In early 2009, TriMet, the regional transit system operator, was trying to gear up to build the new Orange Line light rail from PSU to Oak Grove. For reasons more grounded in myth and fear than facts on the ground, a small but vocal group of Clackamas County citizens was fighting the project and trying to stop any light rail expansion. Their strategies included the usual political pressure on decision-makers, but also resulted in a ballot measure designed to prevent the County from following through on its signed funding commitment for the project.
Previously, when developing the Tree Conservation Ordinance, Urban green had gathered a wide support base from throughout Clackamas County, including all neighboring CPOs, environmental groups, activist alliances, neighborhood groups, businesses, and numerous local citizens. As a result of this wide ranging support, and Urban Green’s work in the community to conserve our tree canopy and change development practices to preserve our ecosystems, a partnership was suggested by Metro between Urban Green and all the parties planning the light rail extension, for the purpose of gaining greater community support and to develop a vision for the project. Recent experience with a Metro design competition called Integrating Habitat led Urban Green to the idea of applying these concepts to the community’s new light rail station and parking garage at Park Avenue.
In the fall of 2009, Urban Green co-hosted two community design charrettes to gather ideas for how this might be done, inviting participants from three neighboring CPOs, neighborhood groups, business owners, and active citizens. Attendance was very good, and many good ideas were collected for a project.
In November 2009 Urban Green and TriMet, along with partners Oak Lodge Sanitary District and North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District (owners of the Trolley Trail, the building of which was to start within 12 to 18 months), applied for a Metro Nature in Neighborhoods grant for the purpose of creating a new oak savannah forest with a light rail station in it. TriMet committed to invest 2:1 matching funds and also provide the critical functions of fiduciary and project management.
The grant was awarded in the spring of 2010 and Urban Green became the key design team partner in the project, attending dozens of design team and public meetings, and providing key research and input over the 5 year period from the grant award to Orange Line opening day. Urban Green also rallied community support at critical times, such as design reviews and tree-planting marathons.
The completed station, opened for business on September 12th, 2015, is likely the most unique transit station in the country. More than 60 percent of the site was set aside for habitat and storm water management. Thousands of native trees, shrubs and storm water management plantings were carefully selected and mapped into a new forest ecosystem that blends the station environment seamlessly into the surrounding heavily treed neighborhoods. The Trolley Trail, connector to the entire Portland Metro area bike network, passes directly through the station area, providing another element of the multi-modal transportation hub. A public plaza, framed by a magnificent sculpture, provides performance space for the community. The parking garage is part of the storm water management system, and with its photovoltaic (PV) array over the top deck, makes the parking garage a net-zero energy structure.
Community response has been heartening and highly supportive of this new community asset. Throughout the period of station development activity, Urban Green simultaneously extended the Park Avenue Station design concepts to redevelopment planning for the station area and parts of the McLoughlin Blvd strip further south. Concurrent community processes for re-visioning McLoughlin Blvd, planning for the redevelopment of the village of Oak Grove, the preservation of the Three Creeks Natural Area, and the County’s Transportation System Plan Citizen Advisory Committee (TSP CAC) provided other venues in which these design principles could be brought to bear. Substantial progress has been made over an extended period in these projects.
The Park Avenue Station project was primarily about integrating new habitat – a whole new ecosystem – into the built environment, preserving substantial fractions of the project area for this purpose.
The activities required for the project – community design charrettes, Community Council meetings, large-scale tree-planting marathons, and opening day celebration – all resulted in a groundswell of community participation in local affairs. More than 50 people participated in the design charrettes. Nearly 150 citizens of all ages planted thousands of trees and shrubs. The community built a village on the roof of the parking garage to celebrate the arrival of light rail service to the community.
The civic engagement time for this project was enormous. It required large numbers of meetings and commitments of time to review plans and specifications, and provide input to the process. It required attendance at many public meetings, and participation in related community processes like station area planning. It required that Urban Green be able to work directly with a substantial fraction of the community’s governance institutions in order to make the project successful.
In the end, the project was all about planning for our community’s future in a way that preserves the habitat and ecosystems that sustain us all here in our place.
Urban Green’s partners for the project included TriMet (project owner and developer), Metro (planning and grant staff), Oak Lodge Sanitary District (responsible for storm water management in our community), and North Clackamas Parks & Recreation District (owners of the Trolley Trail, a piece of key community transportation infrastructure). Amazing things can be accomplished with the right partners.