October 29, 2006 at 10:36 pm (Environment)

I started a new job this week, so I haven’t really had time to do any blogging.  So you will have to make do with my latest (and last) one-pager for landscape architecture (they’re supposed to be short):

I have a problem with sustainability.  Not with the concept, but with the word itself.  It is  simultaneously one of the most widely used and most elusive words in the planning and urban design lexicon.  What is sustainability, anyway?  Taking the word literally, it implies a system that is self-sustaining, able to continue functioning with minimal additional inputs or human intervention.  If that is the case, then the word sustainability should almost never be used in the way that it is.

The construction industry is the most blatant example of the misuse of sustainability.  Buildings are constructed and billed as “sustainable” because they have more efficient water and energy systems, or grass on the roof.  But in the end, each skyscraping condo tower, office building, or college dorm is a net consumer of energy, land and materials.  Even a LEED platinum-certified building creates a negative impact on the environment that can not be mitigated.  “Marginally less damaging than the status quo” perhaps, but “sustainable?”  Hardly.

Construction that has less of an impact on the environment is an improvement, but such practices will always remain “alternative” and outside of the mainstream, as long as they are hidden from view.  A restaurant I patronize frequently recently installed solar panels.  I know this not because I can see the panels, but because there is a sign out front advertising it.  Many innovations take place in residential condominium buildings, where the public is not allowed.  Does the purchaser of a million-dollar condo really care about saving a few dollars each month on a his water bill?  “Sustainable” features are thus not only unlikely to be observable to the public, but also largely ignored by their beneficiaries.

Attempts to incorporate sustainable design into the public realm are a more sensible approach, if the goal is to both reduce environmental impacts and to increase public awareness of environmental issues.  Green streets may be particularly effective, both in the role they play at reducing untreated stormwater runoff, and their visibility.  Maintenance costs are minimal, and a small sign can educate passers-by of the value of the investment.  As the Berlin case shows, “sustainable” must not be something that will or even can be cut from the budget when financial times are hard.  I look at Tanner Springs Park, and while I enjoy it for the open space it provides, I wonder if it was really worth the investment.  It provides a source of water filtration, but as a potential habitat it is of dubious value.  The plant structure seems too engineered, and the pond, augmented with chlorinated city water, may not be particularly attractive to wildlife.  (Although, there are some goldfish in there that seem to be getting along nicely.)  I wonder if the money spent on the park could have been better spent, if more widely distributed.  If Tanner Springs remains only a refuge for Pearl District residents, it will do little toward the betterment of society, and will do nothing to move sustainability concepts away from the “alternative” and into the mainstream.


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On architcture and urban design

October 20, 2006 at 9:02 pm (Planning, Portland)

Here is my latest 1-page masterpiece for my landscape architecture class:

Few could plausibly argue against the notion that the era of auto-oriented, strip commercial development has introduced a bland monotony to the American landscape.  Endless rows of fast food restaurants, large retail stores, and gas stations are found in virtually every metropolitan area, and they are nearly indistinguishable from each other.  It isn’t that those places lack a sense of place per se, but rather that the sense of place they embody is unpalatable to most academics, environmentalists, and design professionals.  In much of America, however, shopping malls and Wal-Marts have become the new town commons.  In West Virginia, where I grew up, these establishments are where you must go to purchase virtually everything, where people can find a job, where teenagers congregate and socialize.  They are the corporatized, 21st Century version of Market Street.

Despite this, if the soul of a culture is reflected in its landscape design, as Lewis suggests, then a transplant to America might think that we are a somewhat vacuous society.  Our metropolitan areas seem to lack variety, originality, or any real defining characteristics.  This is true not only of suburban housing and commercial developments, which bear the brunt of criticism, but also of our cities.  Many American cities are lacking in architectural variety.  This is particularly true of western cities, where urbanization has occurred relatively recently.  Portland is unique in that our “grid” creates unusually small blocks, but otherwise we exemplify this trend.

Increasing density and revitalizing the urban core are laudable goals, but the Pearl District and South Waterfront are typical cookie-cutter, “McCondo” developments.  The Pearl District is San Diego’s Gaslight District, with shorter buildings.  South Waterfront is Vancouver’s Coal Harbor.  These urban condo canyons, adjacent to freeways and technologically identical, are becoming the new strip developments, uninspiring, varying only slightly in shape and color, universally exportable.  They are havens for the rich, investment properties, insipid representations of a desired urban experience.  Building a trolley, a faux-wetland, or even a baseball stadium cannot obscure this reality.

It remains to be seen if these experiments in urban renewal will be deemed successful.  In 40 years how will we view the South Waterfront?  How do we view South Auditorium district today?  I look at this Corbusian design and wonder only what used to be there.  I doubt that many people will lament the loss of empty warehouses and an abandoned railyard, but I also have serious concerns whether the standard alternative is providing this city with the heart and soul, the sense if identity, that it seems to be so desperately seeking.

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October 19, 2006 at 10:36 pm (Portland)

Portland’s very own “earmark” transit project gets underway next week. I wrote a big paper on this last term so I am glad I didn’t waste my time. It remains to be seen, however, if they will be able to meet the original opening date of fall 1997.

Seriously though, if anyone wants to go see the P811 in action, I think it sounds pretty sweet.

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The War of the Words

October 19, 2006 at 10:18 pm (Humor, Politics, War)

If you haven’t seen the story of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders, you are missing out.


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Silly Liberals

October 19, 2006 at 9:08 pm (Politics)

As every good Republican automaton knows, the first thing Nancy Pelosi will do when she becomes Speaker of the House is to re-name our nation The Stalinist States of Islamerica. And now they are all in a tizzy about how that path of destruction will be slashed and burned. Some of these are a bit ridiculous, admittedly, but isn’t that why we have a deliberative Legislature? Here are some highlights of Democrat-backed legislation, interspersed with my smarmy comments.

Justice for the Unprotected against Sexually Transmitted Infections among the Confined and Exposed Act (JUSTICE) Act (Lee, D-CA)H.R. 6083. Requires community organizations to be allowed to distribute sexual barrier protection devices (e.g. condoms) in federal prisons. Also prohibits a federal prison from taking adverse action against a prisoner who possesses or uses a sexual barrier protection device.

Since the federal government has never acknowledged prison sex as a problem, it clearly doesn’t exist. And if we start giving prisoners condoms, it’s only a matter of time until someone fashions a giant condom parachute, escapes and murders your children.

Antibullying Campaign Act (Nadler, D-NY)H.R. 3787. Creates a new federal grant program aimed at reducing bullying in public schools “based on any distinguishing characteristic of an individual.”

Why should the federal government concern itself with trivial matters like school safety? Our schools are totally safe.

Tupac Shakur Records Release Act of 2006 (McKinney, D-GA)H.R. 4968. Enshrines copies of government records concerning rapper Tupac Shakur in a specially created collection at the National Archives.

Ok, this is silly. Maybe it is this kind of legislative prowess that caused Ms. McKinney to lose her re-election bid in the primary.

States’ Rights to Medical Marijuana Act (Frank, D-MA)—H.R. 2087. Allows physicians in states with medical marijuana laws to prescribe marijuana without violating federal law.

Silly liberals. When will they can their ridiculous “states rights” rhetoric?

Ex-Offenders Voting Rights Act (Rangel, D-NY)H.R. 663. Allows those convicts who are just out of prison to vote.

God forbid we allow people who have paid their debt to society to, like, re-enter society. On the other hand, if this doesn’t pass there won’t be very many Republican Congressmen voting in the next decade or so.

Department of Peace and Nonviolence Act (Kucinich, D-OH)H.R. 3760. Establishes a U.S. Department of Peace and Nonviolence, as well as a Peace Day. The department would promote “human rights,” international conflict prevention, nonviolent intervention, structured mediation, and peaceful conflict resolution.

Unnecessary, because the Bush Doctrine has worked so well thus far.

End the War in Iraq Act (McGovern, D-MA)H.R. 4232. Defunds the War in Iraq, forcing immediate troop withdrawal.

This is a terrible idea. I’m completely serious.

Media Ownership Reform Act (Hinchey, D-NY)H.R. 3302. Restricts ownership of radio and television stations, forcing some owners to divest their holdings, and regulates broadcast content.

If this had been in place, start-ups like Clear Channel would never have become the community-minded corporations they are today.

Menu Education and Labeling Act (DeLauro, D-CT)H.R. 5563. Regulates what certain restaurants must print on their menus.

Again, a terrible idea. Not in theory, but can you imagine how this would be implemented? Neither can I.

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States respecting the right to full employment and balanced growth (Jackson, D-IL)H.J.Res. 35. Creates a constitutional right to full employment.

What is this, the Soviet Union?

Boy, I would LOVE to see a similar list of ridiculous Republican legislation. Of course none of these things would be a priority, and the things the House will actually be debating are completely left off this list, to scare people into voting. You know, silly left wing fantasies like limiting the federal defecit. As a wise man once said, the first rule of interpreting right wing spin is if the details are lacking, there’s a good reason for it.

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Don’t mention the war

October 19, 2006 at 3:35 am (Politics, Republican incompetence, War)

I try to avoid politics on here, the same way I avoid talking about prostate cancer. But this is worth linking to.

Listen to Republican Senator Conrad Burns describe how we really do have a withdrawal strategy for Iraq, but that it’s a secret. (“we’re not going to tell you what our plan is”) Listen to the crowd laugh at him. This is in Montana, folks. People just aren’t buying this shit anymore.


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October 17, 2006 at 6:45 am (Environment)

I took this picture in Astoria, Oregon a few weeks ago, at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.  For scale, each little box on this boat is the back of an 18-wheeler, or an entire rail car.

Your kid’s Christmas present is probably in one of those containers. (click to enlarge)


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Fun with referrer logs

October 15, 2006 at 5:43 am (Random)

Here’s what people have googled in the last week that landed them here:

“Yay-yo smokin'” (Only twice. And I never blogged about it)

“Unemployable college graduates” (I think I may see a pattern emerging)

“College unemployable overqualified”

“Most expensive bomber”

The streets will flow with the blood of the unbelievers” (I stole that line from Beavis)

“Ditka vs. God” (But what if it was a mini-Ditka?)

“‘Most friendly country’ Nigeria” (an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp or German peacekeeper)

“Ugly creepy guy” (Here I am!)

“Kawasaki One Man Jam” (you mean Lars Ulrich?)

“zooporn” (or variations) 29 times.

This is why I have a blog.

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The Fuzzy Teddy Bear Amendment

October 12, 2006 at 11:27 pm (Politics, Republican incompetence)

It’s election time again, which means that Oregonians are once again being bombarded with a slew of initiatives. My personal favorite is Measure 48. My policy is to always vote no on an initiative that amends the Constitution, but in this case there is a very compelling case to vote no. (as an aside, I hate initiatives. Too much democracy is bad for deomcracy)

M48 will tie increases in biennial expenditures to the rate of inflation and population growth. (The Oregon Legislature only convenes every other year) This is the same policy that has so crippled Colorado that the Republican governor has suspended it. Recognizing this immense failure, the sponsors have abandoned the empty “taxpayer bill of rights” rhetoric, and are touting the Oregon version as a “rainy day amendment.” Read the text. It does not mention, even passively, a “rainy day fund.” Rather, it is presumed that any government revenues above the imposed spending limit will be held over to the next budget cycle, to be spent at the whim of the legislature. But that can only happen if revenues drop below the imposed spending limit, and in that case the legislature could only appropriate the difference. Dan Meek, in the Oregon Voter’s Pamphlet, sums it up nicely:

The surplus funds could be spent, above the cap, only after a 2/3 vote of both houses of the Oregon Legislature and a statewide majority vote in a November general election–which happens in the 17th month of the 24-month biennium. (emphasis his)

That restriction is right there in the text of the measure. That would of course require another ballot measure. The clear purpose of this measure is to, paraphrasing Grover Norquist, drown government in a bathtub. It would have to be a near depression for the economy to tank as badly as it would have to for this new “surplus” to function as any sort of rainy day fund.

Proponents of the measure, recognizing the public relations nightmare that this neocon wet dream has unleashed, have noted that while it doesn’t actually create a rainy day fund that can be used in a discretionary manner, neither does it specifically prohibit the legislature from creating one. I’m not kidding, I have heard people make this argument on Blue Oregon dot com.

Measure 48 does not specifically prohibit the legislature from doing a lot of things, including giving a free fuzzy teddy bear to all the orphans in the state foster care system. Despite that, in the interests of a sound fiscal policy, I am hereby urging all 8 of my readers to VOTE NO ON THE FUZZY TEDDY BEAR AMENDMENT!!

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I love Portland

October 12, 2006 at 7:35 am (Uncategorized)

Someone forgot to tell the weather that it is October. If it didn’t hit 80 today, it was damn close, and not a cloud in the sky. I spent the day riding my bike around, taking pictures. (I finally got my camera fixed. FYI, never buy anything from Fry’s, unless you like things that break and smart-assed customer service reps with names like Justin Tyme) This post and the ones that follow are a snapshot of my day and a window into what an unemployed grad student thinks about. The first 3 are from the eastbank esplanade; the first is my favorite view of downtown (click to enlarge):




From the Sellwood Bridge:


From the Broadway Bridge:



Yes, I have a bias/affinity for skyline shots.

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