A Hard Look at Portland's Dream of Ultra-Green Neighborhoods

The city's dream of pioneering sustainable neighborhoods faces tough obstacles.

By Bill Lascher September 21, 2011 Published in the October 2011 issue of Portland Monthly


Courtesy of PSU; Digitially altered by Portland Monthly

DURING PORTLAND’s third-annual EcoDistricts Summit this month, planners, architects, scholars, and environmentalists from around the world will gather at Portland State University to discuss achieving sustainability one whole neighborhood at a time. It’s a great concept: compact ’hoods could share green infrastructure. And since the first summit in 2009, Portland has designated five neighborhoods as testing grounds. But so far, Portland’s pilot districts—Portland State University (rechristened “South of Market,” or SoMa), Gateway, Lloyd, Lents (“Foster Green”), and South Waterfront—have seen more paper plans than brick-and-mortar change. Truly green neighborhoods remain far from reality.

Still, the potential is real. Here’s a look at plans for the Portland State–anchored SoMa ecodistrict, and what’s slowing it down.



Dreams Realities
PASS THE JUICE One person’s hot air, another’s steamy shower. Portland State buildings already share some heat and power infrastructure; the system could expand to the surrounding neighborhood. TAKE ME TO THE RIVER ?The city plans verdant bike and pedestrian connections between PSU and the ?Willamette, coupled with an ambitious bike-sharing program. HERE COMES THE SUN ?Huge campus rooftops—?especially PSU’s Parking Structure 1, Lincoln Hall, Smith, and Science 2—could be ideal for solar power. GHOST TOWN? Sustainable programs are harder to … well, sustain without 24/7 life. The neighborhood lacks storefronts, though parking lots at PSU’s southeastern edge could see mixed-use projects. GREEN GIANT? The proposed Oregon Sustainability Center—intended as an international landmark of green architecture—could be the district’s heart. Or political and financial uncertainty could leave it unbuilt. SHOW ME THE MONEY! ?Who will pay for the whole ecodistrict, and how? A biomass power grant application failed and parking-fee diversions have floundered politically.
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