As winter term of my landscape architecture program kicks in, I realized I should do a decent job recapping my project last term! I got to explore beneficial insect-attracting plants, plant species that do well in swales, and other fun ecological issues. I had the pleasure of working with a couple architecture students on the project, which was a challenging but fun learning experience.

The project last term was designing an EcoDistrict in the Lents neighborhood in southeast Portland. Our charge was to design a neighborhood that could accommodate 6x the current density. We envisioned a neighborhood that would provide a high-quality of life for people as well as native wildlife, like birds, frogs and pollinators.

Johnson Creek on the southern end of the site floods every year and has become polluted over time. Stormwater flows over all of that surrounding urban, paved surface and right into the creek. Our solution was to relocate development near the creek northward on the site. We would allow the creek to flood to some extend, build up the riparian forest quality, and divert stormwater into a large swale system throughout the site. These combined efforts would slow the creek, cool the temperature, and clean the stream.

We designed a series of various-sized open spaces for gathering, which would spark surrounding development over time. Residential streets are converted to alleyways with shared pedestrian, bicycle and light car traffic. One group of houses might decide to turn their open space into a shared urban barnyard and food garden. Others might string up lights and have summer picnics in their space. We left it intentionally open-ended so the residents themselves can decide what becomes of their open space.

The Commons is the largest open space area, located in the heart of the site, which includes a permanent home for the weekly farmer’s market. Parts of the plaza would flood during heavy rainfalls, creating an urban center that responds to the seasons. In the summer, part of the plaza might have a fountain that shoots up water like a spring for kids to play in.

I don’t want to bore you with too many details, so I will leave it at that! It was a really great project and I’m proud of the work we did together. I have experience trying to draw in beneficial insects and build habitat for wildlife on my own urban homestead, but taking it to this larger level was a wonderful challenge. Maybe in a few years I will get to do this stuff on a bigger scale in real life!

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Written by Renee Wilkinson