Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Feral Green Streets

On E. Burnside Street in Portland, the construction of the Burnside-Couch Couplet, a project aimed at 'humanizing' the wide arterial that slices through Portland and provides the dividing line between North and South. Construction is ongoing, and as part of the design, the streets on both sides of the couplet have a number of green street planters. As I was moving into my new office, I couldn't help but notice a new 'planting' scheme on the Burnside planters - predominately populated with a mixture of weedy pioneering vegetation.

The jute netting and wood (??) weirs have been in for some time - prepped for planting and keeping erosion at bay. The late summer of sun and moisture have allowed for perfect conditions for weeds to germinate in pockets of wet ground, making for a lush green tapestry that is starting to overtake many of the curb extensions - most probably from weeds carried from car tires and deposited in the planters.

It would be interested to see if the general public noticed the difference between these 'feral' varieties compared to many of the specifically planted varieties (which at times look somewhat messy themselves) - or more likely what do business owners think? Will the weeds persist after planting? Will hand removal be adequate to keep these down once the planting is completed? How much money could we save with treatment of stormwater facilities as early successional ecosystems recently impacted with disturbance? Would this vegetation work better or worst than the monocultural rushes that have seemed to become the mainstay of storm facilities? I'm kind of hoping they just leave them as some form of radical urban ecosystem experiment - followed by soil only ecoroofs that are left to colonize via birds and wind.

Not sure what the delay in planting actually is - as the heat of summer is over and we've now hit a good part of the season for planting sans irrigation. Another month and these will be bursting and lush with weedy varieties. Some of the newer ones have yet to be overtaken, as seen in a view of one of the pristine sections - ready for colonization.

(all images (c) Jason King -Landscape+Urbanism)


  1. I went to an interesting lecture at the ASLA EXPO this year by Peter Del Tredici...Wild Urban Plants...Deals somewhat tangentially with this topic. Check out his book:


  2. Yeah I'm a big fan of Del Tredici's writings - particularly 'Neocreationism and the Illusion of Ecological Restoration' and the movement against native purity...

    The best example in practice seems to be the highline - which utilized a number of the species (in much more orderly frames) that had originally colonized the elevated walkway... sort of going with the flow of what was working vs. working against nature with an overly ornamental or native palette.

  3. I'm not disagreeing with you but, in his lecture Del Tredici felt that the highline seemed to function better before it was developed, when the "wild urban ecology" was left to its own design. I think he was put off by the exorbitant maintenance cost associated with the project.

  4. Agreed... I think the gap in del Tredici's thinking is that he wants us to accept the messiness of the pioneering species, which is counter to the cultural expectations of about landscape we've developed over time. As a big fan of Nassauer's 'Messy Ecosystems - Orderly Frames' theory, the reframing of the vegetation was vital to the success of the High Line. I would dare say, if left feral (which was wonderful and beautiful) - the High Line would have been difficult if not impossible to save.

    While it perhaps didn't need to be of the expense (both installation and maintenance) achieved, the result is a least a balance (compared to the HL predecessor) Promenade Plantee, which was done in highly ornamental style (very French no?)

    This dialogue is a vital part of the sustainability/ecological design conversation that is not happening enough. Thanks!


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