Aside from the revelation that the downtown fro-yo shops are delicious, I had a second big discovery today: I was (and I think the rest of the PLACE group were, too) amazed to discover how much brainpower goes into designing or re-designing even a tiny section of a bustling city like Portland. We got a little taste of it yesterday when we attempted to plan out 5×5 block neighborhoods in small groups yesterday. As each group brainstormed a flurry of ideas, it was easy to just let important side considerations and obstacles go by the wayside and create a dream neighborhood — but one that likely was not even close to feasible and left a lot of practicality, logic, and detail to be desired. Now, as we prepare to start defining the opportunity and verifying primer ideas for out client’s greenway project around NW Johnson St, it’s imperative that we do consider all of those factors so we can create the most all-inclusive, comprehensive final product.
One way we started exploring today was to meet with our primary client, Mark Raggett from the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. He led us on a tour of the Pearl District and we sat down with him to talk about what we need to take into account. Once he started in, a torrent of important considerations spewed out. Who is going to use the greenway? Bikers, pedestrians, children, adults, cars? What will be someone’s intuition when they enter the space? Will the desired overall feel and experience of the greenway be apparent and consistent with everyone? What about different kids of bikers — “confident enthusiasts” or “interested but concerned”? Auto access or not? Lighting? Security? Noise level? Functionality differences between day and night? How will it connect to the various parks and the surrounding neighborhood? And the list goes on… Certainly, once we have our feet on the ground and we start running, these factors will morph from intimidating obstacles into opportunities that hopefully let the creative design process bloom and prosper.
In the meantime, we’re trying to come up with a sort of “project thesis” that we’ll send to Mark soon to see if we’re on the right track. Can we synthesize the goal of our project into one or two compact sentences? Just for kicks, I’ll take a stab at it on the blog:
“Our goal is to enhance a city corridor between Jamison Square and the North Park Blocks by transforming it into a greenway with a greatly increased ratio of non-motorized to motorized transportation, environmentally sustainable features, and is an intuitively community- and citizen-oriented, safe, versatile, connected space in relation to its neighborhood.”
After a quick review of yesterday’s visit with Lew at the Portland Development Commission, we kicked off the third day by delving into a discussion about what makes a neighborhood successful and sustainable. As a group we brainstormed ideas including everything from safety to aesthetics. We then split into six teams who each designed a five-by-five block neighborhood, complete with schools, commercial areas, and a variety of housing options.
We then packed up and paid a visit to Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS). We heard from three different presenters who spoke about different ways the BPS works to make Portland a better place to live. Our first presenter spoke about green building, eco districts, and some of the ways that BPS contributes to a healthy city. We learned about how bioswales help keep our river clean by capturing the runoff stormwater, and we learned about Portland’s plan to reduce carbon emissions from buildings by 10 per cent by 2025.
The following speaker talked about BPS’s commitment to equity. Equality is giving everyone the same thing, equity is making sure everyone has access to the same opportunities. In other words, equality is sameness, and equity is fairness. We discussed brown fields — former commercial sites that have been contaminated and are no longer usable–and the socio-economic issues connected to them. Finally, the third speaker taught us about Portland’s Climate Action Plan. It turns out that in 1990, Portland was the first city in the US to enact a city wide plan to deal with climate change. The plan addresses four areas where we can reduce our carbon footprint: at home, in transportation, in our stuff, and in our food choices. While the plan can effectively decrease carbon emissions in our city, awareness is key. A large part of the work that BPS does is about spreading awareness throughout the community. If everyone does their part in minimizing waste (through energy, food, etc.), we can create a cleaner city.
We grabbed lunch at the food carts across the street from BPS and returned to the homebase to share our neighborhood designs with the entire group. It was interesting to see how the different groups centered their ideal communities and what they chose to emphasize. Was their neighborhood centered around a school or a public meeting place? An area that businesses call home, or a community center? We learned that it can be difficult to work with groups, and everyone plays a different part in the group. We will continue to work on these skills in the coming weeks and our ideas will grow and change. Great things are ahead!
– Claire and Ally
Today’s central topic was that of urban renewal, specifically in relation to Portland’s own agency, the Portland Development Commission, or PDC. We discussed whether urban renewal truly is beneficial to a community. After a mere matter of minutes, it became apparent that there is no one clear answer, as different people have different perspectives on whether changing a neighborhood is mostly beneficial or harmful. While an entrepreneur seeking a place to house their business may experience quite positive effects, as they receive funding from commissions such as the PDC and grow their business, a low-income family might be unable to pay their increased rent, and must therefore move to a less desirable neighborhood where rents are more affordable. Additionally, we saw that often these new businesses going in are not for the existing community, but are rather there to service those on the outside. Expensive boutiques and dining options in neighborhoods formerly deemed “struggling” clearly are not within the reach of the existing, primarily low-income residents. On the flip side, new money coming in does make neighborhoods safer, as well as providing funds to improve schools, for example. However, if we circle back to the idea of gentrification discussed earlier, we see that this improvement does not necessarily benefit the original residents. So, we are not left with a definitive answer, but instead a realization of the complexity of urban renewal; it is not a question of whether it is good or bad, beneficial or harmful, but who it benefits and why, and if these gains outweigh the drawbacks, or if we need to reevaluate our seemingly good intentions.
Our morning activity involved the viewing and discussion of a documentary on Portland’s unique approach to land management and planning. Produced by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the video went through the history and methods of urban planning in Oregon before addressing the pros and cons of its practice today. Our subsequent discussion was primarily focused on the difficulties strict land-use policies pose to developers and rural citizens and the justification of imposing these hardships.
In the afternoon, we were fortunate enough to meet with an urban planner associated with the Portland Development Commission, Lew Bowers, and talk to him about the future of Portland’s growth. This involved both bringing larger companies to the city and encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors. After Mr. Bower’s presentation, we asked question related to the Commission’s agenda and the problems addressed in our morning film.
We started the first day of the PLACE program with an impressively large group of individuals who all had unique reasons for joining. Each reason was slightly different than the next. After the basic introductions, we went through the outline of the program, what we hope to achieve, and expectations for us throughout the project. This includes a great deal of respect, responsibility, and will power. A couple get-to-know-each other games were played, followed by a video from the 70’s that showed us what it was like to analyze open spaces and how people react to them. We learned the basics of what does and doesn’t “work” in an open public space.
We then went out to different park blocks in the area for lunch in small groups. We were to observe and record out findings of each park, including what we thought could be improved. It was interesting how we could pull out so much information and details that we normally wouldn’t notice from it. It was especially noteworthy on how the people reacted to the implements of each park. We had notes, photos, and even drawn diagrams of the multiple parks and covered topics regarding the amount of open space, shade (such as trees), and other provided services, deciding wether or not these implements were useful or discouraging to visitors. Factors such as the weather also contributed to our judgement of the necessity of trees in a park area. With this exercise, we are now much more watchful of parks, making sure to take note of their location and layout. This first day was hands on experiential and really enhanced our understanding of public areas and their use. Onward to the next day!
Today was a fun beginning for the program. I am excited and eager to learn more about urban planning and am looking forward to the new friendships that we will all make. We began with a little overview and history of the program and then George introduced our project. We will be creating some sort of greenway from two blocks of a street in the Pearl District. I don’t know how this is going to work yet but hopefully we can get creative. Judging by our noise game in the beginning of the day I am sure that this won’t be a problem. Some other students surprised me with their humorous sounds and actions. After a short video, mainly on observation, we split up into groups and did our own observing during lunch. Each of six groups went to a different park and noted on the light, migration of pedestrians, seating, etc. After sharing our findings we concluded that people like sun and seats! Pictures from our first day are also on Flickr.
Yesterday we started at Metro and listened to Katherine Harrington talk to us about what she did for Metro and the general idea of Metro. I found it interesting and I learned a lot about Metro that I didn’t know before. She talked to us about parks and green spaces in the Portland Metro area. After we met with Katherine, we took the bus out the project site to get another look at it and start surveying. We broke up into groups of two and began to walk west on Killingsworth. We were all on one side of the street and we knocked on almost every door from Trinity to NE 33rd. We got to talk to some interesting people and we got to get an idea of what the community wanted in a local park. Tapwe and I came across one person that only spoke Spanish and being the one in our group that knew Spanish it allowed me to practice my language skills in a way I don’t normally do. We stopped at New Seasons and Hot Lips Pizza for lunch and a break and then went out for a bit more surveying to wrap up the day. Overall it was great!
Today was very exciting! We got a lot done and now we are ready to move forward. Our group went to the Cully neighborhood and surveyed as many people as we could. We even spoke Spanish to the Spanish-speaking residents; that way they could give us their input too.
We know they will want to use the park so we translated the survey to Spanish. Everyone that we talked to was nice and cooperative. The only problem we had was that a lot of the people in the neighborhood were at work so we had to look for people harder. All in all, we had fun although it was hot.
During the second half of the day, we met with George Crandall – the principal of Crandall Arambula, which is one of the only singularly focused urban planning consulting firms in the country. Crandall discussed several interesting points about the appeal of a city. Specifically, he mention six aspects that contribute to the success of an urban park: safety, circulation, function, character, central in the city, and accessible to all ages. We will keep this information in mind when we create our designs for the park. He also noted that interactive ground floors make a building a success or failure. For example, if a building uses its bottom floor for retail and has many windows, it creates an inviting atmosphere while also making pedestrians feel safe. Buildings with solid walls on the ground floor push pedestrians away from the building and can be less safe because less eyes are on the street. I noticed that both Crandall and the executive from Vestas pointed out that people don’t always know what they want. The executive from Vestas told us that he often tried to push people to work in different work spaces, and even though they might be reluctant at first, they found it beneficial in the end. Crandall gave us an example of this from the urban planning perspective. If he wanted to widen the roads for bike paths in a city that doesn’t usually bike, many people would tell him that the public wouldn’t use the bike paths because they don’t bike. However Crandall suggested that this lack of biking might be because there aren’t safe ways to bike in the city, and adding bike paths could encourage people to bike more often.