Imagining India Street as an ‘ecodistrict’

Urban Planning
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  December 19, 2013

An artist's rendering of what a new building in the India Street neighborhood could look like. 

The 15-block India Street neighborhood has the potential to be an international eco-destination and a model for green development, according to Stephen Wheeler, a landscape architecture professor at the University of California at Davis and his team of undergraduate and grad students, who spent last week in Portland and presented a package of planning recommendations to a small audience at the Portland Public Library on Monday afternoon.

Earlier this year, in response to increased development activity and the desires of the neighborhood association, the city of Portland began the process of creating an India Street Sustainable Neighborhood Plan. While other neighborhoods have benefitted from such comprehensive vision-planning, this small area, bordered by Munjoy Hill, Franklin Street, the waterfront, and Congress Street, has not yet established or articulated its own goals or character. To facilitate this process, and with help from the Oregon-based Urban Sustainability Accelerator, the city brought in the UC Davis team to inform and inspire the discussion.

Among the group’s more intriguing recommendations:

> Build or retrofit a signature building that embodies the values of the neighborhood, “such as a highly green mixed-use building housing the Portland Food Co-op on India Street.”

> Encourage green roofs and walls; UC Davis grad student Sahoko Yui proposed the creation of a rooftop beer garden on the Shipyard Brewery. 

> Install stormwater planters in order to handle current overflow problems and to protect against increasingly intense storms. The group also recommended requiring developers to either handle run-off on-site (through permeable paving or raingardens) or contribute to a green infrastructure fund.

> Develop two new community gardens in the neighborhood (a team is already looking at potential new garden sites citywide).

> Redesign Franklin Street as a three- or four-lane boulevard, with the travel lanes on the west side, thereby opening up land on the India Street side for housing and community space. (The Franklin Street Committee, in charge of that corridor’s redevelopment, will hold a public meeting on January 29 from 3:30 to 5:30 pm at the Rines Auditorium in the Portland Public Library.)

> Preserve and highlight historic sites — such as the city’s first settlement or the old railroad roundhouse — with public art, small plazas, or “pocket parks.” (The neighborhood has been selected by the city for a historic preservation survey, funded by the Planning and Urban Development Department.)

Of course, beautiful, forward-thinking design schemes do not always materialize the way they were meant to. Consider the decade-old “New Vision for Bayside,” the aspirations of which some community members believe are being dismissed in favor of over-scaled, big-money development (see “Will Bayside Ever Reach Its Potential,” by Deirdre Fulton, November 22). That’s why Wheeler’s group also recommends that regular “implementation meetings” be held to encourage follow-through even after the plan is complete; they also suggest that the city consider hiring a “sustainable neighborhood coordinator” that would help keep strategies like these on track.

And don’t underestimate the force of visionary leadership, a/k/a courage. “Portland has a lot more leverage than it used to,” Wheeler said when asked how to ensure that developers’ priorities don’t eclipse those of people who live, work, and gather in a given neighborhood. “Portland is in a place where it can ask for what it wants.”

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