As an increasing number of people live in urban areas, there is a growing need to directly connect their lives to the natural environment and surrounding urban ecosystems. An emerging science is exploring how urbanites can benefit from being personally involved in environmental projects, and how to encourage conservation behavior through ecological activity. A program sponsored by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services, “Stormwater Cycling” took this writer on a four-hour, pedal-powered tour of some of the City’s more innovative and visible stormwater management facilities and left me with the impression that my city is embracing “Civic Ecology”. “Civic Ecology” is an emerging research program in the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington that explores how people in cities and communities benefit from being involved in environmental projects, how urban ecosystems benefit communities, and how to encourage conservation behavior. (Visit www.cfr. washington.edu/research.envmind/civic.html
for more information.)
I attended the tour on August 24, 2004 to see first-hand locally built ecoroofs, bioswales, naturescaping and other sustainable approaches to urban spaces that bring community and environment together into a meaningful dynamic.Ecoroofs
Ecoroofs are typically low maintenance vegetated roof systems used in place of conventional roofs They act as natural sponges, reducing runoff by up to 90%. An outstanding example of an ecoroof project on the tour included the People’s Food Co-op at 3029 SE 21st Ave.
People’s Co-op Image Courtesy James HenckeSwales
Gently sloping landscaped depressions can collect, filter, clean and infiltrate stormwater prior to its discharge into sewers, groundwater, rivers or streams. Downspouts and curb cuts can be located to direct runoff into swales, and landscaping and drains can be designed to promote infiltration. A community-based project on the tour that included swales was the St. Phillip Neri Catholic Church Parking Lot, 2408 SE 16th Ave.
St. Phillip Neri Parking Lot SwaleImage Courtesy James HenckeNaturescaping
Landscapes that incorporate native plants and emulate natural processes typically require less water, and fewer (or no) chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This is another important technique for keeping pollution from waterways. A project on the tour that was particularly well-landscaped was the Oregon Convention Center Rain Garden.Oregon Convention Center Rain GardenImage Courtesy James Hencke
A green street is designed to integrate a system of stormwater management within its right of way; reduce the amount of water that is piped directly to streams and rivers; be a visible component of a system of “green infrastructure” that is incorporated into the aesthetics of the community; make the best use of the street tree canopy for stormwater interception as well as temperature mitigation and air quality improvement; and ensure the street has the least impact on its surroundings, particularly at locations where it crosses a stream or other sensitive area. Green streets are a component of a larger watershed approach to improving a region’s water quality, and require a broadbased alliance for planning, funding, maintenance and monitoring. A good green street example is NE Sandy Boulevard.
NE Sandy Boulevard
Image Courtesy James HenckeCob Construction
Cob is a structural material that consists of sand and clay mixed with straw. It is inexpensive, durable, and energy-efficient; and it is easy to work with and requires relatively few tools. Structures can be readily shaped and sculpted in ways few other materials can. Cob structures on the tour included the Sunnyside Piazza Community Bulletin Board and the People’s Food Co-op.
Sunnyside Community Bulletin BoardImage Courtesy James Hencke
Rainwater Catchment System
Above ground cisterns hold water collected off the roofs of adjacent portable classrooms and feed a beautiful water garden at the DaVinci Arts Middle School, 2508 NE Everett Street.DaVinci Middle School Cistern Image Courtesy James HenckeOther City of Portland Green-Designed Projects
- PSU Street Planters, SW 12th & Montgomery
- Westmoreland Porous Pavement Pilot Project (Ecolock Pavers), SE 20th & Rex
- Curb Extension Swales, NE 35th & Siskiyou
- New Columbia Curb Extension Swales
- Filter Boxes, N Columbia & Woolsey
Although perhaps not apparent to all residents or visitors, Portland now contains a critical mass of both commercial and community-based sustainable development projects. There are so many, that a short bike ride in inner northeast and southeast neighborhoods demonstrates that human activity and natural systems can be balanced and celebrated in an urban environment.
James Hencke, ASLA, is a member of PB PlaceMaking, and is currently involved with several transit-oriented and sustainable community development projects throughout the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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