Archive for December, 2011

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New Urbanists Support The Portland Plan

December 31, 2011

Planning and Sustainability Commission

1900 SW 4th Ave.

Portland, OR 97201-5380

Attn: Portland Plan testimony                                                                       Nov. 29, 2011

I’m Mary Vogel, Advocacy & Alliances Chair of the Congress for the New Urbanism, Cascadia Chapter. We are a potential partner on the Portland Plan as we are the planners and urban designers who have long designed and created walkable neighborhoods even while our colleagues were creating suburbia. In the Portland area, we can take credit for Fairview Village, New Columbia, Orenco Station and more recently, urban infill in the Pearl, the Interstate Corridor, Gresham, Milwaukie and elsewhere in the region. Many of us tend to be small business owners, even sole proprietors, who team up amongst ourselves and with other professionals.

First we want to commend Portland Planning Director, Susan Anderson, for bringing the ethic of the Portland Plan to her role on MTAC and insisting that urban design should play a more prominent role in Metro planners scenario planning for reducing greenhouse gases. She stimulated a very positive discussion amongst planning directors throughout the region on the importance of urban design in addressing climate change—a discussion that CNU considers central to the effort. We encourage her to keep MTAC’s/Metro’s toes to the fire on this!

We support the emphasis of the Portland Plan on equity but with the recognition that that equitable investment must take a whole new direction—not just catch up with the mistakes we made in the past such as putting in curb and gutter to drain our stormwater away as quickly as possible or widening roads with the presumption that everyone drives. We especially like the focus on complete neighborhoods where residents can meet their basic needs on foot. We have been not only advocating, but designing and building that for over 20 years.

We have some of the best expertise in the nation on what it takes to make retail successful and look forward to working with neighborhoods and the city on that. We also have some of the longest history in creating truly transit-oriented development and making transit hubs great places.

We love the “Healthy and Affordable Food” actions, especially the 1000 new commBalcony Gardening at Affordable Housingunity garden plots. This may become essential far sooner than we might think. At least one member of our group has joined Depave to help neighborhoods get this going faster than the wheels of the bureaucracy might turn. I myself have run an EarthBox gardening program on the balconies of a downtown affordable housing complex for the past couple years. I have attached photos to my emailed testimony.

We look forward to working with the city to create the interconnected network of city greenways that will encourage walking and biking and weave nature into neighborhoods. I myself have long worked in creating Habitat Connections through stream restoration, invasive species removal and native plant plantings and through helping to create the Intertwine by working on two Metro Parks & Greenspaces ballot initiatives.

Through the charrette concept that CNU pioneered (and our Portland-based National Charrette Institute keeps evolving), we have excellent tools to engage neighborhoods in creating 75 miles of new Neighborhood Greenways—as well as new Civic Corridors.

New Urbanists have long been known for placemaking—especially with an emphasis on streetscapes and other public places. New Urbanists have written many of the tools that citizen advocates who care about such things use today: The Smart Growth Manual, the Smart Code template, Suburban Nation, the Sprawl Repair Manual, Light Imprint Handbook and others. So we are well-equipped to help with Civic Corridors.

As you know, the Urban Land Institute is the “think tank for the real estate industry”. Many of its experts, both national and local, have pointed out over the last year, that the wave of the future is urban, mixed-use, transit-oriented and green building. While none of the ULI experts had any answers about how, in the current economy, to actually finance and build development where it is most needed, Metro’s own Expert Advisory Group was more explicit. Their report “Achieving Sustainable, Compact Development in the Portland Metropolitan Area: New Tools and Approaches for Developing Centers and Corridors” identifies one of the greatest obstacles in centers and corridors development as the current credit market.

The EAG report has a number of recommendations pp 20 – 23 re: financing—recommendations that would require local communities to be more proactive in the financial realm and work with citizens and the private sector to create altogether new tools. Since Metro seems to have dropped the ball with the EAG, we’d like to suggest that the city pick it up to get this group’s input on this clearly missing element in the implementation section of The Portland Plan.

Transitions PDX was right in their testimony! We aren’t going back to the way things were before. We need new tools to finance the new ways of developing that the plan calls for. Before Wall Street banks got involved in development financing, money for development had long come from the local level. We need to find ways to get back to that.

Such action should be taken sooner rather than later if we are to preserve the intellectual infrastructure w/the skills to implement the Portland Plan. A number of my colleagues are abandoning the profession for other careers where they can still make a living.

Mary Vogel, CNU-A

Chair, Advocacy & Alliances CNU Cascadia

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Community-Based Investment

December 7, 2011

[I’m struggling to determine alternative ways to build the kind of communities we will need to address climate change and peak oil–and to put myself and other built environment colleagues back to work.  Although I had placed some of what’s below on the Congress for the New Urbanism – Cascadia Google Group awhile back, I decided to publish it as a blog after reading “Opportunity for New Urbanists: Occupy Wall Street” in New Urban News.  To see much movement at all in the real estate development world, we must address the financial and the NUN article does that.  However, as I began to think about it, I realized that the NUN title mis-appropriates the name of that popular movement, taking us in a direction opposite what Occupiers are demanding.]

I recently attended two lectures that call into question the long-term viability of depending upon Wall Street based investments–one by Denis Hayes, President of the Bullitt Foundation, the other by Richard Heinburg, Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute.

Hayes watches the stock market on a daily basis for the Bullitt Foundation.  He says that economists he follows say it has one or two more runs. Because of the “green bubble,” even those may be in question because we have been ignoring environmental externalities that are coming due.

Heinberg had just finished a solid day of consulting with Portfolio 21, an
alternative investment fund in Portland, about moving money from Wall Street.  He is the author of “Power Down,”” The Party’s Over” and most recently, “The End of Growth.”  After showing multiple reasons why Wall Street’s day is over he asked “What does a transition to a new economy look like that doesn’t depend on a model of growth based on cheap energy, reckless consumption and financial speculation?”

The messages from these talks coincided with Occupy Wall Street’s successful campaign
to Move Your Money from the big Wall Street banks.  Although the Occupy
movement set the target date as Nov 5, in Oregon, we had news stories
on the mainstream media of people transferring their funds from big banks
to local credit unions for several weeks before the target date!

It seems that this is the time to strike with popularizing solutions for
people seeking local investments–investments that will help the built environment
industries too.  After Denis Hayes talk, I wrote him asking: *”Would you consider setting up a support arm for the Community-Development Initial Public Offering
(CD-IPO)
  concept pioneered by Market Creek Community Ventures?  Its
investors earned 10% on their money–in 2008 and 2009 when many others were
losing their shirts.”

Market Creek had foundation support from the Jacobs Center for Community Innovation.  Here’s what Jacobs has to say:

Ultimately, all assets and social enterprises in The Village at Market
Creek will be owned by the community. Community ownership is key to
long-term change, providing a way for residents to have a voice in how
resources are used and to benefit from community assets.

A resident-led Community Ownership Design Team worked to find a way to
transfer ownership of Market Creek Plaza to residents. They created a
ground-breaking new tool for building wealth in under-invested areas, the
Community-Development Initial Public Offering (CD-IPO).

It took six years of work, 40 drafts by a legal team, and three attempts
to earn approval for the CD-IPO from the California Department of
Corporations. Working hand-in-hand with residents to design the investor
criteria, the CD-IPO transfered 20% ownership in Market Creek Partners,
LLC, the company that owns Market Creek Plaza, to a preferred group of
investors called the Diamond Community Investors. Another 20% is owned by a
community-foundation, the Neighborhood Unity Foundation, which invested
$500,000 in the Plaza and uses the dividends to fund philanthropic efforts
in the community.

The offering opened on July 5, 2006 and closed on October 31, 2006, with
investments ranging from $200 to $10,000. In total, 415 investors purchased
all 50,000 available units, at $10 per unit, for a total of $500,000. 

In 2008 and 2009, the Diamond Community Investors received a full 10%
return on their investments.

There are other solutions too–like working to lift some limitations on
credit unions, working with local community development banks and
developing a Community Loan Fund.

In Portland, Springboard Innovation is pioneering a Direct Public Offering to build  Hatch, a community-oriented business incubator for social-benefit companies. Hatch aims to serve what founder, Amy Pearl calls “hybrid organizations” by providing space and services for mission-driven organizations.

I see the above as promising ideas to help put New Urbanists and and our friends back to work in addressing the most pressing environmental issue of our day in the way that we New Urbanists do it best–creating walkable neighborhoods.