Vision for Downtown Portland, Oregon – Part 2

Downtown Parks

While the streets cited above could provide the east-west connection, the South Park Blocks are the logical place for the north-south connectivity corridor as they already provide that function–to a small extent.  But they need to do better.  They need to provide better habitat and they could provide even more stormwater management than their mature canopy trees already do through re-design of the landscaped portions and connection with street stormwater.  Over time, replace all alien ornamental plants in the landscape with native plants–perhaps beginning to interplant those areas with native plants right now.  Plan to replace trees that die with native trees and plant only native trees as succession trees from now on.  This holds for  the landscape of the Central Library too.

In the entire series of visionary Halprin parks from Keller Fountain Park to Lovejoy Fountain Park to

Pettygrove Park to Chapman and Lownsdale Squares we need to start the process of converting to native species over time.  These parks tell Oregon’s story in terms of terrain.  Why not in terms of its native vegetation too?

Right away we should begin the removal of invasive plants replacing them with natives. English ivy is prevalent throughout downtown—even on LEED certified buildings (such as 2 Market Square).  If we are serious about getting rid of it in our wild areas such as Forest Park, we need to get rid of it downtown as well–so that people know that it is NOT okay in their landscape either.

Urban Agriculture

While I bemoan the loss of Park Block squares to development, at the very least enhance what has been allowed by requiring or encouraging with incentives an eco-roof on any building in the Park Block corridor. Enhance their wildlife appeal through treatment of buildings and streets at the edges of the Park Blocks too.  For example, explore adding a second use to the public parking structure edging SW10th and Yamhill by integrating a community garden into it.  Community Gardens are especially important for the occupants of all of the affordable and assisted housing in the area and may play a role in attracting more families into downtown. Topsy Turvys (or similar upside down hanging devices) of tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, eggplants, etc. could be hung in the openings of the parking structure.  Planters could grow vining plants such as peas and beans up the side of the structure.

Some preliminary design work for the 10th & Yamhill parking structure was already done by attendees at the Living Futures Conference in May 2009.  Talk to Kevin Cavanaugh (Ten Pod) and Mark Boucher-Colbert (Urban Agriculture Solutions).   This model can be repeated in other public parking structures throughout downtown as well.  Loaves & Fishes at 1032 Main St has been vegetable gardening at City Hall and the roof of the Multnomah County building and using the produce in its meals for seniors.

Vacant Land

For the next five years, the soon to-be-vacant land of the Jefferson West at SW 12th & Jefferson should become a multifunctional landscape providing some bioretention stormwater treatment with native plants and community garden plots for apartment dwellers.  More community garden opportunities should be developed in that area as well as there is a concentration of affordable housing there.  I am not aware of ANY today except for students and faculty at PSU.  Community gardening on rooftops should be explored.  To get an idea of what could be done on a rooftop, please take a look at the highly productive garden atop Noble Rot at NE12th & Burnside—a garden that provides fresh organic vegetables to the restaurant below.


Some courtyards of relatively new buildings are designed to infiltrate stormwater onsite.  The courtyard of the St. Francis Apartments at 11th & Main is an example.  A diversity of native plants, rather than the current alien ornamentals should be grown there, though food-growing plots might be made available to residents in areas of courtyards that get enough sun and that do not have to handle stormwater management.  PDC should encourage buildings whose courtyards are currently private to go native.  I would like to see us encourage experimenting with opening private courtyards to the public where feasible design-wise—just as The Sitka and its neighbor do in The Pearl.

Surface Parking Lots

Portions of several of our surface parking lots have become important venues for food carts, an important microenterprise in the Portland economy.  I would like to see space for these carts retained as the lots are developed to some of the higher uses suggested below such as courtyard housing and/or cohousing.  These uses, especially, could replace surface lots while potentially keeping some space for the carts.  Space for the industries targeted in the recently passed Economic Development Strategy should also play a role in developing surface lots to higher uses.  And the Portland Public Market should replace the surface lot at SW Morrison and Naito Parkway.

Energy Production and the EcoDistrict

At the same time we dig up the street for green streets, we should put in district energy* and smart grid infrastructure tying in with the Sustainability Institute/University EcoDistrict.  Portland is developing an EcoDistrict concept.  According to Sustainability Institute Director, Rob Bennett, “The objective of the program is . . . to create neighborhoods with the lowest environmental impact and highest economic and social resiliency in the United States.”  While green buildings may have energy- and water-saving measures, on-site solar or geothermal energy, treatment and reuse of wastewater or composting of waste, an EcoDistrict does the same for multiple buildings with greater economies of scale.  EcoDistricts are likely to have green buildings, many transportation choices and state-of-the-art  infrastructure, such as centralized energy production and water treatment.

According to Bennett, they also seek compatible forms of civic engagement, such as car-sharing among residents and employees, a habitat conservation plan or other ways to fulfill broader social and environmental goals.  The EcoDistricts Initiative is unique in that it not only establishes high-level performance goals, but also emphasizes governance, finance and civic engagement mechanisms.  Portland’s EcoDistricts Initiative envisions a growing network of distinct neighborhoods in that are highly energy and resource efficient; capture, manage, and reuse a majority of energy, water, and waste on site; enhance human health and wellbeing; and are home to a rich diversity of habitat, open space, and green transportation options.

Net Zero Energy Use

Seattle Steam has provided district energy to 200 buildings in downtown Seattle since 1893.

District energy systems produce thermal energy for heating, cooling and hot water at a central plant, for use in the immediately surrounding community. District Energy facilities, both renewable and non-renewable, have less carbon output because there is less energy loss due to shorter conveyance distances. District Energy systems typically consume 40% less fuel and produce 45% less air emissions than conventional energy generation. These systems can serve small developments or larger areas up to several miles; however, the energy demand must support the cost of construction and running the system. It is best utilized in dense urban areas like downtown Portland where there are energy loads sufficient to justify the infrastructure installation, as well as both day and evening energy users.

New options for renewable District Energy sources are growing, including solar, wind, biomass and micro-hydro facilities. Technology improvements in small scale plants make these rapidly developing renewable energy sources accessible to businesses and communities. Renewable sources should always be considered to achieve the goal of Net Zero Energy use.

Urban Wind Generation

The V-LIM wind generator eliminates some of the major barriers to wind energy including being able to operate below Class 3 level winds in congested urban areas.  Rogue River Wind, Ltd, its developer, will market large commercial and utility scale distributed energy projects.  A study in the UK revealed a 180% velocity gain associated with wind tumbling over rooftops.  Since the power of the wind is proportional to the cube of the velocity, this gain offers significant benefits in power production.  The V-LIM is silent, vibration-free, operates comfortablly in gale forece winds and easily manages gusting, turbulent airflow making it suitable for rooftop mounting and extensive use in urban settings.  It can be screened to protect birds.