Archive for the ‘Ecosystem Services’ Category


Portland: A New Kind of City II

February 7, 2013

In Portland: A New Kind of City I, I argued that if Portland is to achieve some of its other policies in the Watershed Health and Environment chapter of Working Draft 1, Portland Comprehensive Plan, policies such as Biodiversity and Habitat Corridors, it is important for any policy on Vegetation to stress the importance of NATIVE vegetation–in part, because native species of insects, the base of the food chain, need native plants to survive.

I want to now draw your attention to policies under the “Design With Nature” section of the Urban Design and Development chapter–one of the sections with the greatest potential to lead to transformational design and a new kind of city.

Policy 5.45 Greening the built environment. Encourage the incorporation and preservation of large healthy trees, native trees, and other vegetation in development. 5.45.a. Prioritize integrating natural elements and systems, including trees, green spaces, and vegetated stormwater management systems, into centers. 

Change Policy 5.45 and 5.45.a. to:  5.45 Encourage the preservation of existing large healthy trees and encourage the incorporation of native trees and other native vegetation into development.  5.45.a. Prioritize integrating natural elements and systems, including native trees, natural areas, and stormwater management systems utilizing native vegetation into centers.

Invasive English ivy and Himalayan blackberry growing along the Willamette River in February. Green is not always "green"!

Invasive English ivy and Himalayan blackberry growing along the Willamette River in February. Green is not always “green”!

My further comments on Policy 5.45: “Greening the built environment” should make clear that green is not always “green”. We have a number of trees and vegetation that actually threaten watershed health and community livability rather than benefit it.  This policy needs to be more explicit on what is green.

I realize that with global warming, plant zones are changing. That doesn’t mean that we should be welcoming more alien ornamentals from all over the world. Rather, we might monitor the robustness of our native species and possibly look to bring in more species from areas of southern Oregon or northern California. 

Policy 5.46 Commentary: (Policies in the Working Draft have commentaries on the left pages) Habitat and wildlife‐friendly design, promotes development that integrates green infrastructure, habitat‐and bird‐friendly design, and the use of appropriate, NON-INVASIVE PLANTS (emphasis mine) for pollinators. . .

Change to:  Habitat and wildlife‐friendly design, promotes development that integrates green infrastructure, habitat‐and bird‐friendly design,and the use of native plants for pollinators and other native wildlife species.

My comments on Policy 5.46 Commentary: In Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy cites numerous

Photo by Clay RuthThe larvae of native insects need native plants to survive.

Photo by Clay Ruth
The larvae of native insects need native plants to survive.

scientific studies (including his own) to show that even if some of our adult native insect species can use alien ornamental plants, their larvae cannot. Insects need NATIVE plant species to procreate the web of life. Since our native insects are the base of the food chain for birds and many other species of wildlife, they need native plants too. You need to define habitat, at least in part, as native vegetation—in both the commentary and the policies.

Policy 5.46. Habitat and wildlife-friendly design. Encourage habitat and wildlife-friendly neighborhood, site, and building design.

. . . 5.46.b. Encourage the incorporation of habitat into landscaping, sustainable stormwater facilities, and other features of the built environment.

Change 5.46.b to:  In order to provide habitat, encourage the incorporation native vegetation into landscaping, sustainable stormwater facilities, and other features of the built environment.

The Nature PrincipleCov

Louv points out that all plants are not the same in their ability to support food webs.

I’ll rest my comments on Policy 5.46 with a quote from Richard Louv in his book The Nature Principle:

All plants are not the same.  Unfortunately, all plants are not equal in their ability to support food webs.  Food webs develop locally over thousands of generations, with each member of the web adapting to the particular traits of the other members of the web.

I also request that Portland add a definition of habitat in the Glossary that includes native vegetation. 

I’m really not a one horse planner.  I really care about so many other aspects of urban design and development. But I feel that it is so vitally important that Portland planners and designers recognize the importance of native vegetation in achieving the City’s  goals. Unfortunately, such recognition does not appear to be the case at present.  The landscape features along central Portland’s portion of the Willamette River are currently filled with alien ornamentals and its sustainable storm water facilities continue to be filled with them too. Portland has many LEED-rated buildings, but native plants are rare in their landscapes as well. And yet this Comprehensive Plan foresees far more landscape integrated into our built environment.  It is critical to get the policy right and work with landscape architectural professionals and their schools so that we’ll have people competent to implement the policy.

I’ll have more comments on other sections of Working Draft 1, but for now I want to go out and promote this exciting document and get YOU to comment too! Thanks for doing such a great job on so many fronts, Portland planners!


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


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.


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.


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.


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.
Mary Vogel


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

Sustainability experts embrace ‘new urbanism’ – Portland Business Journal

March 23, 2010

There are a few inaccuracies in this story in Portland Business Journal that I point out below, but it is still great to have it.  We’re excited to be in one of the first issues of their Sustainable Business Oregon.  Please go to the original site so you can add your own comments!

Sustainability experts embrace ‘new urbanism’

by Andy Giegerich

Mary Vogel, PlanGreen

Three Portland sustainable development consultants are among the first in the nation to receive a new accreditation for sustainable urban planning from the Chicago-based Congress for New Urbanism.

The three local recipients, Mary Vogel of PlanGreen, Michael Mehaffy of Structura Naturalis Inc., and Laurence Qamar of Laurence Qamar Architecture and Town Planning Co., are all practitioners of the new urbanist style of neighborhood planning, where the goal is to create sustainable, walkable neighborhoods.

The CNU’s exam-based accreditation program, designed in collaboration with the University of Miami, is designed for urban planning professionals working within a new sustainable neighborhood development standard called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development, or LEED-ND.

The concept essentially calls for services, jobs and residences to remain as close together as possible.

“New urbanism is about revitalizing city centers, or the cores of Main Street America,” said Qamar, a Lake Oswego-based architect. “It can also start with a suburban model, but it promotes how new development and growth should happen all the way down to the neighborhood level.”

Put another way, “There are little towns or neighborhoods where you just want to get out and walk, and feel and touch the place,” said Vogel. “New urbanism tries to achieve that sense of place and community those places tend to have.”

Vogel owns PlanGreen, a Portland ecosystems company that devises water filtration and air purification strategies. Vogel helps developers include such contingencies in their neighborhood projects.

Qamar oversaw sustainability touches on such area projects as Fairview Village and Gresham Station.

Mehaffy, owns Structura Naturalis Inc., a Lake Oswego consultancy that’s advised governments and private companies on sustainable urban development methods. He’s best known for developing Hillsboro’s Orenco Station, home to condos, several upscale shops and accessible to Portland’s light rail line. He also developed Salem’s Pringle Creek project.

The Portland planners are three of the 170 newly certified neighborhood LEED advocates nationwide.

Vogel primarily aims to incorporate more nature components in urban designs. She advises clients on redirecting stormwater so that it recharges streams and rivers, relieving burdens from existing sewer systems, collecting more water from evapotranspiration (or water both on the earth’s surface and within plants that’s evaporated) and providing habitats for native pollinators.

Like other new urbanism champions, Vogel believes the philosophy can effectively limit auto use.

“If a community is really walkable, you don’t want to be in a car,” said Vogel, a Portland newcomer who’s advised Vancouver, Wash., officials on Highway 99 sustainability-oriented redesigns. “I truly believe it’s the wave of the future. It’s the preference of younger populations because of the convergence of peak oil and climate change.”

Mehaffy noted that new urbanism doesn’t seek to eliminate car use altogether.

“It doesn’t mean we get everyone out of cars, it just means we have more cohesion, and we think more about projects that we put in remote areas,” he said. “If you look at the (most recent) recession, it was actually triggered in the far-out suburbs of the U.S.”

Mehaffy’s Orenco “town center” project is considered a solid new urbanism venture because it’s accessible by light rail. Some 25,000 Orenco-area residents and others board trains at the center’s station each day.

Qamar simply hopes new urbanism will inspire developers and builders to examine their work more holistically. Portland’s 2040 plan, overseen by the Metro regional government, laid out where regional centers, such as in downtown Gresham, can take shape. But he’s concerned that improving urban sprawl on such streets as 82nd Avenue, on Portland’s east side, might be too difficult.

Such areas could benefit from city officials’ efforts to incorporate “20-minute” neighborhood concepts into the Portland Plan. The proposals, which Portland’s planning department is developing, could provide a blueprint for growth over the next several decades.

“Ideally, there are ways to rework shopping centers and office parks and brownfields and knit together these neighborhoods in ways that make for more functioning and coherent communities,” he said. “But to get there, you have to make ways for neighbors to walk to their daily needs.”

Vogel, Qamar and Mehaffy have started their own chapter for local new urbanism proponents. The Cascadia CNU chapter, which includes branches in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., counts 100 members.


Thanks Andy and other friends at PBJ! We reallly appreciate the attention. There are a few mis-statements or misinterpretations in the article that Mehaffy, Qamar and I feel are important to clear up:
1. To say the “new urbanist style of neighborhood planning” is misleading. We have a set of principles that includes designing neighborhoods so that all residents can meet their basic needs on foot (assuming they can walk). We also believe that streets should be designed for all users, not just automobile drivers, so we design streets that are delightful to pedestrians and we are beginning to design streets that manage their own stormwater. But there is no new urbanist style.
2. Michael Mehaffy did not develop either Orenco Station or Pringle Creek. He was Project Manager for developer PacWest on Orenco and he has done work for the developer of Pringle Creek.
3. Mehaffy said that 25,000 cars drive on Cornell Road daily, and only about 5,000 people board at Orenco Station daily.
4. Laurence Qamar is based in Portland, not Lake Oswego.
3. To say that “Qamar oversaw sustainability touches on such area projects as Fairview Village and Gresham Station” perhaps gives the wrong impression. He did help make them more pleasant places to walk, but he didn’t add the kind of thing people usually think of as sustainability touches: green roofs, solar collectors, daylighting skylights, rain gardens, etc.
4. None of us feel “that improving urban sprawl on such streets as 82nd Avenue, on Portland’s east side, might be too difficult”. In fact, we have access to a “Sprawl Repair” tool kit that could help to greatly improve those places.
5. Each of us signed the petition list to start a CNU chapter in the PNW, but so did a number of our colleagues. So, to say that they “started their own chapter” may be misleading.
6. Vogel is not really “a Portland newcomer.” I have lived only one year DOWNTOWN, but I’ve lived about 6 years in other SW Portland neighborhoods (Collins View, Marshall Park, Hillsdale) and even a stint in Washington County. I’ve lived in Oregon for nearly 20 years and I know its native plants better than most native human residents. Oh, and I’m a Friends of Trees Crew Leader in Portland’s east side neighborhoods, so I know them quite well as well.
7. I usually describe my business as helping to bring ecosystems services to excellent urban design, but I was a bit surprised to see it characterized as “devises water filtration and air purification strategies.” I guess you could say it that way!

Mary Vogel, CNU-A
Putting Ecosystem Services into Excellent Urban Design
A Woman Business Enterprise in Oregon


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