Archive for the ‘Green Building’ Category

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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!

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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

CompPlanGuideCov

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

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
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Reshaping The Housing Market?

November 4, 2011

Oregon Metro expands its urban growth boundary for more suburban development

This article originally appeared on my Sustainable Industries blog site

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) Oregon[1] recently advertised a workshop to the Oregon development community:

In the wake of the financial crisis and the great recession, sweeping structural changes are reshaping the housing market.  Generation Y and the retiring Baby Boomers will be the catalysts for the next wave of housing development.  The workshop promoters asked “Are you ready to meet this demand?”

Speakers from the development community all pointed to the market demand being urban and transit-oriented; and, for the time being, rental rather than homeownership.  Some quotes:

They have less money than any generation, but are well-educated, well connected and very urban. The cities that do it best for young creatives will thrive.  John McIlwain, ULI

Gen Y has no interest in the suburbs!  They value being close to friends and don’t want to commute.  You can bet on transit-related locations.  Clyde Holland, Holland Partners

Gen Y wants smaller, greener housing.  They want to live in the city and take responsibility for their carbon footprint.  Jim Winkler, Winkler Development

A few months earlier, ULI’s Young Leaders Group had attested to this same wave in its own sessions.  And it focused all its conference field trips close to the urban core along transit corridors of Portland, Oregon.  At least one of that conference’s participants brought his suburban developer dad along as well—perhaps to learn new skills.

In April 2011, ULI Oregon sponsored two of its national leaders at talks held at Metro on such impressive topics as: Carbon, Development & Growth: Navigating New Frameworks for Real Estate, Planning, Transportation, and the Economy and Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times.  Ed McMahon and Michael Horst both indicated that the pendulum is swinging re: how we invest housing dollars.  The trend is towards walkable, mixed use neighborhoods with transit—and towards green building.

Although McMahon and Horst have strong relationships with the US Green Building Council (their sons play important leadership roles there), McMahon pointed to an EPA study that transit-oriented development may outperform green building in reducing greenhouse gases.[2]  ULI’s Growing Cooler was a mega analysis of the impact of urban form on driving.  “We cannot address greenhouse gases without addressing vehicle miles traveled,” McMahon stated emphatically.

A September 21, 2011 story in the Oregonian reported that Renaissance Homes’ president, Randy Sebastian, a builder long known for its sprawling subdivisions on the fringes of the Portland market, thinks that the days of building on the fringes is coming to an end.  He has taken to doing urban infill instead.

During 2010, Portland’s metropolitan planning organization, Metro, had also pulled together an impressive list of professionals from the development community to serve as its Expert Advisory Group on Centers and Corridors.  Not only did that group tell Metro about the same trends that ULI events have showcased, it also made recommendations that Metro should take a larger long-term role in facilitating the implementation of compact urban development, by playing an enhanced role in education, technical assistance, gap financing, infrastructure financing, and legislative advocacy. These respected local experts in the fields of institutional real estate, financing, development and planning also volunteered their time to carry their message out to communities in the region and work with them to make changes.

Despite these strong messages from the real estate industry, the Metro Council, on October 20, 2011, decided to add another 1,985 acres to the Portland region’s urban growth boundary in areas of Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tigard.  About 330 of those acres will be brought in as industrial land.  The other 1600 plus acres is to accommodate projections for needed housing.  State law requires Metro to maintain a 20-year perpetual land supply.

Bob Stacey, candidate for Metro Council, thinks that the Portland area had more than enough land within its UGB to meet its needs.  He argues that Metro planners think that developers won’t choose to build enough housing on the land already in the boundary because its harder. The planners fear that if we don’t add land for housing to the UGB, developers will build outside Metro. . .”

Stacey maintains that residents within the existing UGB will pay by seeing needed improvements in their neighborhoods deferred or cancelled while highways, schools and transit are expanded to the new areas.

While none of the three ULI national experts who have visited Portland in 2011 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.  Amongst the recommendations of the report are:

  • Develop a new approach to gap financing with creative lending tools and mechanisms for public-private collaboration.
  • Create a mechanism for metropolitan infrastructure investments that supports compact mixed-use development.

Even with Metro’s own role in convening the Expert Advisory Group, it is not apparent that anyone at Metro is paying attention to the advice of these experts.  Instead, while not bowing to ALL of the pressures that suburban communities were putting upon them,[3] some believe the Metro Council is following the old paradigm for growth–expansion, rather than embracing the sweeping structural changes savvy developers are predicting.

Next it will be interesting to see where Metro’s Climate Smart Communities scenario planning takes it!  Can the Portland region reduce greenhouse gases 75% below 1990 levels by 2050 while still following 20th Century development strategies?

 


[1] ULI is the preeminent think tank for the real estate industry.  ULI Oregon is the “District Council” or chapter for Oregon.

[2] That recognition did not stop them from promoting green building, however: “Stay on top of green or eat everyone’s dust.  There will be differentiation; over the long run—adapt or get crushed.”

 

[3] Wilsonville, Forest Grove and Cornelius had proposals for expansion that were not approved.