Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Stormwater to the Streets

A short while back I was surprised to see in one of my favorite blogs, Pruned, an article entitled: 'Hyperlocalizing Hydrology in the Post-Industrial Urban Landscape'. For most, is just a hyperbolic hydrologic way of saying, look, green streets! The profile focusses on the award-winning work of Portland's own Kevin Robert Perry, currently employed at Nevue-Ngan Associates, and projects completed while he was working at Bureau of Environmental Services 'Sustainable Stormwater Group'. The feature is well illustrated and full of complements.

:: image via Pruned

Which is, of course, well-deserved. These are seminal projects that have made green streets a household word here in Portland, and I know KRP has been hard at work spreading the gospel in other cities around the nation. From the tres-urban model at 12th & Montgomery, to the widely applicable NE Siskiyou Street project, (both ASLA national award winners - although I will admit to scratching my head about Siskiyou getting the nod - but what the heck... you go KRP!). Either way, since these projects have gone in, bar has been set high.

:: 12th & Montgomery Green Street - image via Pruned

:: NE Siskiyou Green Street - image via Pruned

It's exciting to see the work, and even more so to see the cumulative ripple effect, specifically in the Pacific Northwest. The City of Portland has adopted standard approved green street details based on these preliminary projects, which are accepted as viable stormwater management strategies. A fair number of projects going in the ground have green streets, and City Commissioner and Mayoral-candidate Sam Adams, thinks this is only the beginning.

In a sweeping proposal, Adams outlines 'Grey to Green' (borrowing from Girling and Kellett a tad), which outlines is summarized by the long history of pipe and pump for stormwater: "For over 100 years Portland has relied on engineered solutions to deal with our abundance of rain water run off. But in the past decade environmental advocates within and without city government have helped to shape a new vision that values this watery abundance as an asset that enhances our city rather than a problem that needs to be piped underground."

The end goal: MILES of green streets and ACRES of green (eco) roofs. The last I heard, the proposal was being confused with the 'Safe, Sound, and Green Streets'... a focus on transportation infrastructure and safety, but no stormwater. I'm sure there will be more to come on the Grey to Green proposal. Someone tell me what's up... they got me all excited then dropped it.

While I applaud the City for the brio and inventiveness, there is a strong desire to have more, but also to really focus on quality - and i hope we can inject some diversity into this discussion. A recent project we worked on at GreenWorks with BES identified some strategies to adapt the approved details for some contexts other than straight urban/residential settings.

:: Residential Green Street - Taggart Basin - image via GreenWorks

This reminded me of a similar vein from Brice at Something About Maryman, reinforcing that we are talking about quality, as well as really QUANTITY specifically in the Seattle area. Quoted below:

"I’ve been trying to find information about various cities and how much area of the city is within their right of way (ROW). Well, since no one can point me to a comprehensive list of the data, let’s start at home, shall we? Here in Seattle we have: 54,000 acres of land in the city, nearly 14,000 of which (about 26 percent) is in the ROW As of 2004, there were 1,534 lane miles of arterials, and 2,412 lane miles of non arterials... Fascinating stuff, right? But the here’s the reason I was looking for the information. Hypothetically, if we were to take 6’ out of each of those arterial right-of-ways for swales and/or rain gardens, we would reduce the pervious surface in Seattle by some 48,597,120 sq ft (assuming those ROW’s are paved across the entire cross section). Now that’s just the reduction in impervious surfaces; I’m not smart enough to figure out reductions in stormwater runoff, treatment of nutrient loads and reduction of hydrocarbon pollutants. Maybe someone else can…but still, I thought it an impressive number nearly 50 million square feet..."

:: Our national flower - image via Treehugger

This really reinforces some recent quotes by Lewis Mumford, a poignant one being: "...Our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf." Make sense and does it really surprise us that it has some major ramifications for water quality that we must deal with. Some of those impacts locally: a subsequent recent post on SAM, news from from the Olympian regarding the Puget Sound, with an interesting statistic:

"The state Department of Ecology has estimated that stormwater runoff sends more contamination into Puget Sound than any other pollution pathway. It delivers 22,580 metric tons of oil and petroleum each year - more than 20 times the volume of direct oil spills entering the sound. "

While we make a big deal out of point source pollution and spills, and love articles about caffeinated and drugged fish... we tend to neglect this non-point source pollution. One green street is a good start. Miles is a good follow-up. Every street a green street - sounds like a good goal.

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