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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

September 2006 Issue

Stormwater Special: Green Streets

A Green Demonstration

Several “green streets” are popping up around Portland, Oregon. Can they go regionwide or will the city continue to tiptoe through test cases?

By Adam Regn Arvidson, ASLA

A Green Demonstration Kevin Robert Perry and the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services

Who wouldn’t want to live near a state-of-the-art stormwater management system that doubles as a meadow planting and wildlife habitat?

It is a good thing that Kevin Perry, ASLA, a self-described amateur storm chaser, lives in Portland, Oregon. Portland has a reputation for a lot of rain, and while its 37 inches per year isn’t particularly remarkable, its approximately 150 days of rain ranks third in the nation. In addition (or perhaps more as a logical result), Portland is pretty innovative with stormwater management, and that is Perry’s passion. He doesn’t chase storms for scientific purposes, or for the thrill of getting drenched, but to see how rain hits the streets and to envision ways of controlling it, purifying it, and turning it into a community amenity. In Portland, he gets plenty of days to indulge his passion.

With Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), Perry has been instrumental in the city’s “green streets” program. A green street, essentially, is one that treats its own stormwater. Through a combination of infiltration basins, rain gardens, and swales, a green street strives to take the burden off downstream systems. This alone is not some watershed of new knowledge, certainly not in Portland, where on-site stormwater treatment actually garners a fair amount of press. What is interesting in Perry’s work (and what led to one of his projects receiving a 2006 National ASLA Award) is that these aren’t new streets. Perry’s green streets are shoehorned into the nooks and crannies of the existing urban fabric: wrapping around elementary schools, wedged into parking lots and boulevards, growing at the entrances of grocery stores, and plopped into parking spaces in residential neighborhoods. These are natural systems put to the task of treating urban stormwater, unapologetically lush in the midst of the concrete jungle.

If you’re thinking this must be the new wave, that Portland truly is this nation’s eco-Eden; if you’re picturing a city painted bright green with native plants in every gutter and discharging tiny amounts of clean water into the Willamette River, take a deep breath. Portland, for all of its innovations and successes, still boasts 90 square miles where storm and sanitary sewers are combined (a system that, according to BES literature, “[pollutes] our rivers nearly every time it rains”) and has thus far implemented only a handful of green-street demonstration projects to help manage flow from its hundreds of miles of paved public streets. Whether green streets are a rising tide of change or just a mere drop in the bucket depends on two things: the effectiveness of these demonstration projects in performing their essential functions and the willingness of the city to undertake large-scale implementation.

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