River Renaissance can serve economy and environment
The city's River Renaissance initiative embodies the notion that environmental enhancement, economic development, recreation and exciting urban development are equally important and can build off one another.
Redevelopment of former industrial sites along the river is critical to advancing both the city's 'green' and its economic agendas. Places like the South Waterfront provide important opportunities to demonstrate the potential not only for environmentally sensitive building, but also for development-based restoration.
The 142-acre South Waterfront district has largely remained a vacant and underutilized industrial tract for 30 years. Some attempts were made to convert this land to a large urban park, but they proved unfeasible. The city now embraces a new vision for the area: one of a vibrant neighborhood integrating the urban and the natural, incorporating an environmental ethic into the design of buildings, streets and public spaces.
The South Waterfront development will meet multiple objectives: expanding job opportunities in applied research supported by Oregon Health & Science University and Portland State University; creating a dense, mixed-use neighborhood close to downtown; and providing significant open space and environmental enhancements through an extended Willamette River greenway with riverfront trails and habitat for fish and wildlife.
Although it is not typical to view development as 'green,' it's important to understand that the South Waterfront development will achieve important economic priorities while providing the financing for environmental and open space enhancements and achieving efficiencies in the use of land and public infrastructure.
Plans call for a waterfront greenway averaging 150 feet wide, with a minimum average of 100 feet. This is four to six times the prior city standard and accommodates significant habitat enhancements, pedestrian and bicycle paths, and park areas for recreation. District densities will allow a substantial portion of the ongoing maintenance and operation of the greenway to be borne by the development.
The plan provides bonuses motivating even more green space within the interior of the district. In a unique partnership with the city and federal agencies, the development incorporates significant fish and wildlife habitat enhancements not required of the developer. This shoreline habitat will work in conjunction with the restoration of Ross Island and Oaks Bottom as a substantial urban wildlife area.
Many streets in the district have been designated as 'green streets,' with the shoreline providing for innovative storm water treatment, eliminating the need to pipe unfiltered storm water directly into the river.
For every 100 homes we build in the district, we save at least 10 to 15 acres at the edge of our urban growth boundary protecting farm and forest land. Because of the development's density and proximity to downtown and Marquam Hill, it is economically feasible to serve the district with innovative, energy-conscious transit, including an extension of the city streetcar and an aerial tram connecting the district with research and clinical facilities on the hill. This means the area and the region reduce traffic and associated air pollution.
Rather than coming at the expense of economic or other public investments, these features are part of an economically viable package that leverages about $100 million to $200 million of public money for roughly $1.5 billion to $2 billion of private investment.
The restoration of the river's health, including the greening of its banks and protection of its watersheds, is a major goal of the city's River Renaissance initiative. We are making advances in our study of urban natural systems, allowing us to prioritize the green facets of development here and throughout Portland.
Although open space acquisition needs to remain a key strategy for urban livability in the region, by embracing the concept of development-based restoration in many areas, we greatly enhance our ability to meet our overall environmental objectives. These opportunities show that both environmental enhancement and economic development can be advanced together.
Gil Kelley is the city of Portland's planning director and principal architect of River Renaissance. He lives in Northwest Portland.