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Letter to Portland City Council

On the North Reach River Plan

December 19, 2009

Mayor Adams and City Council,

I am writing from the Netherlands were I am living for 6 months while on
leave from Portland Audubon. During my time away from Portland I have been
researching and learning about strategies here in Europe for creating and
enhancing nature in cities.

I wanted to send you my two-cents on the North Reach River Plan and share
some related thoughts and perspectives from my time on the European

First-in urging your support for a bold and ambitious North Reach River
Plan- I ask you to remember the primary thing that makes Portland such a
great place to live: our fantastic access to nature and tradition of
ecological stewardship. And when I say "nature" I don't just mean our
parks system and the proximity of the coast and mountains. I mean the
green, gritty, ecologically diverse, "interstitial" nature at our
doorsteps that is manifest in our urban natural areas, urban forest
canopy, urban waterways and increasingly (and potentially) on our roofs
and in our streets (ecoroofs and green streets).

If there is one thing I have come to appreciate more than anything about
Portland while away the last several months, it is the unique opportunity
we have to remake urban landscapes and living in away that fosters deep
and ecologically viable connections to the natural world. We have the
chance in Portland to radically reshape the city as a part of rather than
seperate from nature and in an intimate, human-scale, and ecologically
viable way. In this potential is both the opportunity to sustain our very
unique but fragile sense of place and the chance to lead the world in
meeting the imperative of creating ecological cities in the face of
climate change and rising energy costs.

The cities of the future will clearly be more compact, more pedestrian,
and less car-dependent. That is increasingly an imperative not just a
choice. But this alone will not distinguisth metropolitan regions as
healthy, livable, and economically competitive. All the bikes, street
cars, and energy efficient "LEED" buildings (which other cities are fast
embracing) will not continue to distinguish Portland on the world stage.
It is our unique natural heritage and the health and ecological viability
of our urban ecosystem that will. Many Europeans I have met understand
this and it- not our other strivings toward sustainability- is what stands
out to them. The health and economic benefits combined with the need to
adapt to climate change and an aging, less-moble population is why they
are working so fast and furious to integrate nature into their older and
denser cities.

While we don't fully appreciate it, Portland's history clearly gives us a
head start. We have both more to loose and more to gain. As David Bragon
has pointed out more then once in recent years, recognizing our potential
is what we are in danger of missing in the nearterm. There is no better
place to begin facing this challenge and reaching our potential then the
North Reach of the Willamette River, perhaps the most polluted and
degraded urban landscape in Oregon.

That is why I urge you to take bold steps to reverse more than a century
of degradation in the North Reach and make it a model for an ecological
diverse urban community where people and wildlife flourish together. I
urge the City Council to adopt the Draft River Plan with Mayor Adams'
proposed amendments including the provisions that require industrial users
to both mitigate for their impacts to the river and contribute to helping
restore the river. The voters and households have regularly supported
funding for ecological restoration and conservation. Business and industry
should do more than simply benefit from these public investments and help
restore our urban ecosystems.

Most importantly the city should NOT give up any of its regulatory
authority. The notion that the public would give up its authority to
protect public trust resources (its own property) is absurd enough. But it
would also be extreme folly to let go of a critical tool for fostering
ecologically viable cities. To the contrary, we should be breaking new
ground with the regulatory tools we apply to the North Reach.

Last week I toured green roofs in Basel, Switzerland and Stuttgart,
Germany where green roofs are REQUIRED to be built on all new flat (or
gently sloping) roofs, period. They are required. In Basel roofs are
requried to have specific designs that enhance biodiversity values. In the
decade since the green-roof mandate was established in Stuttgartt the
square meters of green roof in the city have sky rocketed (they have
atleast and probably more than 1 million square meters). This gain came
after years of incremental gains under former "incentive" and "voluntary"
programs. The cost of these measures are peanuts compared to the financial
gain from development. Cities in Germany have had the wisdom to recognize
this and the investments are paying huge dividends in making their
communities even more alluring and lurcrative to private investments in
the built environment and other economic development.

There will always be those that resist being required to innovate and
adapt to an ecologically sustainable future. The profit-motive can even
blind individuals and businesses to their direct self-interest in a more
sustainale future. In adopting a strong River Plan, I hope you'll will see
far beyond this small-mindness and seize the opportunities for Portland.

Thank you for supporting a strong and ambitious North Reach River Plan.


Jim Labbe

PS See you in April.

Jim Labbe
Hatertseweg 468
6533 GV Nijmegen

Travel: http://jim-labbe.travellerspoint.com/
Home: http://www.penparkcommons.org/
Work: http://www.audubonportland.org/
Voicemail: 971-238-0542

"Ocian in view O! The Joy!".

Posted by jim.labbe 09:45 Archived in USA

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