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.
June 7, 2020
Portland City Council held hearings on three policies involving housing density in May and June. One of them–the Residential Infill Project–has been FIVE YEARS in the making. A number of neighbors point to the current pandemic as a reason NOT to amend zoning regulations that would add more density to their single-family neighborhood (or historic district in the case of Central City 2035). I think that would be a big mistake as there is abundant evidence that density is NOT dangerous! In fact, denser communities give their residents better infrastructure to shelter in place.
Facts Don’t Support Argument
Congress for New Urbanism journal editor Rob Steuteville’s Facts Don’t Support the Density is Dangerous Narrative was the first data I saw on the topic. Two comparisons that were particularly telling were:
• Suburban Montgomery County, PA v. Philadelphia, PA. As of Friday April 3, the county had one case per 2,924 people where Philadelphia had one case per 3,940 people. So Montgomery County had a greater infection rate, yet it has one-seventh the density.
• In New York City infection rates in Stanten Island were approximately the same as Manhattan—with 8.5 times the density.
I’ve taken quotes from a few more studies that may be helpful in assuaging our neighbors’ fears that further density in their neighborhood may fuel pandemics.
Density Is Not Destiny
In Density is Not Destiny: Covid in Cascadia in City Observatory Joe Cortwright states “Vancouver [BC] is in the same region, and roughly the same size as Portland and Seattle. It is far denser, and yet it has performed the best of the three in fighting the spread of the Corona virus. It should be pretty compelling evidence that density is not a determining factor of whether one is vulnerable to the pandemic or not..”
The New Face of Urban Density
Liam Dillon, LA Times staff writer in Coronavirus: The New Face of Urban Density writes “At the same time, there’s lots of evidence that shows density isn’t destiny. . . “An analysis by New York University’s Furman Center found no relationship between the coronavirus and overall population density within New York City, with neighborhoods in Manhattan, the city’s densest borough, having some of the lowest infection rates.” “. . . The same is true for America’s next densest big city, San Francisco, which. . . [in late April] had reported only about 1,300 confirmed cases — compared with more than 8,450 in the city of Los Angeles.” The LA Times continues to track figures throughout the state and the ratio holds today.
Evidence from China
On a World Bank Blog, Wanli Fang and Sameh Wahba’s write in Urban Density Is Not the Enemy in the Coronavirus Fight: Evidence from China:
“. . .To find out whether or not population density is a key factor in the spread of the coronavirus, we collected data for 284 Chinese cities.” They found that China’s densest cities tended to have the lowest infection rates. They surmised that “Higher densities, in some cases, can even be a blessing rather than a curse in fighting epidemics. . .For instance, in dense urban areas where the coverage of high-speed internet and door-to-door delivery services are conveniently available at competitive prices, it is easier for residents to stay at home and avoid unnecessary contact with others.”
Crowding Is Dangerous and New Zoning Policies Will Help
The NYU Furman Center study and the China study too, did find that the virus is more prevalent in areas where more people are crowding into homes—say six people into a two-bedroom apartment. So it’s CROWDING that is dangerous, not density.
Crowding exists in Portland too, BUT rarely in the neighborhoods where neighbors are expressing the greatest concern. Adopting the housing policies under discussion: Expanding Opportunities for Affordable Housing and Residential Infill Project and Re-adoption of Central City 2035 will likely help to lessen, not exacerbate, such over-crowding in the Portland lower-income neighborhoods that currently experience it.
There is abundant evidence that density is NOT dangerous! In fact, denser communities give their residents better infrastructure to shelter in place. Regardless of whether you support proposed infill housing policies or not. I hope you will continue to educate yourselves! Please study the facts!
Mary Vogel, CNU-A/PlanGreen consults on climate resiliency and climate justice. She is also 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
March 8, 2018
Sustainable Stormwater Management: A Landscape-Driven Approach to Planning and Design
by Thomas Liptan, with writer David Santan, Jr
strikes an optimistic note about the future of our cities in an era of climate change:
Indeed, the cities of the future will be garden cities. Not for aesthetics, though beauty will follow as a by-product, but for the energy savings, water management, shelter from extreme heat and precipitation, noise buffers, and perhaps most importantly the habitat and urban wildlife these plants will support. Our cities will come alive with people, plants, and creatures thriving in interdependent coexistences” (p252)
Primary author, Tom Liptan, is hoping to change the nature of urban design itself. As a sustainable cities advocate, such change is a vision that I share.
Liptan adds yet another term to the sustainable stormwater management lexicon: landscape stormwater management. No American city has implemented more of these LSM approaches than Portland, Oregon (where they both live—as does this reviewer). Portland has roughly 7,000 green stormwater facilities in place—including a few in its downtown! They not only manage stormwater, they “conserve water and energy, reduce urban heat island effect and thermal gain in waterways, recharge groundwater supplies, create habitat and support biodiversity, buffer noise, and provide a healthier, more adaptive, more resilient infrastructure”(p18). I will add that they make a walk or bike ride more pleasant and interesting and they are cheaper and more effective than pipes as well!
I first met primary author, landscape architect, Tom Liptan, in the early 90’s when he gave a presentation for a local builders group on green roofs in Europe. He issued a call for us to start applying green roof technology in Portland. Ultimately, Liptan became the Ecoroof Technical Manager in the Sustainable Stormwater Division of the City’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES). Today we participate together in Portland’s Green Roof Info Thinktank (GRIT). He and I were early advocates for restoring Portland area streams—a movement that gave impetus to the practices in this book.
This book is not just about Portland and its 7,000 LSM facilities. It’s about a design philosophy that puts the water in the landscape rather than storm drains and pipes. And it uses examples of LSM design from all over the world. Although it has lots of information you’d find in a manual: site assessment, site design, construction, inspection, cost considerations, operations and maintenance—it’s style and unusual organization makes it far more interesting than most manuals or handbooks.
As a professional who has long-criticized gizmo green, I appreciate Liptan’s statement that “a good designer relies on principles of design rather than products.” He won my heart when he exhorts us to “look first to native materials and natural systems” and employ “Design with native plants first and foremost.” It’s not immediately apparent to me that many designers in Portland actually do that—so Liptan and I have a lot more exhorting to do. I’m hoping this book and my review will help.
Sustainable Stormwater Management is organized into two major sections: Landscape Stormwater Design: Water Management from a Landscape Architectural Perspective and Landscape Stormwater Management: Vegetative Approaches to Water Management. The four chapters of the first section cover guiding principles, economics, policy and politics and something of an exhortation to the landscape architecture profession that Liptan sees as the potential leaders of this movement.
It is true that landscape architects have a jealously-guarded stranglehold over specifying plants in commercial facilities in Oregon. As a streams and natural areas restoration volunteer and native plant/ecology focused tour leader, I throw up my hands about this stranglehold every time I examine a rain garden or stormwater planter facility in Portland and see mostly over-used, alien ornamental species—some of which are invasive elsewhere. And I’ve spent much time reporting deliberately planted INVASIVE species in the past.
I now advocate that only those trained (formally or informally) in ecological restoration be allowed to design Portland’s stormwater facilities. (Just like most architects get little training in urban design, most landscape architects get little training in plants before they get their credentials—though the latter seems to be a more tightly kept secret.) Liptan admits this later in the book: Addressing the engineering, architecture and landscape architecture disciplines: “Water, soil and plants as stormwater management elements are new territory and we all have a lot to learn”(p249). “Good designers are not born but educated. . .Better education for designers and city review staff can reduce the waste of money and space.” (p250) Portland would do well to reward and learn from those of us who agree with Liptan.
The far longer second section, Landscape Stormwater Management: Vegetative Approaches to Water Management, has most of the data, tables, rules of thumb and cautions that you might find in a manual. But, with its pleas for further research, rallying cries for creative approaches, page-after-page of captioned photos and its call to design with nature using native materials, this book goes beyond a manual.
Chapter 5—Water-Accepting Landscapes—is the chapter that covers Rain Gardens and Stormwater Planters, Green Streets, and Rainwater Harvesting amongst other topics. Liptan barely uses the term bioswale conceding that it is like a long rain garden. Rather he distinguishes between rain gardens with their sloped sides and planters with their vertical structural sides. Besides that there are three types of either system: 1) infiltration landscapes, 2) partial infiltration landscapes, and 3) flow-through landscapes.
Although Liptan devotes only a half page of text under the heading “Green Street” he does have ten pages with captioned photos of green streets. The reader can find more green street commentary in his discussions of Nashville’s Deaderick Street, Seattle’s SEA Street, Ballard (Seattle) Roadside Rain Garden Project, Portland’s Tabor to the River, Halsey Green Street and Headwaters at Tryon Creek projects. In fact much of the latter half of Chapter 5 on Site Design is devoted to making green streets work better—covering such areas as site assessment, sizing, directing flows, plantings and soils, construction, plumbing, cost considerations and operations and maintenance (O&M). (Although I understand “The intent is to focus on the outcome of the approach rather than a specific type of implementation. . .,” I found this organization a bit confusing.)
I’ve long been impressed by Tom Liptan’s minimalist approach: “The ideal LSM design should never need irrigation, pruning, or fertilization.” He cautions that O&M plans must state explicitly how plantings should be managed, otherwise most landscape contractors will default to their standard approach: “Spray it, soak it, mow it, blow it away.” Ninety percent of street planters in Portland are not irrigated—resulting in huge O&M savings. (However, as a Green Street Steward in downtown Portland, last summer I was begging nearby retailers to water the downtown planters I steward so that they wouldn’t lose any more plants.)
Most of Chapter 6—Vegetative (Living) Cover of Impervious Surfaces—is devoted to what Portland
calls ecoroofs, with Liptan using the more generalized term “vegetative roofs” to appeal to a wider audience. However he moves through vegetative walls, vegetative planters, trees, and vines before returning to research on vegetative roofs and then to their design.
He is again minimalist: Simpler vegetative roof designs found in Europe are “as good or better than most North American designs.” I would be disappointed if I didn’t see the Red Cinder Ecoroof design that Liptan developed in Portland. It’s comprised of a moisture mat, soil, and sedums planted in red cinder mulch. It’s low cost, low-maintenance, self-sustaining with no irrigation and adaptable to any roof or membrane system AND it protects the roof membrane, manages stormwater and creates habitat. “The sedums with the red cinder retard colonization by other plants for many years,” maintains Liptan. Some additional recommendations he makes for vegetative roofs: 1) some kind of mineral mulch if not red cinder—for both moisture retention and shading the soil; 2) integrate solar panels on your roof so the plants can benefit from the shade; 3) manage solar reflections on vegetation where possible—one solution is to cover dead plants with a thin layer of rock to protect the soil and perhaps allow some plants to return.
Chapter 7 asks the reader to think about how much impervious surface we really need then moves on to discussing porous pavement, depaving and stream daylighting. Liptan sees a bright future for buried creeks to reappear in our cities proclaiming that “A daylighted stream can be the nexus for the dramatic green transformation of an entire neighborhood.” Both the daylighting and depaving movements have been led for many years by unpaid volunteers who have formed non-profits and enlisted more volunteers to get the work done. I’m glad to see Liptan exhorting design professionals to do more in this arena.
Liptan’s is a captivating vision for change in the way we design/re-design our cities. I hope more designers and advocates too will take to heart a fragment from the book that is going up on my bathroom mirror: “…the door to creativity stands open. Enter unencumbered by the boxes of conformity, and be amazed.”
Mary Vogel is a CNU accredited planner and founder of PlanGreen, a Woman Business Enterprise in Portland, OR that has paddled upstream for years to bring ecosystem services to excellent urban design. After achieving on-the-ground restorations and some important policy accomplishments in several of Portland’s and the region’s long-range plans pro bono, she would like to get paid work—perhaps outside of Oregon where she can best use her skills.
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.
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.
Oregon Metro has a Request For Proposals open for a Willamette Falls Riverwalk Schematic Design that has attracted attention from design firms around North America. I must admit that I haven’t been attracted to the “riverwalk” concept as most of its purveyors ignore the need to restore any habitat.
But Willamette Falls is different. Right at the start, prospective proposers are informed of four core values that this riverwalk partnership has established. And Healthy Habitat–riparian, shoreline and in stream–is one of them!
After trying for two weeks, I haven’t been able to get onto anybody’s team–and it’s getting to be so late in the process that my chances are waning. I feel that with the right team, this project could be a near perfect fit with the mission of PlanGreen. It has creating multi-modal linkages (transit, foot, bike and car), public participation, habitat restoration, cultural and natural history interpretation–all rolled into it.
I was involved in the early stages of planning another “Riverwalk” –along the Anacostia River in Washington DC. Jacqueline Dupree’s jdland web site provides some of the best photos of what is happening with it today. Apparently 12 of its 20 miles is now built. I must admit that it’s a bit painful, though not unexpected, for me to see the photos. I feared having a trail that did little for most wildlife and little for pedestrians. I feared a trail with too little habitat and too little shade.
I’m sure I sounded like a broken record in the early Anacostia Riverwalk planning process, but at every opportunity, I called for three things–all related:
- Habitat restoration
- Native trees along the length of the trail to provide shade for pedestrians
[walking outside in hot humid DC summers can be a pretty miserable experience without shade]
- Bioretention of stormwater utilizing native plants
Jaqueline’s photos show that I was not highly successful. However, one of The DC government’s web pages on the Riverwalk maintains:
Key design elements throughout the trail include the following:
- Inclusion of rain gardens and bioswales
- Installation of shared-use paths and educational signage
- Enhancement of trail viewsheds to bring users closer to the water’s edge
- Minimize impacts of paving on other trail infrastructure on the natural environment.
So, maybe I got one out of three–if their rain gardens and bioswales are constructed using native plants. With regard to their fourth design element, the only “natural environment” is in the Kenilworth Gardens portion of the trail–scheduled to be completed this spring.
I wanted–and still want–to see more ecological restoration along the rest of the trail where there is little natural environment. I hope that the design team selected for the Willamette Falls Riverwalk will put the needs of Mother Earth over their need to make a design statement.
I hope that those involved with Willamette Falls will do so well with ecological restoration that they will inspire the people of Oregon City to rid their own trees and parks of English ivy, Himalayan blackberry, clematis, and myriad other invasive species that plague Oregon City and the Portland Metro region. I hope they will restore healthy habitat.
Nov. 12, 2013 Guest blog by Carolyn Foster, University of Washington Community Environment & Planning student and Summer 2013 PlanGreen intern
The 19th annual Rail~Volution Conference was hosted by the Puget Sound Region in Seattle, WA on October 20 thru 23, 2013. The conference featured many workshops exploring how we can build livable communities through transit. This is especially important to the Puget Sound Region because they are anticipating 1.2 million more residents by 2030. To accommodate this, the region must plan for density in urban growth centers and make smart investments in transportation.
Because PlanGreen principal, Mary Vogel, urged me to apply promptly as soon as she got notice from Rail-Volution, I was privileged to receive a scholarship to this conference. The first workshop I attended was “Rail~Volution 101” intended for first time attendees. One of the speakers was Earl Blumenauer, Congressman of Oregon’s Third District, who has notable experience with working towards livable communities. He founded Portland’s Regional Rail Summit in 1991 which eventually became the Rail~Volution conference in 1995. He spoke of the importance of citizen infrastructure in making a successful light rail system. In Portland, he funded a transportation class to allow citizens to work with the Portland transportation agencies to implement their own community projects. This is still happening! To him, strengthening this citizen infrastructure is a key to success. Learn more at portlandtransport.com.
Another speaker at the “Rail~Volution 101” workshop, G.B. Harrington, of G.B. Placemaking in Portland introduced me to the concept of Transit Oriented Development versus Transit Adjacent Development. He argued that it is not enough for development to be by transit, but it must be shaped by transit. Other speakers at this workshop included the Executive Director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, and the Mayor of Normal, Illinois. They excitedly shared projects that had been accomplished in their town to make their communities more livable. What particularly struck me was when the mayor of Normal explained how the addition of a roundabout fixed a bad traffic snarl. To me, this displays the power of incrementalsim to solve urban issues. To learn more about the project in Normal, visit normal.org
The second workshop I attended was titled “Design Matters.” The panel consisted of a planner, an architect, and a landscape architect. The planner, William Anderson, of San Diego, urged everyone involved in a project to “leave their discipline ego behind” in favor of effective collaboration and problem solving. Jeff Potter, architect from Dallas, TX, argued that “place is not designed, it is experienced.” William also argued the importance of making seamless connections to neighborhoods through transit to avoid making a community “just a place to pass through.” All panelists spoke to the important of context specific design that gives a place a sense of unique identity.
Tuesday night was the Pecha Kucha Slam, described as “cutting edge ideas presented rapid-fire.
20 slides x 20 seconds = less than 7 minutes per topic.” 12 professionals presented a wide variety of topics from developing airports to keeping your employees healthy and fit. There was also a range of presentation styles: from serious to satirical to downright silly. Terra Lingley, Transportation Planner at CH2M Hill in Portland presented about Portland’s Streetcar Mobile Musicfest where local bands perform on the streetcars for free (except you still have to pay the streetcar fare). This was a big hit with the crowd!
I was connected with a mentor, Circe Torruellas, of the Washington DC Department of Transportation. She shared with me her experience with transit planning in our nation’s capital. She also introduced me to people she knows in Portland who were at the conference including Art Pearce, of the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
At the conference, I networked, had fun, and learned many things, including some information that went over my head such as the details surrounding how to finance Transit Oriented Development. There is a wealth of information about the conference on their website: railvolution.org including a list of attendees and some webcasted sessions. My experience at the conference has made me very excited to continue down the path to be an urban planner.
City Creek Center as Biodiversity Engine?
June 2013 – City Creek Center was started in 2003 by the real estate investment arm of the Latter Day Saints. The intent was to bring back Salt Lake City’s Main Street in a downtown that was losing out to the suburbs. It’s a mixed-use project that includes retail shops, office space and 435 condominiums and 110 apartments. No public subsidy was received so the project does not include “affordable housing.”
It’s also a green roof project in that its 90,000 square feet of plantings, courtyards, roof gardens and water features cover a 6000 space parking structure. What a waterproofing challenge!
“The things the LDS Church is doing with City Creek Center are going to be a positive boost to walkability and transit in Utah” according to “Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet,” a national report of the Sierra Club. The Center brought more residents, employees, shoppers and diners to use the light rail system called TRAX.
Opening in 2012, with final touches added in 2013, this downtown revitalization project took 10 years to complete. With development continuing throughout the crash in real estate, it was one of the only privately-funded projects of its size in the US that continued to build over the last few years. I happened to meet the Portland-based ZGF architect who was their project manager for the residential portion this week (at an event in Portland, first week of June 2013) and she confirmed how important this project was to her firm. It also kept 2000 others employed throughout the development cycle and now employs over 7000 people. It had about 16 million visitors in its first year of operation.
You can read more about the economic development aspects of City Creek Center elsewhere e.g., Salt Lake Tribune. What I’m going to look at here is what role City Creek Center plays in putting Salt Lake City on the path to becoming the engine of biodiversity that Richard Louv exhorted CNU 21 attendees to work towards in our work.
City Creek Center was actually in the middle of my route to and from the Grand America Hotel where CNU21 was held from May 29 to June 1, 2013. Even though I’m NOT a fan of shopping centers, once I saw the creek there, I happily sauntered through it every day of my five-day stay. It gave me a taste of what I was missing in the nearby canyons as I made my way to The Grand America each day. The creek stimulated for me feelings of peacefulness—and a desire to get out into the real thing.
I recognized immediately the trees native to this area: Populus tremuloides – aspen; Betulae occidentalis – water birch; and Prunus virginiana – chokecherry. They were planted along a lovely creek that bubbled through boulders of native sandstone. Below the canopy level, there were native sedges and rushes and shrubs– and a few plants I didn’t recognize as native. Tough non-native shrubs were brought in to overcome the trampling the natives were experiencing.
I appreciated the fact that the developers named this center after a natural feature that used to be there—AND that they made an extraordinary attempt to re-create that natural feature in their development. The creek flows across three city blocks, and drops 37 feet in elevation from beginning to end. Some 600 boulders were brought in from an area near Park City and 627 native trees from nurseries in Oregon and Idaho.
As it meanders along pedestrian walkways and cafes, the recreated creek features three waterfalls and a fountain with 50-foot-high jets. The creek varies in width from one foot to 28 feet and from four inches to 18 inches in depth. Some parts of the creek were stocked with Bonneville cutthroat trout and rainbow trout and those fish are now reproducing.
A 17-foot waterfall at Regent Court cascades at 2,500 gallons per minute over 14 ton Utah sandstone boulders. The landscape is actually comprised of 13 different water features that recirculate their potable water. According to Ross Nadeau, Landscape Architect project manager, “We looked at utilizing City Creek itself and then at the de-watering water from the site, but we couldn’t make either work because of the filtration costs.”
City Creek Center received a LEED ND rating of Silver for its multiple efforts to be sustainable. “The heart and namesake of our development is the re-creation of City Creek, which many years ago used to run through the downtown area of Salt Lake City,” said Val Fagre, former City Creek Reserve project manager—now retired. The craftsmanship put into building the creek is extraordinary. And I can vouch that the creek serves as a draw for shoppers, employees and residents of City Creek Center. In the two times I ate at the Food Court there, I went to extra effort to sit near the creek. The Center also seems to attract plenty of young people to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights.
Nearby, City Creek Canyon has been protected from the beginning of the city’s history (over 150 years) to protect drinking water and wildlife habitat. According to students in a class project in General Ecology at Westminster College:
By learning the names of the native trees and shrubs that support the wildlife in City Creek Canyon along the nature trail loop, one can see which plants may be useful in backyard landscaping. Native plants introduced into the urban landscape around houses and yards help wildlife to survive in the city and help conserve water.
Based upon the students’ observations (I didn’t get there), City Creek Canyon could qualify as an engine of biodiversity. But could City Creek Center qualify?
I missed the small signs that interpret the plants and fish of City Creek Center so it was not apparent to me how it was being used to influence further biodiversity–but the signage is there. Does the experience of being in a pleasant environment lead people to go home and attempt to mimic what they saw while shopping or dining? Perhaps the center could be more proactive and run some “naturescaping” classes and host some native plant sales by local groups. The project I would most like to see is for City Creek Preserve to work with the City’s Department of Parks and Public Lands to restore City Creek Park, to a more natural condition making it a better gateway to City Creek Canyon. A stream buffer and wetlands could be quite important there to prevent or alleviate flooding in the future, e.g., heavy snow melt flooded State Street in 1983. The City is already undertaking some watershed restoration projects funded by Chevron as mitigation for an oil spill. Hopefully, it won’t take such a negative event for City Creek Preserve to offer such assistance in order to increase its role as a biodiversity engine.
The boulders came from Brown’s Canyon quarry, a 100 year-old business near Park City. Does that quarry have a biodiversity management plan (a BMP for quarries developed by World Wildlife Fund)? If not, what role should City Creek Preserve play in suggesting they start one? Of course, such a suggestion would carry more weight before the stone was purchased.
The developers took their project through the pilot phase of LEED ND. But did they consider Sustainable Sites, a system focused on measuring and rewarding a project that protects, restores and regenerates ecosystem services – benefits provided by natural ecosystems such as cleaning air and water, climate regulation and human health benefits.
I believe City Creek Center would score well in the “Human Health & Well-being” category. But I’m still concerned about all of the water and power used in this engineered ecosystem. Tell us what you think below: Does City Creek Center pass muster as a biodiversity engine for Salt Lake City? Why or why not?