We can do much better than we have been doing with our landscapes…we have to! It is incumbent upon each of us to grow our landscapes well, whatever they are, whatever they demand of us. Our inability or unwillingness to do this is symptomatic of a society today that doesn’t place priority and value on life, first! (If you are reading this, you probably aren’t part of this ‘we’.) The fact that we don’t have the time, resources or interest is indicative of how far out of balance our own lives are. This isn’t a new phenomenon. I don’t mean to shame or blame anyone here. Modern societies have long been out of step. We place a premium on our personal freedom, the idea that we have moved beyond nature, that technology will do for us whatever we need. Nature will keep ‘chugging’ on without us so that we can devote ourselves to our more personal goals…and so ‘nature’ has been left largely on its own as if what we do will have no significant or damaging effects…but that isn’t really the way it is. So, what do we do about that dead weedy lawn out front? Continue reading
[There is a recurring theme in several of my postings and that is the failure of various of our local agencies and departments to responsibly care for the landscapes that they are charged with, a responsibility that is secondary to their primary mission and priorities. The fact that this problem is so common is indicative of two things: first, that society views the ‘care’ of the wider landscape as a non-issue, that it is either somehow self-regulating, the mother nature thing, or, of such low importance that it need not be addressed, or some combination of these two, and, that our need for government accountability is so tightly defined and our mistrust of it, so deep, that our ‘exclusionary’ strategies utilized to accomplish this, eliminate the possibility that secondary responsibilities, i.e., those not directly serving the explicitly stated priorities, are excluded from any action or even discussion. Thus, an agency or department charged with specific transportation priorities will only respond to and act on issues of transportation efficiency and safety…not landscape concerns. My position is that this allows the uncontrolled spread of weeds and an overall decline of the health, beauty and vitality of the landscapes across the City within which we live, devaluing both the place that we live and the quality of lives we can enjoy.
The following is another example of one such landscape, in southeast Portland, this time a one block section of unimproved right-of-way, or roadway (UROW), a scenario that repeats regularly across this part of Portland, the difference being that the lack of vehicular traffic and the grade have allowed this property to grow in solid and has become impenetrable. Many other such properties are in use by vehicles with sections of them graveled and eroded, huge pot-holes turning them into obstacle courses, but largely free of heavy weed growth, or at least free of many of the larger more aggressive invasives that plague our area.
First, below, is a descriptive piece that I sent to Commissioner Novick’s office as well as Suzanne Kahn, PBOT Maintenance Group Manager. Next is the response I received from Cevero Gonzalez, Constituent Services Coordinator, with the Portland Bureau of Transportation and finally, my interpretation and response to that. Governments are very ‘conservative’ organizations and are risk averse, meaning they tend to do what they’ve always done avoiding creative solutions that put them outside their comfort zone. Very often this is exactly what is needed.]
There’s a short strip of ‘street’ a few blocks south of our home and garden at SE Schiller between SE 28th Ave and 27th. It appears to have never been paved. It’s not currently passable by vehicles of any type without engineering and improvements. It’s completely overgrown with several invasive plants and multiple weeds all of which have been left on their own for years providing a significant source of ‘infection’ for the neighboring properties. It is also a repository for trash. From maps this appears to be a City of Portland property. Continue reading
About a year ago I posted a series of three articles on Tri-Met’s landscapes along the new Orange Line. They were a critical assessment of their design with many photos and explanations for my criticisms. I had a brief correspondence with the project manager after the first two before he stopped responding. I had asked about the maintenance schedule that they had with the contractor who would be doing the work. I did not receive it. Part of the reason was mine, as new ideas came up for me, my interest wavered and I moved on. Still, I’ve never received anything. Now, a year later, I decided to reassess the first portion of the landscape that I wrote about, as it is a section I regularly walk and ride by bike to downtown or to just get out. I would encourage readers to see my previously posted reviews. Continue reading
(I’ve made earlier postings on this topic, but this piece actually predates those. I wrote this in 2013 while still working as a horticulturist for the City of Portland Parks and Recreation as a member of a Bureau committee that was working to define ‘sustainable landscapes’ so that we could begin to make our policies and practices more consistent with our ‘desire’ to create sustainable landscapes and protect the relatively intact ones that remain. This was a difficult process. We spent a lot of time discussing/arguing about what constitutes a sustainable landscape and ultimately the direction that Parks should be headed.
There was a large divide between those of us who saw ultimately, that the only truly sustainable landscape was one that recreated those native landscapes that preceded the massive changes that European Americans brought with them, so that our efforts should be on these, and those of us who, having spent much of our professional lives in the field doing maintenance in created/urban landscapes, arguing that these new landscapes played a necessary role in the modern world and that our designs and maintenance of them could be moved in a more ‘sustainable’ direction. These urban/functional landscapes, whether for active sports, community gardens or even many passive uses, provide places and venues for activities that native landscapes cannot.
The organizational structure of the Bureau has been built around three primary landscape ‘types’: ‘natural landscapes’ which tend to be larger and border more densely populated sectors of the City, ‘contrived landscapes’ that are dispersed throughout the City and serve the more traditional Park functions for sports and more casual social use and the ‘enterprise landscapes’ of Golf and PIR that serve very narrow functions and depend on those uses for much of the revenue that supports them. These are operated and maintained by discrete groups within the Bureau, have different cultures and priorities and view sustainability very differently. Because these are all in a highly urbanized area the degree of historical disturbance and the continuous pressures that a concentrated population apply to them, they can never by truly ‘sustainable’ in that they will always require our active stewardship to counterbalance these pressures. This is not to say that we give up on the idea of balanced/dynamic landscapes of appropriately chosen plant communities. We just need to remember that these are urban areas and be good stewards of the land. We can even move ‘high use’ landscapes in a more sustainable direction, both in their design and in their maintenance. It is incumbent upon us to do this to ultimately minimize the pressures put upon them and natural areas by weeds, invasives and human use.) Continue reading
The following is intended as a template for action or a beginning point for a discussion that is long overdue.
Landscapes are more complex than most people realize. They can go seriously awry in a very short time. Undisturbed native plant communities are relatively stable and are able to respond on their own, as they have for millions of years…if the disturbances they suffer are relatively small. Unfortunately these plant communities have been decimated in urban and most rural agricultural areas severely compromising their abilities to respond in a positive and effective manner. The addition of invasive species to the region puts even stable, undisturbed plant communities at risk. Because we are not all ecologists, or even gardeners, what can we realistically do to stop or reverse this process of landscape degradation? The decline of our landscapes is linked to a long history of practices that have ignored the value of both our native and contrived landscapes, a belief in a right to ‘dispose’ of the land in whatever way we so choose and our denial that this destruction matters. We have done this through our land management practices, our designs and the uses of the land itself even those that may seem unrelated, many that have become automatic in our society and are directly related to how we live, work and play today in the modern world. Our active threat is inherent in the way that we do business. Our attempts at correction are, too often, limited to only slight modifications that do not put any undue ‘pressure’ on our local economy, business or the privileges that we have come to see as ours. We are a society that has, in short, become disconnected from the realities of life at the local level and what is required to support it. We see a limitless nature that is there for our use. Whatever we may need, we believe that we may merely buy from elsewhere, an elsewhere that is limitless though undefined.
To turn this situation around, or to make significant improvements, requires that we examine what we are doing now, that may be working against the goals that support life and landscape,…and stop. We have to stop doing the things that are working to continuously disrupt the ‘healthy’ functioning of the landscape. If we don’t do that then all of our attempts at improvement, all of our tweaking of our system, will come to nothing. We cannot ‘save the patient’ with good thoughts while they bleed out. Continue reading
Jefferson Circle lies at the south end of the downtown seawall in Tom McCall Waterfront Park helping to anchor what we always referred to as ‘the bowl’, site of the Dragon Boat races, July’s Blue’s Festival and the end of Summer Oregon Symphony performance. The curving slope of the lawn that sweeps across the site assures attendees of a more clear view of the stages erected for big events. Jefferson Circle and ‘5 Flags to the south, permanently ‘backup’ the temporary stages, while a third display bed, Columbia Circle, marks the main entry from downtown on the west. All three beds share a common theme though they are by no means a mirror image of each other.
These three beds were part of Waterfront’s original design from the ’70’s. Jefferson Circle an actual circle 40’ in diameter defined, like the others by a concrete bench that surrounds it. Columbia is an ellipse stretched along its north/south axis, while 5 Flags is an ‘organic’ form with 5 ‘corners, each defined by a flag pole that for years displayed ours and a changing assortment of three other international flags. Their plantings have changed over the years. I take responsibility for their current theme and most of their plantings. Continue reading
[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