Monthly Archives: November 2015

TriMet’s Orange Line Landscapes: SW Lincoln & 4th to SE Milwaukie Ave

[I had been delaying the posting of this entry as I was waiting to meet the project manager with TriMet.  As I’ve heard nothing back from him, I’m going ahead and posting.  It would seem that my earlier posts concerned him, but I suspect now that time has passed and the sky has not fallen…he has moved on to more pressing matters.  It is a common tactic not to engage ‘critics’ so as not to give them any energy.  Ignoring critics can be effective, albeit, a very frustrating treatment to the one who is being ignored.]

Part 3 of the Series

This is an introductory note.  Yes, I realize I started the series in the middle, in a linear thinking world this would have been the first posting, but I live nearest the middle portion of the Line…and I have my own motives. Those of you who don’t know me, I do not mean this to be overly critical in spirit.  I’m a person who is always thinking what next? How can I do this better?  I have similar high expectations of the organizations around me.  Organizations all tend to be conservative in action.  There is a reason mature bureaucracies have a reputation for mediocrity.  It is not my intent to question the intent of TriMet or of its hired contractors.  I am a big supporter of transforming our City into a more livable place and the Orange Line is part of that.  There is nothing to be gained through polarizing a situation or setting someone up as ‘the bad guy’ and putting them unnecessarily on the defensive…having said that, sometimes a ‘push’ is in order.  We live in times of rapid change, many of them destructive, and it does no one any good to not work toward the changes that they see as positive.  That is my intent here.

I began this series with a discussion of scale and how it acts as a magnifier.  I spent some time talking about the problems caused by compacted, heavily disturbed, soils and I emphasized the issues created by a history of bad weed management…this first section of the Orange Line landscapes, from SE 11th to its beginning at SW Lincoln and 4th is heavily impacted by these factors.  Built on heavily graded and or imported fill, often on abandoned industrial sites, on or adjacent to sites that have been out of control weed generators for decades, this section may pose the biggest problem for landscape maintenance of all.

It is dangerous to assume that a new urban landscape is created on a ‘blank slate’.  Merely scraping a landscape off and beginning anew does not return it magically to its ‘pristine’ condition prior to the arrival of ‘modern’ white American culture and all of our accumulative impacts.  To be successful some effort must be expended to ameliorate at least the worst of these conditions.  Even if we make our ‘best’ effort to do this, landscapes such as these with their ‘heavy’ impact histories will present a powerful challenge to those charged with maintenance.  It is easy to underestimate the severity of this problem.  We have developed an ‘alien’ aesthetic that really doesn’t belong anywhere and as such is outside the bounds of the function of the normal cycling of energy and resources common to nature.  We impose this aesthetic and our designs on our landscapes and then expend a great deal of energy, in the form of labor and chemistry, to maintain them, or they quickly degenerate.  In some ways it would have made maintenance much simpler to have buried all of the surface beneath concrete sealing the problems beneath it.  But then the priorities of urban tree canopy, the capture and ‘treatment’ onsite  of stormwater would have been negated, the possibility of groundwater recharge further reduced and the ‘softening’ of a very hard edged urban ‘landscape’ stymied. Continue reading


Selecting Trees: Surviving in Hell(Strips)!

This Liriodendron tulipifera, a heritage tree in my neighborhood, has a canopy over 90' across. It is a beautiful and dominating tree dropping tons of drain clogging leaves and negating any need for actual street trees in the vicinity.

This Liriodendron tulipifera, a heritage tree in my neighborhood, has a canopy 90′ across. It is a beautiful and dominating tree dropping tons of drain clogging leaves and negating any need for actual street trees in the vicinity.  Little can grow in the dry shade beneath it.

I’m a horticulturist, a person trained and practiced in the ‘art and science of growing plants’…a classification to which trees belong. I’m not a ‘tree expert’ though I like to think I’ve learned a few things having spent most of my last 35+ years out working in the landscape, planting, caring for, diagnosing and designing, the bulk of which was maintenance, trouble shooting and tweaking landscapes so that they work ‘better’. Trees were always part of it…so I have opinions.

            [One of the lessons most of us learn on our journey to adulthood is to avoid the topics of religion and politics in casual conversation. These can be very divisive. In Portland the topic of trees can also elicit strong feelings amongst their advocates. The City of Portland has worked toward the protection of its trees. Here we have, in many cases, codified the planting, pruning and removal of trees in an attempt to stop the most egregious offenses and to expand the urban tree canopy. The City, through its Forestry Division, also works to help educate a public that too often has little to no connection to the green growing world. It is a huge task especially when so many other public institutions, like public schools, play almost no role. I spent the biggest part of my professional work life in Portland Parks and Recreation and I know that most Park’s staff have a passion for the work as well, even after years of working in a very political atmosphere with inadequate support. It would wear on anybody. So when I criticize aspects of the City’s tree program I want to be very clear that I am not criticizing the people or their intent.]

Portland loves its trees, except for the malcontents who view each leaf that falls on their property as an affront not to be tolerated, oh, and those developers looking to build and cash in on ever square foot of space that they can appropriate. Yes, these people are out there, just as are there opposite. Continue reading