Archive for May, 2012

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Vision for Dowtown Portland, Oregon – Part 3

May 25, 2012

Buildings and Codes

To see that new buildings promote good urban design, I would like to see a form-based code developed with input from all downtown residents, business and landowners who want to be involved. A  form-based code is necessary to see that we get great pedestrian-oriented urban design.

The Ladd Tower fits in its surroundings better than most new residential towers–thanks to citizen advocacy

I would personally prefer a mix of buildings–incorporating and rehabbing our historic buildings to today’s green standards.  Most new buildings should be in the 7-9 story range with little to no setback from the street, lots of large operable windows, and clad in conventional materials.  The St. Francis Apartments at 1024 SW Main are a good model.  A few more tall towers that pay attention to their context should be part of the mix.  The Ladd Tower is an example of a project that does this moderately well.  The towers should produce enough energy to run their own elevator and HVAC systems—as energy for such uses may be problematic over the long term.

All new downtown buildings should be required to contribute to distributed renewable energy by producing power for the grid.  Locally produced and distributed renewable energy is a vastly better model than the distant wind (or solar or geothermal) farms we currently rely on for “green energy.”   If you’ve ever seen the

devastation to great swaths of forest, farm and suburban land caused by the high voltage power lines that bring us that energy, you would question whether that power was truly green.  Downtown should model the standards we will need to address climate change.  I strongly support bringing the updated Green Building Policy (http://www.portlandonline.com/bps/index.cfm?c=45879&) into effect downtown NOW.  It covers both new and existing buildings.  I participated in developing it in 2007 and 2008, but it has been held back by events.

Uses to Encourage

We should build on the arrival of ShoreBank Pacific (now One Pacific Coast Bank) to our neighborhood and get them to help us encourage some of the companies in their portfolio to locate here.  Perhaps we could bring in a national office of a socially responsible investing organization such as CERES.  The existence of Oregon Community Foundation in the neighborhood, as well as ShoreBank, could increase the likelihood of socially responsible businesses and organizations locating here—if we do something to recruit them.  Giving them the opportunity to become part of a cooperative health insurance policy or to own their building cooperatively with like-minded organizations could be incentives.  Here’s ShoreBank on Green Building:

The built environment has a tremendous impact on the environment,  resources, and human health. Building sustainably or implementing more energy-efficient features in an existing building can significantly reduce the single largest contributor to our nation’s carbon footprint. . . .Our real estate lending focuses on owner-occupied buildings and commercial buildings, as well as innovative projects such as co-housing, in-fills, and rehabs. We also specialize in brownfield clean ups. ShoreBank Pacific does not engage in residential lending.

 

Clean Tech and Sustainable Industries (CTSI), Activewear, Software and Advanced Manufacturing are advocated by Portland’s Economic Development Strategy. perhaps there is room for a company that turns certified sustainably-grown Oregon forest products into unique furniture pieces suitable for those of us who live downtown in small apartments —a company similar to Sweetwater Farm at 14th & Everett in the Pearl.  Ideally it would have some assembly jobs suitable for those who live in the subsidized apartments nearby.

Schools and Child Care Facilities

Northwest Academy is one of two schools downtown.  It serves grades 6 – 12 with “a unique and challenging educational environment that juxtaposes the arts and academics.”  It may be unique in its approach to its physical needs:

The Northwest Academy’s campus is located in the center of the City of Portland’s Cultural District at 12th and Main. The Main Street building boasts a small theater, multimedia lab, music recording lab, photography lab, and classrooms. Additional classrooms are located just across the street in a newly renovated facility. Science and visual arts reside in the south campus classroom building a few short steps from the main building. Dance and other activity classes are held at our Studio Building conveniently located a few blocks away. The Central Branch of the Multnomah County Library, a 24,000 square-foot library located just 3 blocks away, serves as the school’s resource center. In addition, the neighborhood includes the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon History Center, Portland State University and Portland  Center for the Performing Arts, all of which are involved in enhancing the school’s curriculum.

St.Mary’s Academy (Grades 8-12) is one of the few schools downtown–none of them public

St. Mary’s Academy is the other school within downtown’s borders. (There may be others I don’t know about).  A Catholic all-girls college preparatory high school, it is Oregon’s oldest continuously-operating secondary school (Grades 8 -12).

To attract families, downtown needs to retain such schools and expand their number.  It also needs an elementary school–perhaps along the lines of the one going into a new affordable family housing/mixed use project in the Pearl.  And downtown needs more affordable child care facilities–both to attract families to live here and to serve the needs of workers downtown.

Preserve and Expand Existing Uses

Like Northwest Academy, Outside In is already occupying space in multiple, mostly older buildings.  Their health clinics badly need more space—especially their acupuncture clinic—as students, patients and the clinic supervisor are forced to work in cramped conditions that are hard on students and their patients.

NW Film Center should be interviewed for its potential space needs and what it will take for it to stay in the neighborhood.  Are there other arts groups we should be nurturing or attracting?

Loaves & Fishes Center, mentioned above, is a nonprofit, secular organization that provides hot, nutritious meals to seniors 60 years and older.  It’s downtown center serves as the meeting site for the neighborhood association and other neighborhood activities.  It offers the neighborhood great opportunities for “civic engagement” so important to sustainability.  Through it, residents can get involved in urban agriculture, in service activities providing meals, classes and companionship to seniors.  And perhaps other opportunities as well.  They are open to suggestions. . .

Finally, we should work with existing businesses and institutions to encourage them to stay.  During the recent walk of our PDNA Land Use Committee, the owner of Thai Chili Jam restaurant at 13th and Jefferson came out and handed us cards begging us to come in or come back.  On a recent Saturday night at 9:45 PM they were empty.  The whole string of restaurants there—Chef Naoko Bento Café, Taste of Jakarta, Olé! Olé! were either empty or closed at that same hour. This does not bode well for their longevity.  Only the West Café on 12th & Jefferson had any patrons.  Perhaps SW 13th Street gets too much noise and exhaust pollution from the I-405 freeway to attract many patrons to businesses close to it.  We need to keep alive the vision of capping the freeway–even during this era of contraction.  Once that takes place, we could build more middle income housing nearby.  And that would, in turn, help businesses there.

“Buy local” needs to be promoted amongst downtown residents and businesses too.  My downtown chiropractor sent me over to Lloyd Center to a shoe repair shop for arch support inserts when they are probably available from downtown shoe repair shops as well.  Preserving existing businesses may also mean preserving the structures they currently occupy.

Workforce Housing

I’d also like to see several co-housing projects as co-housing is an excellent way to both encourage workforce housing and create a sense of community.  Co-housing projects are designed, built and owned by the members who plan to live there.  They usually have more community spaces and events than the typical multifamily building and they often utilize the latest green and self-sufficiency technologies—from renewable energy/energy efficiency to organic gardening.   Eli Spivak of Orange Splot, LLC (http://www.orangesplot.net/) is a co-housing developer who might help us attract such projects.  A relationship with him should be cultivated.  Since Spivak usually works with lower density projects than we would require downtown, we might consult with cohousing developers who have experience with denser projects such as ECO (http://www.ecohousing.net/eco.htm).  The Courtyard Housing designs that Portland held a design competition to develop could also serve to bring in more families if such housing could be kept reasonably priced.

Alternative HealthCARE

While the medical racket industry reform debate (aka healthcare reform) rages on, no attention seems to have been paid to the truly less expensive, more effective, more preventative, more holistic and most caring part of the healthcare industry–those involved in alternative treatment modalities such as Naturopathic, Homeopathic, Chiropractic and Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and other forms of energy medicine.  In downtown Portland, we are lucky to have several teaching clinics for these modalities that also offer inexpensive care: National College of Natural Medicine at 049 SW Porter St., Outside-In Clinic at 1132 SW 13th Ave and Mercy & Wisdom Clinic just outside our borders at 2 NW 3rd Ave. We also have a host of practitioner offices, several of which offer multi-modal treatment such as the Clearwater Clinic at 1201 SW 12th Ave.  Because these are in downtown office buildings, these are less visible than many of their counterparts in more suburban parts of Portland where stand-alone clinics are better able to advertise their services.  My vision sees all of these institutions given more visibility at least equal to what we already afford to the medical racket industry.  In fact, I would love to see an insurance plan–perhaps a co-op–developed around these modalities that would cover the alternative labs they use and prescribed supplements as well.

(I say all this as a small business owner whose medical racket insurance rate went from $289/mo to $522/mo over the course of 15 months and one whose only foray into the MD world resulted in three bills of at least $255 to my “insurance” company from physicians who saw me for 15 minutes or less.  The general practitioner and specialist sent me for an unnecessary CT scan that resulted in another huge bill that also cost me and my insurance company dearly.)

Lincoln High School

Lincoln High School offers one of the greatest opportunities for creating and displaying Downtown’s new paradigm shift.  It could and should go to at least four stories in height and welcome another school or two to join its campus.  There are already models in the public school system for a greatly revised and multi-functional landscape:  Glencoe is probably the best as other schools have too many non-natives in their stormwater planters.  A wildlife garden in the area of the three Black Walnuts fronting on 14th Ave could benefit the trees and be a far better use of the space than the turf grass and temp buildings that are there now.

Invasive species hinder biodiversity and ecosystem services and the Lincoln High School campus is full of them.  There are many other hotspots for them throughout the study area as well.  They need to be inventoried and a plan developed to deal with them.

Going Against The Grain

Today’s paradigm, as it was in 2009, seems to accept shrinking public sector budgets and hinder our ability to think big and envision a brighter future.  I recognize that this vision is going against that grain.  But, having just read The Nature Principle by Richard Louv has given me new hope that there are enough of us out there who still see nature as integral to our health, prosperity and our very survival.  I hope to promote these ideas in the Portland Central City 2035 Plan for the SW Quadrant and into the City’s new Comprehensive Plan.  And then I’ll work to implement them.  I hope that you will too!

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Vision for Downtown Portland, Oregon – Part 2

May 25, 2012

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.

Courtyards

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.