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!


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.


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.



What’s Next Portland? Real Estate in the New Economy

April 2, 2012

A version of this blog first appeared in the Portland Business Journal shortly after the ULI What’s Next event on March 7, 2012.

The Oregon Chapter of the Urban Land Institute promoted their breakfast seminar based on ULI’s most recent publication: “What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy“: A paradigm shift is unfolding over the course of this decade, driven by an extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends. Taken together, these trends will dramatically change development through 2020

Walking over to the event at the Nines Hotel, I thought about what I hoped to learn.  ULI is a national, even international, thought leader in the real estate industry.  The advertised intent of the seminar was to examine how our region is postured to remain competitive in the 21st century.  I had more short term goals.  I wanted to know how ULI and local business leaders foresee the Portland region and the state getting out of the building slump (and consequent unemployment for planners, urban designers and other built environment professionals) we have been in since 2007.

From an examination of name tags, the audience for this event were largely lawyers, a few planners and a few commercial real estate consultants.  I didn’t see any developers that I recognized—albeit my recognition field is limited.

After a string of men from ULI’s national office in Washington, DC offering their wisdom over the past two years, it was refreshing to have a woman as keynote speaker.  Maureen McAvey started off her talk with the proposition “This is not just another real estate cycle but a fundamental change.”  She went on to make her case through a litany of demographic factors she claims are leading to new trends, e.g.:

  • Gen Y is the largest generation in American history—80 million strong and still growing and
  • The Boomer generation is living longer–“If I retired at 65 and lived to my mother’s age—98—I’d have more than 35 more years to do what?”

I had been wondering when ULI would jump on the jobs bandwagon in a big way. This was the event!  Both in her presentation and in the book, McAvey asked “Where the hell are the jobs?” (resisting her editors plea for more sedate wording).  Even lawyers are outsourcing parts of their business as never expected.  Social Security in 1945 each worker was supported by 42 workers, in 2009 just 3.

Lumina Foundation found that young people in US do not have enough education to compete.  Between now and 2018 Oregon is expected to create 59.000 jobs – but there will not be enough workers with post secondary education to fill those job needs.  America is significantly de-funding its education.

McAvey believes there are some bright spots.  Business and professional sectors and education of all types as well as health care and medical have grown phenomenally. “America is still wildly entrepreneurial and leads in venture capital” she claims.  This is partly due to the creative culture and substantial capital reserves.

The Housing Outlook she presented was similar to what I have heard for the past few years: Apartment living is on the rise. Six million new renter households may be formed between 2008 and 2015, requiring 300,000 new units annually compared with just 100,000 produced in 2010. “But can the industry deliver that amount for the rents at which people looking to rent can afford?” she asked.  Meanwhile, more single-family homes are being occupied by renters, changing the feel and politics of suburban communities.

Seventy-five percent of households in Portland do NOT have children under 18; 47% are non-families, she said. Twenty-somethings on tight budgets prefer places to congregate with friends—in parks, bar scenes, restaurant clusters, and building common areas—and can tolerate smaller living spaces, McAvey claims.

The Regional Panelists consisted of Jill Eiland, Corporate Affairs Manager, Intel Corporation; Keith Leavitt, General Manager of Business Development and Properties, Port of Portland; Sandra McDonough, President and CEO, The Portland Alliance, Wim Wiewel, President, Portland State Universtiy

McAvey went on to ask a softball question of most of the panelists—and most  responded in predictable ways, e.g., Keith Leavitt feels that we need to continue and expand efforts to export wheat and other grain to the world as well as electronics.  “There is a boom in new port developments along lower Columbia River,” he said.”

Sandra McDonough believes that we are hampered by tax policy, physical infrastructure and regulatory framework – a lot of it from the 70’s [referring to Oregon’s land use laws]. “We do not have enough sites for new industrial users,” she maintains.

Wim Wiewel feels we need to move beyond the sad state of education funding from legislatures (not only here, but across the country) and partner more with industry—and with local government.  He was excited to announce “We are working with the Mayor and the County on an Urban Renewal Area for Education.”

McAvey’s question for Jill Eiland was a little more challenging.  “Is Intel going to follow Amazon’s lead and start building highly urban campuses?”

Although I spaced out during Eiland’s answer, she later told me that “Intel has now invested more than $20 billion in Oregon since 1974.  We continue to invest and grow our manufacturing and R&D capacity here.  The Hillsboro site remains Intel’s largest and most comprehensive site anywhere in the world.”  I interpret that to mean don’t expect Intel to move into downtown Portland, or even downtown Hillsboro, anytime soon.

I heard recently that Metro Council Members were cautioned not to talk about climate change.  Governor Kitzhaber and Mayor Adams didn’t mention it in their recent State of the State/State of the City speeches at City Club either.  It seems that ULI got that memo too.

I was a bit baffled to attend an event on trends that made no mention—only guarded allusion to—the two big trend topics of the day in my world: climate change or growing income inequality!  While ULI played up this event as being about a paradigm shift, their Oregon panel members gave only predictable answers that did not reflect much awareness of that shift–none of that Oregon leadership that we witnessed in the last century.  It would seem that we are resting on our laurels rather than embracing the shift. I left with more questions than answers—but eager to read the copy of “What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy” that ULI so generously provided to attendees.

Mary Vogel is founder and principal of PlanGreen, consultants on walkable urbanism.  She is a Board Member and Advocacy & Alliances Chair of the Congress for the New Urbanism Cascadia Chapter where she helps to shape climate change policy.  She is also a member of the progressive business alliance, VOIS.


What Do You Recommend for Unemployed Planners, Mayor Adams?

March 2, 2012
Mayor Sam Adams
Portland City Hall
Portland, OR
Thanks for your mention today in State of the Cityat City Club our statewide land use planning legacy and such efforts as Portland’s complete neighborhoods.  These efforts have attracted planners and other built environment professionals from all over the country (often right out of graduate school).Yet, for much of the time that I’ve been back here (mid 2007), the City and related agencies have been laying off planners and shrinking their RFPs.  The unemployment rate amongst us built environment professionals is said to be around 45% (though things seem to have picked up a bit for some architecture firms lately).What do you recommend for those of us in planning and other built environment fields?  It seems your jobs plan overlooks us. Should we seek to squeeze into other fields? Move to another city?  Try to get a job with New Seasons?  Start our own B-Line bicycle delivery company? Other?I’m going to post this question on my blog and tweet it to you as that will have far better chance of getting an answer.
MaryPS  I’d like to suggest that your next round of budget cuts start with the POLICE!  The number of police and amount of overtime you/they spent on Occupy Portland has been quite wasteful.  Please know that it is me and people like me who are part of Occupy Portland!  We will take care of the occasional overly enthusiastic person in the group ourselves.  We don’t need three trucks of cops fully-equipped in riot gear riding around our downtown streets to make us feel safe–not to mention all the police car, bicycle and horseback cops et al–quite the contrary!PPS  I appreciated your response to the Oregonian’s article on street maintenance.  Bob Stacey just posted a fine piece about that on his blog.

Mary Vogel, CNU-A
A Woman Business Enterprise/Emerging Small Business in Oregon

Sustainable Industries PlanGreen Blog

Twitter Latest tweet: My neighborhood can be so much fun sometimes. Welcome back Occupy! Check out these photos: http://t.co/bR5om4qc


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


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
  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.