Category Archives: writing

Goal: 10 Years / 1000 posts

I don’t blog as much as I used to.  Long time readers will notice that I had a time where i would write almost daily, which at the time was pretty fun, and in the first 3-4 years, had a consistent readership of 10s of thousands of viewers per month.  The black and white and yellow scheme – above, was hosted on Blogspot, and achieved good notoriety, with some top blog lists, articles, republications, and really surprisingly, many people telling me they read it!

This was a time, as well, when there weren’t a lot of blogs, so it was good to position this in a particular time and place.  There are many more great sources of landscape architecture and urban dialogue, and my interests evolved where blogging was less important.  That said, I consume a lot less info on landscape architecture, and probably use Twitter to fill some of what the blog did in terms of saving snippets and other things for retrieval later. While I appreciated the readership and dialogue,  and continue to do so, the goal was always to write and reflect on what I’m personally interested in.

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So over the more recent years, I do a post occasionally, which are often book reviews or reflections on some writings on something I feel is worth exploring.  Less posts but more focused, not on the day to day, but more generally.   I switched to a new site a few years ago- which is now on WordPress and hosted on its own URL.  Ebbs and flows of blogging are OK, and as I mentioned, there’s a lot of ways of writing, learning, and growing.   Last year, for instance, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time, so wrote a novel (which as you may guess, has elements of landscape and urbanism), and want to write more of those (and much better ones).

But with these ebbs and flows, the itch sometimes comes back.  Sometimes its the same itch to just write, other times its a different itch in a different place.  While some bloggers strive for more polished work (and many, many are much better writers than I) my blogging is often sparsely edited and often just my ‘notes’ on things.   The blog is a notebook and while there’s sometimes narrative elements, I don’t spend a lot of time mapping out what i want to write.  In some ways I’ve done shorter posts, other times delved deeper which maybe has some more structure, but not a lot of planning.  I’ve done that planning in writing for academic pursuits (which is a very different style of course), but there’s a middle ground of accessible, interesting, and rigorous writing that I want to focus on.

My goal now is to focus on writing more polished work in an accessible manner and publish in various other sources (books, magazines, other sites) – opinion, interesting things, history, culture, landscape and urbanism.  I want to write a book.  And maybe a novel or two as well.  Growing as a writer, as one would expect, involves writing, which I haven’t done as much of lately, while not in school and not blogging.  And like any skills, they are in constant need of exercise.  So I’m inspired to write more, and exercise those skills, so the blog is a natural place for some of this to happen.

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While I’ve been feeling this, I looked at my blog and noticed that first, I was coming close to my 10 year anniversary of when i started blogging (late 2007). And second, I had published, a bit over 900 posts in this time. Thus my reconnection with wanting to write more and this serendipitous goal is something to inspire me to achieve,  I have set a target to get to: 10 years and 1000 posts

Which i think is a respectable 100 posts per year and a decade of blogging.  So my goal in the next year or so is to write around 100 more posts.  I’m also going to try to write things in other places.  If you’re used to a post a month, this will be a few more than you’re used to, but trust me, you’re gonna like it.  After that, who knows…

VEGITECTURE REVISITED

On a related note, through some miracle of internet archiving, I managed to find the long-lost spin-off Vegitecture blog.  Lost story, but my account was hacked in 2010, which corrupted a number of websites such as my Terra Fluxus site as well as vegitecture.net, the latter of which i didn’t have backed up.  So although i searched around for remnants I thought it was lost forever.  Earlier this summaer, i stumbled upon the brilliant and somewhat frightening Wayback Machine, an internet archiving project that probably has a lot of information we never knew was actually being backed up.  I was able to piece together the entire collection that was published through 2009-2010, which totaled an additional 140 posts which includes thousands of images and over 50,000 words on vegetated architecture.  You can access these through the site, and I’m also in the process of compiling the best in some form of publication.

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Rebel Cities Pt. 1

David Harvey is somewhat of a urbanist hero, and after reading reams of his work in grad school studies, I was  really excited to nab a copy of this 2012 book ‘Rebel Cities’ online for free download in PDF format.  The subtitle of this book is ‘From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution’, and with that Harvey evokes the work of Henri Lefebvre and a wealth on interesting scholarship on the modern interpretation of public space, freedom, and how these related to the modern metropolis.

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In the Preface, Harvey mentions stumbling upon a poster from a group from Paris called The Ecologistes “…a radical neighborhood action movement dedicated to creating a more ecologically sensitive mode of city living, depicting an alternative vision for the city.”  This vision was:

“It was a wonderful ludic portrait of old Paris reanimated by a neighborhood life, with flowers on balconies, squares full of people and children, small stores and workshops open to the world, cafes galore, fountains flowing, people relishing the river bank, community gardens here and there…”

Utopian visions aside, the 1960s was a time of massive change for Paris (and the rest of the world), which was when Lefebvre published ‘The Right to the City’ with, as mentioned by Harvey, an eye towards creating ‘an alternative urban life that is less alienated, more meaningful and playful but, as always with Lefebvre, conflictual and dialectical, open to becoming, to encounters (both fearful and pleasurable), and to the perpetual pursuit of unknowable novelty.” (x)

Looking forward to digging in more.   Read it?  Haven’t but want to and create a bit of ongoing dialogue?  Something conflictual and dialectical?

Let me know.

Hidden Hydrology Origins 2: David James Duncan

Originally published on Terra Fluxus – 01/19/2011

Another inspiration for the Hidden Hydrology of Portland is the writing of David James Duncan (author of a couple of my favorite books, the Brothers K amongst the best).  In a book of essays from 2002 entitled ‘My Story as Told by Water‘ Duncan tells some stories with a Portland area spin about his youthful explorations in the area.  The idea of oral histories providing an additional layer to mapping and other on-the-ground study is intriguing, as the narrative is both informative and evocative of what these lost urban waterways meant, and what was lost along with them.

image via Wikipedia

Early in his childhood,  he mentions growing up on Mount Tabor (the volcanic outgrowth in East Portland – not the biblical version, seen above between downtown and Mt. Hood in the image), and his quote worth discussing hints at the disconnect between the modern city and the natural processes which shape and feed these places:

“My birth-cone’s slopes were drained by tiny seasonal streams, which, like most of the creeks in that industrialized quadrant of Portland, were buried in underground pipes long before I arrived on the scene. … I was born, then, without a watershed.  On a planet held together by gravity and fed by rain, a planet whose every creature depends on water and whose every slope works full-time, for eternity, to create creeks and rivers.  I was born with neither.  The creeks of my birth-cone were invisible, the river from somewhere else entirely.”  (p.4)

The water system from early in Portland’s history, was stored at high points like Mount Tabor and piped to surrounding neighborhoods.  This shot from 1912 shows one of the reservoirs that are still in operation today (for how long, is a good question).

image via Vintage Portland

The artificiality of the watershed is evident in Duncan’s discussions, as he makes do with building creeks using the hose and the power of gravity (much to his mothers chagrin) – using with water delivered to reservoirs and coming to his tap, as is common in many cities, from distant locales while burying the remnant hydrology that exists.  A map of the water system shows the existing Bull Run watershed in relation to Portland.

Continuing this discussion on Johnson Creek on a youthful visit, showing the degradation of some of the existing waterways that has been occurring for many years.  “It was just one of Portland’s dying creeks.  Really, one with a much-needed but long-lost Indian name.  Johnson Creek was now its anemic title.  But it was twenty-six miles long, hence a little too big to bury.” (p.10)

image via OregonLive

It’s heartening to see the restoration of the creek, which is one of the few to remain on the east side in some natural form, through the work of a number of local groups such as the Johnson Creek Watershed Council, and recently there were reports of dead coho salmon found 15 miles upstream – which is significant as it is the furthest upstream anyone has noticed these species in many years, and a testament to the work on restoration and improvement.   Something Duncan would appreciate, no doubt.

image via OregonLive

While water and rivers was of importance to Duncan, the main driving force for him was fishing – which drove the explorations to the wilds of the city.  After leaving Mount Tabor, the family moved further east towards Gresham, and lived for a time on Osborne Road, the future route of I-205.  Duncan mentions the lure of possible fishing holes, but the inaccessibility:   “A spring a quarter-mile from our new house flowed into a series of backyard trout ponds for neighbors, but these ponds were picture-windowed, guard-dogged, private.  The closest fish-inhabited waters to my house, so far as I knew, were the Columbia, three miles due north.”  (p.17)

The story continues around the small town of Fairview, under Halsey Street, where Duncan spotted a kid and discovered a hidden world amidst the underbrush:  “…the shocking thing, the magical thing, was that he was standing knee-deep in clear, lively creek water.  A creek surrounded on all sides by briars so dense I’d never noticed it before.”  (p.17)   Later in the same spot, he saw  a guy catching a trout there “a secret trout stream” and found his new exploration spot, as mentioned “Fairview Creek, it turned out, was five miles long, two-thirds wild, and amazingly full of life.” (p.18)  See the location on the far right edge as it interfaces with the Columbia Slough watershed.

Following the course, he found gravel pits headwater at Mud Lake that were stocked rainbow trout, near the Kennel Club, a pond with bullheads, and always adventure in the streams. “In the plunge-pool below the Banfield Freeway culvert, I caught a thirteen-inch Giant Pacific Salamader that stared straight into my eyes, flaring and hissing like something out of Dante Volume one, till I apologized, cut my line and released it.”

The approximate area is interesting to see and compare – although the historical imagery from Google Earth (which is awesome btw) only goes back to 1990, there’s a telling transformation in a twenty year time-span (although still a fair amount of stream left intact with development.  I remember this area, as my mother used to live just North of the Salish Ponds park (south of Halsey) and we took the trails through behind the Target and over into Fairview, which is a real gem and one of those places that, like Duncan, you may walk by many times without realizing it’s there.  I’ve highlighted Fairview Creek in Blue.

The same area in 1990 where you can see the residential development along Fairview Creek

The denouement to this story of youthful exploration comes after a few years of fishing these urban creeks and streams:

“At six-thirty or so on a rainy April morning, I crept up to a favorite hole, threaded a worm on a hook, prepared to case – then noticed something impossible: there was no water in the creek. …I began hiking, stunned, downstream.  The aquatic insects were gone, barbershop crawdads gone, catfish, carp, perch, crappie, bass, countless sacrificial cutthroats, not just dying, but completely vanished.  Feeling sick, I headed the opposte way, hiked the emptied creekbed all the way to the source, and there found the eminently rational cause of the countless killings.  Development needs roads and drainfields.  Roads and drainfields need gravel.  Up in the gravel pits at the Glisan Street headwaters, the creek’s entire flow had been diverted for months in order to fill two gigantic new settling ponds.  My favorite teacher was dead.”   (p.22)

A case of disappeared streams, captured in a moment of time from someone that was there.  The sadness in this loss is palpable, as it isn’t just a line on a map, but a leaving & breathing part of someone – both their history and their essence.  This sort of study of writings offers many opportunities for exploration through history, and can reveal much about a place in the past.  Combined with oral histories from residents and other qualitative study, it offers a dimension that maps just can’t on their own.  Thus looking beyond the map to the history is vital and inspirational going forward.

(all page references are to:  Duncan, David James. My Story as Told by Water.  Sierra Club Books, 2002.)

Hidden Hydrology Redux

Last week, I had the honor recently of presenting at a conference with one of my idols of landscape architecture, Anne Whiston Spirn.  Aside from stimulating conversation, she presented the old and new of her work from The Granite Garden through her ongoing work on the Mill Creek Project in Philadelphia, i was reminded of the tenets of persistence and the need to not work behind the scenes, but to continue to strive outwardly to make ecologically driven, research based, green and livable cities.  As many know that is inspired in me through work with water and watersheds, but also storytelling and ways to make evident that which is lost or merely hidden.  That inspiration comes many sources, but very much from the work of Ms. Spirn.

To capture my work and continue it in some form – i transferred some posts from the early days of my firm back in 2010 that formed the foundation of an ongoing work that is gaining more momentum in recent weeks, and worthy of a dusting off.  Partially as the blog is an archive of work and things i want to capture and remember – partially it is an opportunity to rework and re-frame these issues in a new time with some new energy.  Some folks will have seen this before in various forms – to others this might be new.  Over the next few days, i will repost some of the inspirations, starting today with the introduction – followed by some origins gleaned from others through the readings and explorations.  In all, it the various threads of this perpetually wandering generalist may be coming together to form a web, and with luck and work, a tapestry.

Hidden Hydrology – Portland Series Introduction

Originally published on Terra Fluxus – 12/21/2010

In the next year, TERRA.fluxus will be initiating a multi-phase project to explore the Hidden Hydrology of the city of Portland as the main research activity for the near future.   I have been fascinated with this since my first glimpse of the Disappeared Streams map published by Metro (will get my hands on one soon and give a glimpse) and it’s eventual configuration into a 2006 ASLA Presentation on ‘Neighborsheds for Stormwater Management‘ as an preliminary exploration of the concept.  The particular Metro map highlighted ‘historic’ streams that had been buried and piped through development of the City of Portland over the course of the last 150 plus years, showing existing as blue and those ‘disappeared’ in red.  While many westside creeks still ran free, the entire eastside was vivid red, long covered by roads, industrial buildings, houses, parks, and more.   While the methodology on that particular map was suspect (relying more on topographic analysis than hydrological markers), there are plenty of sources for historic waterways in maps, photos, and on-site investigation.

Thus the focus of the project, utilizing multiple sources to gain a more complete understanding of the underlying hydrological history of the area, with an aim towards using this information both in traditional planning and design manners, but also as the touchstone for a series of speculative works.

Portland, of course, has always been, and still is, a river city.   We live around waterways and bridge lifts, and relying on water for our recreation and port traffic, as well as giving us the overall image of our city.  Tucked along the banks of the Willamette and its confluence with the Columbia,  the history of water mirrors the history of urbanization, from the initial settlement patterns and grids of the 1850s up to modern conditions.  The early, or ‘pre-development’ snapshot is best captured in this compilation map of the 1852 Cadastral Survey, which was created right after the incorporation of Portland as a city in 1851.  This map, and others (a great collection of which can be found at the Bureau of Environmental Services site), will play parts in analysis throughout the project.

You can spend hours looking at this map, and placing the vision of this early city compared to it’s eventual form.  While Portland’s rivers and streams are beautiful – they are also highly troubled, with dual issues of industrial pollution and combined sewer overflows working in tandem to create issues for native fish (and people), landing many of our major waterways on lists of the most polluted rivers.  The idea of hidden hydrology is evident not in the still visible (although they are intimately connected), but those ‘urban’ waterways that over the years have changed from open streams and creeks to become piped as ‘infrastructure systems’ to deal with expanding growth of the metropolis.   Thus we look at the slow erasure of natural topography and hydrology at work in a political sphere, and begin to see what remains of this palimpsest.

The most urban example is found in Tanner Creek, the historic downtown river that wound through downtown for over fifty years, remaining intact (in form if not in quality) through urbanization, as seen in this 1881 illustration looking at downtown towards the northeast.

The proximity of this creek to development (and the Tannery) led to pollution and sanitation issues downstream, so as with many urban creeks, a period of modernization happened, in this case the 1917 implementation of the Tanner Creek Sewer project.  This forever buried the main stem of this historic creek through the heart of downtown in brick vault sewer (many of which are still functioning, or have recently been replaced).


:: images via Bureau of Environmental Services

While the historic are interesting in their own right (and there are ample sources of material to digest so more to come on this), the interaction of the new and old is both dynamic and informative.  Moving to the Southeast Quadrant, we can isolate the more detailed Cadastral maps (the survey developed the township, section geometry used today, thus giving us the ability to overlay old and new with a measure of precision).  The coverage through the 1850s and 60s is quite extensive, and will be useful when reconciled with the existing GIS coordinate systems.  An inverted version of the original survey maps gives an indication of their density of information.  The study area will be in the upper right hand quadrant of this township scale map.

A series of maps utilize GIS layering along with historical mapping underlayment to create a modern ‘routing’ for a stream in the lower Taggart basin.  First a section of the historical map (1852) was analyzed for hydrologic features (river, stream, wetland, etc.) based on the map features present at the time of the survey.  These are accented to show their location for referencing to other maps.

The topography and street grid are overlaid to show the relationship of water features to current configurations.  The addition of hillshade allows for fine-tuning of hydrological features to match remnant topographic that has not been leveled or erased through development.

Following this, the combined ‘hybrid’ map is reconciled into a workable base that is accurate to the historical location of ‘urban streams’ as well as current urban form.  Additional layers are added, and the iterations of analyses are only limited by time and usefulness.  Groundwater, soils, historical aerial photos, vacant lands, floodplains, and vegetative cover are just a few that spring to mind from glancing at Metro’s stock of layers.   I am also already other gathering data for a planned comparison with BES Subwatersheds, which mirror directly the configuration of subsurface pipe infrastructure that replaced these open channels sometime in the last 100+ years.  While our technology allows us to perform feats unbelievable to the 19th century Portander in lifting, pumping, and moving materials, there is still an inherent consistency and efficiency of using gravity to move water and waste that still makes these historic systems relevant as blueprints for existing conditions.

The other idea is to use this information for potential projects and interventions – looking opportunistically at the relationship of these systems over time and space.   To kick of this aspect, the next phase of analysis for this area will also be to ‘ground-truth’ the map hybrids – through a series of documented urban explorations (in the spirit of the Center for Land Use Interpretation perhaps?), along with further refinement, historical research, and analysis throughout 2011.

Stay tuned for more info after the new year.