Often, urban transformations feel far removed from the natural world. Busy roads and big buildings evoke images of gray, not green.
But as Nature in Neighborhood grant recipients are showing, a little creativity and determination can go a long way toward weaving nature into the most urban development and infrastructure projects. Just ask cyclists and runners enjoying thousands of plantings along Interstate 205, or commuters who will experience the region’s first green park-and-ride.
Urban transformations bring people together in unique ways, including organizations that don’t typically collaborate. Although these projects tend to have the biggest price tags, they also have some of the biggest benefits for their communities.
Greening Interstate 205, $410,000: Unlikely partners – Friends of Trees and the Oregon Department of Transportation – teamed up to plant native trees and shrubs in an unlikely place: along the I-205 pathway. While greening the 16-mile trail, they engage volunteers, establish a model for future roadside landscaping and generate jobs for diverse communities.
Hall Creek water quality enhancement, $354,000: When you think of nature, central Beaverton probably doesn’t pop to mind – but that’s changing. The City of Beaverton is teaming up with local businesses, schools, civic organizations and governments to show that restoring a 650-foot section of Hall Creek can help the environment and attract redevelopment, too.
Park Avenue transit station, $350,000: When TriMet’s newest MAX line pulls into Park Avenue Station in Oak Grove, riders will experience the region’s first sustainable, habitat-friendly park-and-ride. Green features will include a recreated riparian forest and a natural stormwater treatment system. The project will be highly visible, situated along Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard and the new Trolley Trail.
Gateway Green, $1 million: A long-fallow, neglected 24 acres in East Portland wedged between Interstates 205 and 84 will be transformed into a regional recreation destination and green space. The project will include habitat restoration, multi-use trails, a stormwater treatment demonstration feature, a nature play area, interpretive signate and access improvements.
One North Communitiy Courtyard, $420,313: Redevelopment doesn't just mean new buildings but can also provide people with an opportunity to experience urban ecology close to home. At the One North Community Courtyard, a new public plaza centrally located in a dense, urban area will offer a neighborhood gathering place surrounded by natural plantings.
John Inskeep Environmental Learning Center, $868,342: Leave the classroom behind once the outdoor learning laboratory, demonstration site and natural area take shape at Clackamas Community College's John Inskeep Environmental Learning Center. The site will showcase innovations in stormwater management, landscape design and sustainable living practices.
Case study: Metro grant helps concrete alley in Cornelius become a ribbon of green
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Cornelius, lively conversation filled a once gray alley behind the new Virginia Garcia Wellness Center.
A group of volunteers cut wood, drilled screws, weeded and transplanted grasses to create new garden boxes for the center’s teaching space. Dozens of people passed by: Families laughing as they walked. Children riding bikes. An elderly man heading to the market. They greeted the volunteers with smiles, and questions about their work.
Wellness coordinator Ivy Wagner, who typically spends her days indoors, began to see the center through new eyes. It’s not just doctors and nurses making people healthier, she realized – it’s also the outdoor space, which was transformed with help from a Metro Nature in Neighborhoods capital grant.
“Even when the clinic isn’t open, the community is walking through the Green Alley, learning, enjoying, connecting with others and nature,” Wagner said. “And this is only the beginning of what the space will mean to the community, as we continue to explore ways to engage and educate those who visit.”
The wellness center opened in 2012, replacing a building that had seen a number of shoestring renovations over more than 65 years. While allowing the center to see more patients, the new campus is also designed to more efficiently achieve the center’s longstanding goal: providing healthcare and wellness education to uninsured and low-income families.
That vision was realized, in part, beyond the walls of the modern new building. Virginia Garcia transformed a crumbling alley, which ran east to west through the lot. Devoid of green except for a pair of unhealthy trees, the blacktop path had been an eyesore and walking hazard for years.
Virginia Garcia’s team wanted to invigorate the walkway, but they needed a concept and capital. Scott Edwards Architecture provided the vision, and the Metro grant provided part of the funding.
The block-long path was outfitted with permeable pavers, a dozen benches, 20 native trees and more than 2,000 new plants and shrubs. Clean Water Services created bilingual interpretive signs, teaching passersby about bioswales and water-saving features on campus.
“We wanted to look at the bigger picture of how a building contributes to the water environment in the area, and how it can have a positive impact,” said Michelle Horn, foundation relations officer for Virginia Garcia.
Improvements such as rain gardens, bioswales and pervious pavement prevented 100,750 cubic feet of stormwater from going directly into the Tualatin River. That’s the equivalent of the average water used annually by 17 single-family homes.
Benefits of the transformed alley extend beyond Virginia Garcia’s campus, said Dick Reynolds, community development director for the City of Cornelius – a partner in the Metro grant. The ADA-accessible outdoor space helps serve the 22 percent of Cornelius residents who have a disability, Reynolds said.
“Even more impressive is that this accessible route was built using pervious surfaces, native plants and bioswales that benefit local and regional water and air quality,” he said. “It’s a win-win!”