Tag Archives: New World Planning

Solid Planning in Portland

Lexington is so small that we can begin thinking about 10 minute neighborhoods….Do we have them already?  If so, why dont we talk more about how important that is?


Innovative Mayor Sam Adams Builds a Cleaner Portland

Portland Mayor Sam Adams

In honor of our Fast Cities Breakfast [1] coming up on June 22, we spoke with Portland mayor Sam Adams, who, in his first State of City address last February, vowed to make Portland “the most sustainable city in the world.”

And this wasn’t some populist politician’s empty promise. In his first year in office, Adams implemented the Climate Action Plan [2], a roadmap to cutting Carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050; he’s merged the Office of Sustainable Development with the Bureau of Planning to infuse all city plans with sustainability; he’s worked toward allocating $20 million for new “bicycle boulevards [3]”; and he’s started a pilot program for clean energy retrofitting.

Adams has proven that even in slow economic times, he’s still moving Portland forward as a Fast City [4].

Fast Company: In your first year in office, what would you say is your biggest accomplishment in Portland?

Mayor Sam Adams: I would say Clean Energy Works [5], which is the nation’s only consortium that offers on-bill financing for clean energy upgrades and retrofits. It addresses the hidden roadblock for sustainability, which is the lack of financing for clean technology upgrades for residential, commercial, and industrial buildings and facilities. This kind of financial tool is now needed more than ever. We’ve also embarked upon a 25-year strategic plan for the city. Called the Portland Plan [6], it better aligns the $9.7 billion in government spending that happens in Portland, and over time, make it more accountable to the public. I’m the mayor, but I’m only one of about 45 public decision makers on issues within the city.

FC: As just one decision maker, you must deal with many city officials, as well as the public. How do you keep Portland innovative in a system that tends to grind slowly?

SA: By being strategic, having a pull on the community, and taking risks. I’m always willing to put an idea out there, and in a friendly way, challenge others to come up with something better. I have a point of view, and I want to challenge others in an energetic and open way to come up with better ideas–and they often do.

FC: Especially in this tough economic climate though, how as mayor can you keep putting out bold ideas for Portland?

SA: With the federal stimulus, for example, we took our $2.4 million from HUD and the Department of Energy, and used it as venture capital to get Clean Energy Works going. We could have doled it out to individual facilities and buildings, which would have been more direct and politically expedient. But instead, we wanted to create a return on investments in a new industry. In this era of very tight revenues and budget cuts, it’s a lot about rethinking: About better aligning what you do have, and about paying attention to the quality and the effectiveness of what you’re doing.

FC: What Portland initiatives would you suggest for other big cities?

SA: Our open source and open data initiatives. We have CivicApps [7], where we’re turning over our information to the public and making government services more accountable.

Portland CivicApps

We’re also working to make every section of Portland a complete 20-minute neighborhood to strengthen our local economy. Two-thirds of all trips in Portland and in most American cities are not about getting to and from work. So if I can offer quality, affordable goods and services, eliminate food deserts, have neighborhoods with schools and parks and amenities–if I can create these 20-minute complete neighborhoods all over Portland–it strengthens our local economy. We drive 20% less than cities of comparable size, and because we don’t manufacture cars, produce oil, or have car insurance companies, every dollar that we don’t spend elsewhere, will stay in Portland’s economy. There’s about $850 million that stays in Portlanders’s pockets because we drive less. With a 20-minute neighborhood, also reduce congestion and meet our climate action plan goals.

FC: You’ve promised to make Portland the most sustainable city in the world. Do you think it’s a necessity today to view Portland with a global mindset?

SA: Yes. You have to be a city of the world. I spend a lot more time traveling than the previous mayor because part of my job is to sell the Portland brand. Otherwise, companies in China or Japan might say, Why would I hire an architecture or engineering firm from Portland, Oregon? Portland what? Part of my job is being a salesman. We have a natural strength in Portland around sustainability and clean technology, and it’s my job to help commercialize our local laboratory and export it around the world.

As for sustainability, there’s still vestiges of the old days when people thought of sustainably as an economic caricature. Here in Portland, we’ve shown that it isn’t a stark choice between prosperity or sustainability. We’re a city that tries to live our values: the triple-bottom line of social, economic, environmental justice.

FC: If you could only accomplish one more thing before leaving office, what would that be?

SA: It would be to grow Portland’s economy into the most sustainable and equitable in the world. I think we have it in our capacity, but we have a long way to go. We were just named the most sustainable city in the United States. We are often ranked top 10 most sustainable cities in the rarefied air of Copenhagen and Stockholm. But as I like to tell people, that should inspire us to do more because it really is high-praise for Portland, on a relatively low standard for the United States.


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Planning for the future in SoCal – applies to us too

A video created for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) presents a serious look at what infill development would look like in Ventura and Fullerton.

Planners, ex-mayors and architects are interviewed about how the region has changed, and how infill is the solution. (And the very same issues apply to us here.)

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Turning a parking lot into a community garden

Pomegranate Center is the great firm that we’ve partnered with to help us plan and build the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden. They do community improving work all over – here is one great example.  We are fortunate to have this group working in our city – we can learn from them, and then keep it going ourselves!  This is from their website.

Crossroads Community Garden gateway

Crossroads Shopping Center in Bellevue, WA, is an extraordinary gathering place for many reasons: a superb international food court, free live music, a farmer’s market, and fierce chess tournaments.  So it was no surprise to us when Ron Sher, Crossroad’s developer, told us about his vision to turn part of a parking lot into a community garden. Pomegranate Center worked with gardeners and volunteers over three days to transform this lot into a beautiful, memorable community space.

On June 12, 2009, the sound of power tools bounced off of pavement and across the mall parking lot calling the attention of shoppers and movie-goers passing by. Over the next three days, we worked together to build a garden fence, gateway, kiosk, benches and a picnic shelter. Over 30 volunteers – including every community gardener with a plot on the site – gave their time to this project. “I knew we were getting a fence,” said Alex, a new gardener at the site and avid volunteer at the workshops. “But I had no idea it would be this beautiful!”

Crossroads is now home to yet another unique community space – a parking lot p-patch!

Crossroads P-Patch Painting

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Buffalo Ditches Zoning

Maybe a city has to hit rock bottom before it actually practices “innovation” rather than just preaching it.  If so, we’re not ready to be innovative….and that’s a shame because we could really use it.
Buffalo Green Code: Mayor Brown announces zoning code overhaul

Buffalo Green Code: Mayor Brown announces zoning code overhaul EB_Blue April 23, 2010 9:12 AM Comments: 7 Mayor Byron Brown announced today his administration is moving forward on implementing a green, form-based code in Buffalo.

Mayor Brown chose the Larkin District as the backdrop to announce his Earth Day plans for what he’s dubbing the “Buffalo Green Code,” a replacement code that will completely scrap Buffalo’s existing zoning ordinance, an unwieldy document last updated in 1951.

Listen to the podcast from today’s event here.

“Our zoning reform effort will act as the foundation for the new place-based economic development strategy for Buffalo’s neighborhoods in every section of the city,” the Mayor said. “The new Buffalo zoning ordinance will be known as the Buffalo Green Code. It will embody 21st century values about economic development, sustainability, and walkable, green urbanism.”


The announcement sets the stage for Buffalo to join a progressive vanguard of cities – including Denver and Miami – that are replacing conventional, use-based codes with streamlined, form-based regulations built to encourage mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. Buffalo’s new Green Code is also intended to support economic development by simplifying and shortening the development review process.


“The new Buffalo Green Code will be the first opportunity Buffalonians have had in nearly sixty years to establish a new regulatory framework for the development of our neighborhoods,” said Brown. “Zoning is the tool by which we build our communities. It determines what gets built and where. It’s essentially Buffalo’s DNA. The process to re-imagine the city’s future and write a code that matches the community’s vision will be an exciting opportunity for the people of Buffalo. As this process gets rolled out, over a period we expect to take three years of serious work, I invite all citizens in every section of the city to participate and take an active role. We need your help and we need your input.”


The Mayor was joined by a cadre of planning staff and citizen supporters, including Howard Zemsky of the Larkin Development Group and Rev. Darius Pridgen of True Bethel Baptist Church. On hand to describe how the process will unfold was Jacques Gourguechon, the principal of the renowned Chicago planning firm, Camiros,which is partnering with Boston-based Goody Clancy to write Buffalo’s new code. “I love the term the ‘Green Code’ that the Mayor is using,” said Gourguechon. “I think that this is exactly our philosophy in how we’re going to look at this.”


The Larkin District, now undergoing millions of dollars in mixed-use redevelopment, was described by Zemsky as one of the acute examples in the city of the disparity between the outmoded mandates of the 1951 zoning code and the community’s vision. “It’s great we’re going to have a new zoning code that puts people and sustainability and livability and quality of life ahead of the automobile,” said Zemsky. “We couldn’t be happier. We hoped when we started this project that we would have a Mayor that would embrace a visionary rewrite of the 1951 code and I think we should all be very grateful that we clearly do.”

Special thanks to David Torke for these images and for recording the podcast. Check out Torke’s slideshow for more images from today’s event.



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Alternative Transportation in Fort Collins

This is from a report I did for Bluegrass Tomorrow – Bluegrass Innovision 2018:  Lessons in Innovation – I’ll post more later…..read the whole thing here:


“IMAGINE… a modern, world-class community, continuing to transform from a small city to a progressive metropolitan center, successfully channeling “growth” into positive “community development”.  (from the city website…)

Wouldnt that be nice to have here?


Building on a 20 year old concept (and thus proving that a good idea never dies), community leaders are planning the creation of a central transportation and development spine in the heart of the city. The Mason Corridor is a five mile Bus Rapid Transit and pedestrian/bike path that will, over time, take on a regional aspect as it connects with other communities in the region as well as Denver, 63 miles to the south.

Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, combines many of the features of rail transit with the flexibility of busses. BRT is a very cost-effective technology, at a fraction of the cost of light rail; the entire corridor will be implemented for less than the cost of one mile of conventional rail. The bike and pedestrian path within the corridor will connect with others throughout the region. Community leaders are planning for this corridor to provide the framework for future economic development and serve as “the foundation to encourage community partnerships, private investment, active living, and attractive, urban lifestyles.”

This corridor is a fundamental connection between the city, Colorado State University, and local business and neighborhoods. It is quite simply an example of “growth without sprawl.” Station areas along the BRT system will include entertainment, housing, workplaces, retail, dining and parks. This type of development around station areas is often called Transit Oriented Development or TOD. TOD’s foster attractive and sustainable communities that appeal to a variety of lifestyles and are seen as a way to bring life to the community and foster the vision of Fort Collins as a regionally and nationally renowned destination. The project’s total estimated price tag is $74 million with an estimated 96 percent, coming from federal and state funding grants. A Congressional earmark for $11.2 million to begin the first phase is pending.

for more info: http://www.fcgov.com/mason/


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What Makes A Great City?

This is from Worldchanging:  Building A Bright Green Future….interesting discussion about the future of Seattle.  What about us here?
Deep Walkability
Alex Steffen, 10 Jan 10

Several pieces of Net flotsam today (local columnist Danny Westneat’s clueless call for more parking lots around Seattle’s new light rail stations; a NYT article on findings that walkable density appears to increase property values and buffer against real estate crashes), got me pondering again the nature of “walkability.”

Walkability is clearly critical to bright green cities. You can’t advocate for car-free or car-sharing lives if people need cars to get around, and the enticement to walk is key to making density wonderful, to providing realistic transit options, to making smaller greener homes compelling and to growing the kind of digitally-suffused walksheds that post-ownership ideas seem to demand. So knowing how to define “walkable” is important.

That said, I’m skeptical of most measurements of walkability. Though I’m a fan of efforts like WalkScore, I think it’s important to acknowledge their very real limitations. WalkScore, for instance, is a measurement not of walkability but proximity. If we’re going to make decisions based on algorithms, we’d better make sure we’re using the right formula.

The big thing I think falls out of most walkability formulas is a quality critical to the actual experience of walkability, and that’s the extent to which the place in which you live is connected (by walking routes and easy transit) to other places worth walking to.

Unfortunately, in North America many great neighborhoods are islands of comparative pedestrian friendliness in seas of sprawl and pedestrian hostility. They may offer a lot of services close by — you may be able to walk to buy a quart of milk or drink a cup of coffee in the cafe — but going anywhere else involves a choice of long walks through forbidding surroundings and along dangerous streets or unhappy waits for inconvenient and underfunded transit.

To live in such a neighborhood is to understand the full impact of a half century of planning and public investment that treated a person walking as at best an afterthought, and very often as an inconvenience to cars that ought to be discouraged. No matter how great the cafes, sidewalks and street trees are in these ‘hoods, they are not actually truly walkable because unless you want to feel like a prisoner trapped within their boundaries, you still must own a car.

The true test of walkability I think is this: Can you spend a pleasant half hour walking or on transit and end up at a variety of great places? The quality of having a feast of options available when you walk out your front door is what I’m starting to think of as “deep walkability.”

It’s this deep walkability that ought to be the top priority driving urban design and development in our communities. We ought to be looking at how to knit our walkable communities together and how to make friendlier the unwalkable streets between them.

In most cities, serious walkers (and bikers) share stories about the routes they’ve taken, hidden paths through the fractured landscape that let you walk safely and happily from one people-centered place to another. A killer urban ap would be one that revealed these urban songlines. A smart urban policy would be one that aimed to weave new walking routes through the whole urban fabric, until places walkers feared to tread were the exception rather than the expectation.

Basically, that would mean redevelopment and curative street design, which in turn often means making a conscious choice to slow down car traffic, to convert road lanes to train rails or bike trails, and to disincentivize parking and auto-oriented development in favor of sidewalk-focused density and transit-oriented development.

I think we need to recognize that the idea we can “balance” cars and sidewalk life is a dangerous illusion. The only way to make pedestrians and bikers safe and welcome is to slow cars down, to make it clear that the place through which they’re driving is one in which they need to pay attention, and, whenever possible, to get those cars off the streets and out of way of trains, bus, bikes and strollers.

Assert the primacy of people enjoying the act of walking, and density begins to become community, transit begins to become an essential amenity rather than a safety net, and life begins to orient around experiences and access rather than accumulation and convenience. The act of walking is, I think more and more, at the very foundation of every other bright green possibility.

A place that embraces deep walkability could almost be considered the very definition of a great city.


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Experimental Gardens…..

This garden is evocative of the coal-mined wastelands of west Kentucky.  Hot, isolated, mean, destroyed by surface mining.

Yet there is an asymmetrical, stark beauty to these places, seen mainly in the roadsides of the Western Kentucky Parkway.  Perhaps we can use this beauty to begin the reparations.

Here we have an artificially flat piece of ground.   We have a “fence” of recycled corrugated metal panels, to focus in the heat and remind us of the damage we are doing to our larger environment.  A formal “pond” has three “stumps” as its focus – these remind us of the death amongst our waste.    Other vegetative life has to struggle.  But it will survive.

We all will. But by making destruction beautiful, what do we risk?

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