Archive for the ‘Biophilia’ Category

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Portland: A New Kind of City I

February 6, 2013

. . . As of 2008, more people now live in cities than in the countryside, worldwide. This is a huge moment in human history. This means one of two things: either human connection to nature will continue to disintegrate, or this will lead to the beginning of a new kind of city, one with new kinds of workplaces and homes that actually connect people to nature.         Richard Louv, Leaf Litter, Winter Solstice 2012

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The Portland Comp Plan Working Draft 1 released in January, 2013 begins to envision that new kind of city for this “huge moment in history.” It includes a transportation network that aspires to integrate nature into neighborhoods through civic corridors, neighborhood greenways and habitat connections. By doing that it seeks to: 1) increase people’s access to the outdoors, 2) provide corridors for wildlife movement, and 3) catch and treat stormwater.Its Watershed Health and the Environment chapter encourages the protection/enhancement of natural systems and their role in promoting public health—as you might expect from a chapter with that heading. However the emphasis on “designing with nature” in both its Design and Development chapter and its Transportation chapter is what really sets this plan apart and makes it transformational. It puts Portland ahead of the curve in creating Louv’s new kind of city!

The fact that we have such wise and forward-thinking planners and advisory groups to create such a draft plan does NOT mean that the work is over, however.  The devil is in the details!  So, I hope that you will review those details, attend a community workshop or two, and add your thoughts. Below, I’m sharing some of my own comments on the Comp Plan Working Draft 1 in hopes that you will voice your support for them as well as develop your own points.

I was excited to see the draft Comp Plan promise (p,14) “encouraging building and site designs that have native plants and more permeable surfaces and mimic nature, so that pollutants stay out of rivers and streams.” Only once in the actual policies, however, is there any mention of native vegetation. And that one citation is followed by an exception big enough to let an area that could be a haven for more native wildlife—the west side of the Willamette River from the Steel to the Ross Island Bridges—stand as is: largely bereft of native vegetation.

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It’s difficult to find native plants along the west side of the Willamette River from Steel Bridge to Ross Island Bridge

Policy 4.3 Vegetation. Protect, enhance and restore native AND OTHER BENEFICIAL (emphasis mine) vegetation in riparian corridors, wetlands, floodplains and upland areas.

Change to:

Policy 4.3 Vegetation. Protect, enhance and restore native vegetation throughout the landscape.

4.3a. Riparian Corridors, Wetlands, And Floodplains:  Protect, enhance and restore native vegetation in critical wildlife areas such as riparian corridors, wetlands, and floodplains.

4.3b. Upland Areas:  Protect and enhance native and other beneficial tree species. Restore the landscape with diverse native species including trees, shrubs and wildflowers.

My further comments on Policy 4.3: Since riparian corridors, wetlands, and floodplains are the most critical areas for wildlife they are the most important to be restored to predominantly native plants.  What we plant from here on out along our rivers, streams and wetlands should be native. Remove “and other beneficial” vegetation from the policy.

Chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of Delaware, Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home argues that if alien species were providing as many ecosystem services in their new homes as they did where they evolved, they would support about the same number of insect species in both areas—but they do not. He states:

For an alien species to contribute to the ecosystem it has invaded, it must interact with the other species in that ecosystem in the same ways that the species it has displaced interacted. . . This contribution is most likely when species have evolved together over long periods of time.

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Tallamy’s slide show at Oregon Community Trees conference left community foresters committed to using native trees.

Upland areas could be separate. I would not argue against enhancing the lives of some non-invasive, non-native trees (such as our large old elms) via treatment. I’m not yet ready to maintain that all of the street trees the city plants should be native—only that many, many more of them should be. Tallamy keynoted an Oregon Community Trees conference last year where he made the same point I’m making–as well as a lasting impression on attendees involved with community trees. “When I talk about the value of biodiversity, he said, I am talking about a natural resource that is critical to our long-term persistence in North America.”

 The Comp Plan needs to stress the need to plant more NATIVE trees and plants in upland areas too.  See my next blog, Portland: A New Kind of City II  for further comments on Working Draft 1 of the Portland Comp Plan.

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Bringing the Wild Back to the City – Part 2

July 2, 2012

As I explained in Part 1 of Bringing the Wild Back to the City, I’m trying to take members of the built environment community to the wild to show them how nature does things in ways that are often more  efficient, elegant and pleasing to the eye than what we design.  Last week, I was presented with an opportunity to put this knowledge into action.  At a meeting on Portland’s NE Quadrant Plan last week, as I picked up the written comments of Audubon Society of Portland’s Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger, I was asked if I wanted to testify myself.  At first, I declined, but after reading Bob’s comments, I was inspired to expand upon them.

Testimony to the NE Quadrant, Central City 2035 Stakeholders Advisory Committee –       June 28, 2012

I’m testifying to endorse and expand upon the comments of Bob Sallinger (Audubon Society of Portland) on the SAC draft NE Quadrant Plan.  I have several relevant affiliations, but I’m testifying only on behalf of myself and my Woman Business Enterprise, PlanGreen.  I’m also an Audubon member who once played a role on its Conservation Committee.  My comments are all aimed at increasing the ecosystem services of our landscapes, letting nature help us create infrastructure that is sustainable, efficient and aesthetically appealing. What’s in black, bold italic are Sallinger’s points.  The rest is my expansion.

1. Protect undeveloped river banks and riparian buffers and add strong language to restore developed banks when redevelopment occurs.  When I was writing an article for Urban Land on Portland as a model for waterfront redevelopment, one of the most impressive tools I downloaded was the Willamette Riverbank Design Notebook (done by a team chaired by Mike Abbaté, now Director of Portland Parks). I was thrilled to see a city trying to make room for other species–even in its most urban and urbanizing areas. This is a mark of true wisdom.  Please reference and utilize this unique document during implementation phase.

2. Include specific targets for ecoroofs and other green infrastructure from the watershed plan.  To this I would add that to truly follow through on Portland’s world class Watershed Management Plan, any ecoroofs, bioswales, raingardens, green walls,, parks, etc., need to use the landscape to provide far greater ecosystem services than those extant today.  If we use NATIVE plant communities rather than the incipient invasive species, such as Nandina, that are so greatly overused in bioswales on Portland’s green streets today, we will provide habitat for the base of the food chain, our native insects.  Insects are so important, not only for all the jobs they do–like pollination and detritus decomposition–but as food for the birds that provide us with additional services in keeping a balanced urban ecosystem–in addition to the beauty and delight that they provide us.

3. Reference the tree targets in the Urban Forestry Plan.  Again, I believe that much more effort should be put to planting NATIVE trees.  If sidewalk uplift is a potential problem, then utilize a technology such as Deep Root that will prevent it. As a Tree Crew Leader for Friends of Trees, I always compliment a homeowner who has chosen a native tree.  Invariably, the other homeowners on my crew say “We would have chosen native too, if we had known.”  Recent Oregon Community Trees keynote speaker, Doug Tallamy, told the Chicago Tribune that while Portland is lush and beautiful, it is DEAD.  That’s because the overwhelming majority of our vegetation is non-native and the larvae of our native insects need native plants to complete their cycle into adults.

4.  Encourage bird-friendly building design utilizing the “Resource Guide for Birdfriendly Building Design” recently published by Audubon, along with the City and USFWS.

Thank you so much for your time.  And by the way, I want to say that as someone who lives downtown and walks and bikes nearly everywhere I go, I couldn’t disagree more with the last speaker (Terry Parker) who called for increasing auto capacity to the level that you increase the density.  That is definitely not needed and, in fact, counterproductive.
Sincerely,
Mary Vogel

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Bringing The Wild Back To The City

June 21, 2012

Oregon Community Trees recent keynote speaker Dr. Doug Tallamy says that while Portland is lush and beautiful, it is DEAD!  Portland has so few insects because most of the vegetation in the city is non-native and the native insects, that are the base of the food chain, need native plants to reproduce!

Enthusiastic participants – Trapper Creek Wilderness

I lead field trips to the wild on weekends that focus on native plant and wildlife communities—helping people appreciate them for their intrinsic beauty and wonder and also for the ecosystems services they provide.  I ask folks who sign up to help me make the trips as participatory as possible by doing a bit of research on the natural or cultural history of the region to share with the group. Some do!  The trips provide a good way to renew the body, rejuvenate the spirit and make new friends.

I’m trying to recruit more people on my trips who will come back to the city and incorporate what they discover into our overall green infrastructure: green streets, green roofs, green walls, green landscapes and green buildings as well as designs for walkable neighborhoods and great urbanism region-wide. So I’d especially like help in getting word out to landscape architects, landscape suppliers and builders.  To really be effective its crucial to reach all parts of the built environment community: planners, designers, developers, financiers, suppliers and builders.

I schedule my trips through Portland-Vancouver Sierra Club Outings Meetup (free to join) because Sierra Club offers leader training, first aid and insurance.  And Sierra Club has advocated for the things I care about since 1892.  The trips are also free, though Sierra Club asks that you consider a voluntary $2-3 donation towards its leader training. I help people explore and appreciate ancient (aka old growth) forests; showy wildflower meadows and their more modest cousins under the forest canopy; wild rivers and streams; and mountain lakes with wetlands. In winter, I look for places with good snow for XC skiing. If I have to pick a favorite, it’s the west side Cascades. But I plan to include some trips to the east side of the Cascades and the Oregon Coast as well.

Not all of my trips are to wilderness areas (limited to 12), but the ones that are sometimes fill up fast.   Identify yourself as a Built Environment Professional in your profile when you sign up. If I can, I’ll give you priority for a spot on the trips. (People who have signed up, drop off at the last minute–or they don’t show up at all! So I’ll promise that you won’t be turned away if you have put yourself on the waiting list.)

I myself am an urban planner who wants to preserve the wild by bringing more of what people appreciate there back to the city to help make our cities and towns more livable, healthy, climate-friendly and resilient.  I strive to create places that people don’t feel the need to escape.  I hope you will join me in enjoying and protecting the wild—and bringing more of it back to the city.  Urbanism and nature can co-exist.  In fact, if our species is to survive they must!

Mary Vogel
PlanGreen