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
It’s noon and Sharkey is dismembered. Here’s how it happened:
‘Agave down! I repeat, Wind is up and Sharkey is down!’ (This was the Facebook post I made on Oct. 13 coming home after dark.)
Nothing terribly dramatic, Sharkey just succumbed to the wind, toppling to the east, guided by the fishing line into the adjacent Callistemon and Palm. More wind this afternoon and, of course, on its way tomorrow! (This followed the next morning.)
Do you remember last nights storm? I was out for about an hour during commute with a neighbor trying to keep drains clear and the river of water out of our basement! Sharkey is now laying on our railing. Julie says that I’m like a pet owner denying the inevitable who thinks he’s getting better. I’m afraid he’s just a head knocker for pedestrians now! (I posted this this morning.) Continue reading
The urban environment can be an extremely stressful one to live in. This is no less true for plants than it is for us, the people, who created and maintains this place for our own use. It is no less naive to believe that a tree, planted out by someone, no matter how much they may love at least the idea of trees, in a random parking strip or next to their place of business, will thrive after a year or two of well intentioned irrigation, on its own than it is to think that a child will grow up to be strong, happy and successful simply by having its first few years of nutrition provided for….Cities are economic and social constructs. They did not rise ‘organically’ from the soil supporting a diverse and complex community of species. Life has had to ‘fit’ in where ever it can. Much has been unable to. Many of us plant trees because we feel the loss, the absence of life, and realize that these places are less for it, that we ‘suffer’ because of this. But we cannot simply add trees and stir. These are ‘broken’ places and we have to pay more attention to our choices and provide better care than this place alone can provide…otherwise it would be like turning out our children, still unformed, on their own. Even if we were Spartans and believed that only the ‘strong’ deserved to live, we would be dooming them in these modern, contrived and, in many ways, diminished cities. As responsible parents and tree stewards, we are bound to them. We owe them our best. Without it they will fail and the world that we have built around us will be less as well. Continue reading
An Office of Sustainable Landscapes that oversees all landscapes within the City and provides active leadership to both private and commercial property owners through the following:
Public Landscapes (active urban contrived) Horticultural Management
Public Landscapes (urban plant communities)
Corridor Management: Transportation and Riverine
Division of State Lands
Multnomah County Bridges
Outreach and Education
Landscape is the setting, matrix and backdrop for everything that we do as humans. It is where we live, work and play, the places, on which the infrastructure that enables our modern day life, exists. It is both essential and peripheral, always present and, too often, taken for granted, so much so that we often view it incidentally. Like many other things in our lives it may go unnoticed until it is so degraded that we can no longer ignore it. Overall, our care of it, reflects a similar low priority. It becomes largely ‘invisible’, behind the more recognized needs of a modern City. Individual mobility, food, water, shelter, energy, economic opportunity and growth, the transportation infrastructure that keep us supplied with these things, all and more take precedence, the landscape subsumed and secondary, inferior and problematic. Overall, it is not generally viewed today as having inherent value. Its value, as a living system that allows and enriches biological life, seems almost irrelevant as we are able to satisfy our needs and desires via the economic engine that propels us along. The landscape, nature, seems relevant only in so far as it can meet our recreational needs providing us a base on which to build and resources that we can manipulate/convert to satisfy our ‘needs’. Lost in all of this is our relationship with nature, with the landscape, its essential role in the creation and sustenance of all of the resources upon which we and the rest of life depends, and so, it has suffered. We have lost the ability, or willingness, to use nature as a gauge that shapes all of the other decisions we routinely make in order to meet our ‘economic’ needs. As both a society and as individuals we have learned to see these as separate and unrelated, so we routinely neglect the landscape. The problem is pervasive and integrated with how we live our lives. To correct this we must first acknowledge this and address it on many fronts. 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
Flowers can be ‘incidentally’ beautiful. We often selfishly view them as products of nature intended to fulfill our own hunger for beauty, failing to recognize them for what they are, living organic structures evolved over time to continue their own species, organs and tissues meant to attract the necessary attentions of pollinators, to produce the seed of generations to follow. We, as a society, have learned to view a select few of these as beautiful. We respond to them in a way not unlike the pollinators themselves do, and by either ignoring them or focusing our attention upon them, we too alter their future form and their very existence. Sometimes we do this more directly through choosing the plants we want around us. Other times it is our indifference that seals the fate of a plant or landscape, especially when the flora is unable to grab our often preoccupied attention and we clear land for development wasting all of the ‘lesser’ weedy natives we’ve learned to undervalue, or, through our efforts to ‘improve’ plants by controlled breeding and hybridization, intentionally altering their form even the conditions under which they will grow. Sometimes, in our desire, for fashion and an idealized beauty, we attempt to control and remove that which we don’t want, creating sterile flowers, the antithesis of what a plant would ‘want’. We select for bloom size, scent and color, for period of bloom, we seek to increase the number of petals and alter the pattern they may be held in, even the lifespan of the individual flower, the height of the plant so that it doesn’t flop over, the ability to grow it in more sun or shade, the shape and color of leaves and the form of the whole plant. We attempt to control all of this and crank out a uniform product that can be ‘plugged’ into landscapes and gardens as desired. Plants with dependable performance characteristics, a pedigree.
We need to remember that this is what we ‘want’, not what the plants ‘want’, nor is it necessarily in their best interest as either a species or a member of a plant community. These days most of ‘us’ aren’t gardeners. Our relationships with nature were broken long ago. It is difficult to see the critical connections in nature, between plants and the organisms they have evolved with, upon which they are dependent, especially if someone is not looking. It is even more difficult to see where we ourselves fit into this in our materialistic, consumer society where so many of us measure ourselves and others by the things and property we own…and are quick to ‘take’ from others. I’m going to paraphrase a snarky rejoinder I’ve heard these last several years, ‘Yeah, you’re special, just like everything else!’ and I mean this in the broadest sense. 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