone”, “Get Well-Connected”, “Put Parking in its Place” and “Make Way for Transit and Transit-Oriented Development” cover the transportation aspects of sustainable urban design. Having just developed a presentation on the Neighborhood Planning and Design section of LEED-ND, I was overjoyed to see these chapters cover the same ideas and many of the same metrics in such an easily understandable way. (Cool Planning’s lead author, Mitch Rohse, would be a great recruit to help re-write LEED-ND.)
“Change Travel Habits” explains transportation demand management (TDM) in as forthright a way as any I’ve seen. It includes the table of TDM strategies described in Victoria Transport Policy Institute’s Online TDM Encyclopedia.
“Find Better Models for Big Trip Generators” points out that school-related trips increase morning rush-hour traffic by as much as 30 percent, while big-box stores can generate as many as 10,000 car trips a day. This chapter lists strategies for local governments to encourage climate-friendly school sitings as well as a more climate-friendly prototype for the big-box store—including identify vacant buildings suitable for large (multi-level) retail stores that are accessible by low-carbon transportation modes and encourage retailers to recycle older buildings downtown or in compact centers.
“Green Your Buildings” and “Plant Trees in Your Town” address some of the Green Infrastructure and Buildings credits in LEED-ND. However, these chapters fail to address two of my favorite GIB credits—District Heating and Cooling and Vegetative Roofs.
Cool Planning closes with chapters on developing a climate action plan and measuring its effectiveness. It offers the caveat that climate action plans typically include several major sections such as building and energy, consumption and solid waste and local government operation. Its own focus, however, is limited to greenhouse gas emissions affected by community design, land use and transportation. A good climate action plan, it notes, will address all sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
A favorite passage from the handbook states:
It’s important to note that the strategies described here do not impose great burdens or call for great sacrifice. They are not bad-tasting medicine a community must reluctantly swallow to cure the problem of climate change. Quite the contrary: these strategies can yield multiple dividends. They not only can help to slow global warming but also can make your community more livable. Moreover, they can improve the everyday lives of people in the community by saving them money and time in their daily travels.
The handbook itself is well designed with sidebars, call-outs, images, resource lists and footnotes citing research to support statements. If you don’t live in Oregon, insist that your state publish a similar handbook with local examples from its own communities. But don’t delay until that’s done. Download Oregon’s today and start using it. If you are involved in a LEED-ND project (or hope to be), Cool Planning would make a great handout for policy-makers to warm them up to the idea of creating incentives for LEED-ND.
Having known Doug Farr, author of Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature through participation in his LEED ND sessions at Congress for the New Urbanism congresses for 4-5 years, having followed him via the LEED ND Correspondence Committee, I thought I knew much of what Farr had to offer. Make no mistake, I considered him a thought leader. I helped to found a Sustainable Urbanism Ratings Group in Portland, Oregon to help Farr improve LEED ND. I have espoused the 2030 Communities Campaign he founded both within CNU and in the larger world for the last two years now.
But it took hearing that there was a Biophilia chapter for me to push my local library to buy this rather expensive book. After all, I have been prompting CNU designers to design utilizing ecosystem services for the 6-7 years that I have been active in CNU. I needed to see who my soul mates are and connect with them.
Sustainable Urbanism integrated many threads that were sometimes divergent or confusing for me. It gave me a better historical perspective and showed me where we are in a continuum. As an underemployed planner, it gave me the assurance I need to believe that my skills will be needed well into the future. It gave me a wealth of sound bites and quotes that I will use in my blog articles, public testimonies and other advocacy for progressive policy. It reinvigorated the boldness that comes with certainty and reinforced my commitment to sustainable urbanism.
To begin with the basics, there were four parts to the book:
- The Case for Sustainable Urbanism
- Implementing Sustainable Urbanism
- Emerging Thresholds of Sustainable Urbanism
- Case Studies in Sustainable Urbanism
It was Farr’s own writing in Part One—and in a smattering of the headings in Parts Two and Three—that I found most insightful, most pithy and perhaps most controversial within New Urbanism. For example, in Chapter 2 (p. 49) he states In order to strengthen human interdependence with natural systems, sustainable urbanism believes that human settlements need to be designed to make resource flows visible and experiential. . . Sustainable urbanism embraces the interweaving of riparian and wildlife corridors between and through neighborhoods. In Chapter 8 (p. 169) he states Filtering stormwater, even in high-density urban locations, is an important aim of sustainable urbanism.
I loved Farr’s moments of unexpected optimism about the immense task ahead of turning around America’s development pattern. For example, he writes regarding Gen X (p. 53)
As taxpaying voters presented with a bill for the full cost of the gloomy consequences of the prior generation’s wrong course on the built environment, they are also likely to embrace urbanism. . . .Given that this same pattern of land use that is cooking the planet is also contributing to the obesity epidemic, land-wasting low-density development, social isolation, heightened levels of pollution, higher taxes, and a shortened lifespan, it is hard to imagine that sustainable urbanism will not come to occupy the center of Gen X policy and governance.
After railing against land use laws that make LEED ND and sustainable urbanism illegal in many places, he offers this opinion (p. 59):
In light of the well-documented links between sprawl and the potential for shortened life spans, obesity, and accelerated threats to the Earth, a comprehensive plan that enables sprawl should, in the near future, run afoul of the law. With a growing awareness of how auto-dependent land use can be hostile to human well-being, in just a few years sustainable urbanist plans may be the law of the land.
For me there were a couple of irritating aspects to the book as well. While the lovely green color used throughout the book was aesthetically pleasing, when used in 6pt font, the light color made it difficult for me to read the timelines and sidebars interspersed through each chapter. I also felt that many of the subchapters were too short to be satisfying. Farr Associates own diagram on The Sustainable Corridor at the beginning of Chapter 6 Sustainable Corridors is crammed into a single page (p. 113) while the page next to it is mostly blank except for a chapter title–with adherence to style trumping readability. And in Chapter 9, The 2030 Community Challenge: Economic Growth with Sustainable Urbanism p. 204 Farr says nothing about the economic growth one might anticipate from the title!
I found the chapter on Biophilia to be missing something—though it was partially offset by the subchapter on Biodiversity Corridors in Chapter 6. But even that piece assumed that designers reading this book know the difference between using diverse native plant species and alien ornamentals to create a habitat patch. For the most part they don’t.
Despite my complaints, I would still give this book five stars and recommend it highly to others in professions involving the built environment as well as community activists seeking to adapt their communities for climate change and peak oil. After all, as Farr says in his Epilogue (p. 296) Sustainable urbanism, against enormous odds, requires the improbable: that the base of the pyramid—millions of us—“get it” and act in concert. . . What this book calls for is something that no one person can effect—a change in our political culture.
I am encouraged that the base of the pyramid may be waking up by reading that the citizens of Beaerton, OR are calling for a vibrant downtown to be created out of the sprawled array of car sales lots and disjointed strip commercial. “The City is looking for a consultant with international experience and acclaim in order to bring a cachet previously unseen in Beaverton that will excite the community to the possibilities of what the City may become in the future.”
This review was first posted as a review on Amazon.com.
This posting originally appeared as my Plan Green column for http://blog.sustainableindustries.com/2010/02/26/plan-green-biophilia-ecosystem-services-and-civic-engagement/
There’s been a lot of talk in Portland lately about the importance of civic engagement in creating the sustainable economy. It’s one of the six categories of our newly revised Climate Action Plan and it’s a pillar of our effort to create EcoDistricts. That’s because when a community steps up and clearly asks for it wants, the project is likely to serve it sustainably and the city and planet beyond. Unfortunately, in an era of contracting budgets, local government is not often able to support this kind of rare effort when it happens. That needs to change if we’re to build the New Economy Sustainable Industries readers are promoting.
Projects that activate what E. O. Wilson terms biophilia or “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life,” have the potential to bring the greatest number of neighbors into civic engagement toward a sustainable economy. By bringing nature into people’s daily lives, the Green Street, designed well, will enhance their commitment to live more sustainably. It should be encouraged.
Many Portland neighborhoods, including my own (Downtown), have clamored for green streets (streets that utilize and mimic nature in dealing with stormwater). But the efforts of Northwest District Association (NWDA) stand above the others.
In 2008, members of the NWDA Planning Committee Green Street Subcommittee held a meeting with the previous Mayor’s Office. Those members spent a great deal of time developing a concept plan for a “Green Street” that would stretch from Portland’s largest natural area, through the adjoining Pearl District to the Willamette River.
Pettygrove Green Street Definition
A park-like street with extensive living vegetation and natural stormwater
control, visually connecting twoNorthwest parks, Wallace and The Fields, promoting primarily bicycle and pedestrian use.
Pettygrove Green Street
A lot of skillful work earned NWDA a promise that the proposed Pettygrove Green Street would become a priority. Since then a new Mayor, Sam Adams, came into office. He is the city’s top champion of green streets—and is behind Portland City Council’s adoption of its NWDA Planning Committee. Adams specifically endorsed the Pettygrove Green Street. The head of the Bureau of Environmental Services Sustainable Stormwater Division—the person the Mayor refers to as the Green Street Czarina—endorses it too.
Now the neighborhood is being told that there is no funding available for planning and design. What funding is available is only available for construction of shovel-ready projects. The neighborhood is not daunted. Instead they are planning their next moves.
The City of Portland does as much as any local jurisdiction in the country to fund sustainable stormwater management, but it cannot find funding to fulfill its promises to this sophisticated and persistent neighborhood association. That’s one reason those of us involved in sustainable industries should be pushing for sustainable stormwater management in the next federal transportation bill.
I chose this example of civic engagement, not only because it demonstrates the kind of persistence those of us in sustainable industries need to be prepared to make in an era when capital seems scarce and budgets are being cut, but because it demonstrates what I believe is one of the first prerequisites for civic engagement toward sustainability—a realization of our connection with the earth and all living things. It’s a connection that needs to be modeled more often. This will give elected officials concrete examples of the value of investing in projects that enable nature to work for us.
The folks who are promoting the Pettygrove Green Street recognize that urban design that allows nature to play her role will bring innumerable benefits. Those “ecosystem services” are the unobtrusive foundation of daily life. By using sunken gardens filled with native wildflowers, shrubs and trees to filter stormwater, their street would keep pollutants out of the river and even become a basis for a corridor for connecting the wildlife habitat of Forest Park with that of the river. (Imagine green roofs atop all of the rooftops along the way too!) And it would allow neighbors to better connect with each other as well.
I believe that we here in the Pacific Northwest have made the most progress in the sustainable stormwater arena and that there should be more support from the federal, state and local level to build it into a sustainable industry that we export. Cascadia CNU agrees with me and has made integration of sustainable stormwater into urban design a central theme for its new chapter. Chapter hubs in Seattle and Portland will be holding tours to model sustainable stormwater sites this spring—and will be joining Transportation for America to push for sustainable stormwater treatment in the next federal transportation bill. It may be our fastest route to the kind of civic engagement that will move all of our industries forward.
Mary Vogel, a Congress for the New Urbanism accredited professional, is principal of PlanGreen a Woman Business Enterprise in the State of Oregon that seeks to bring ecosystem services to excellent urban design. She was active in developing LEED ND, the Sustainable Sites Initiative and Light Imprint New Urbanism. She is a founding member of the Cascadia Chapter of CNU and active in CNU’s national Water Initiative as well as Project for Transportation Reform.