I have been convinced that I wanted to focus on built environments as early as my freshman year during ENVS 160. In that class, I constructed an engagement proposal surrounding green architecture, as defined as architecture that prioritizes a combination of nature and manmade structures by books like Green Architecture by James Wines (Wines 2000). Since then, I have been fascinated by how humans choose to construct built environments given the ecosystems that exist within and surrounding cities and settlements. Throughout human history this has taken many forms and has been defined by many different responses to ecological stimuli and human desires. In the United States, most cities are defined by pavement over nature led by desire for expansion. In this country it is more common to find an interconnected, sprawling system of highways and avenues than that of subway and bus lines.
Throughout my time in ENVS 160 and 220 I situated my research in Portland, Oregon as this is where I am located. Portland has a unique history surrounding both green architecture and public transportation. In the past, Portland’s main sources of revenue led to deforestation and pollution of its surrounding forests and bodies of water. The city, built out of a history of logging and port activity, now has grown to be more forward-thinking. Projects like Lloyd District Partnership Plan demonstrate small scale action taken by the local government to curb automobile congestion and the overall amount of commuters going to a specific locale within a given timeframe.
The goal of this District Partnership Plan, which was implemented in September of 1997, was to decrease the amount of vehicular traffic and therefore alleviate the need for parking in the Lloyd District in North Eastern Portland. The local government did this by implementing “parking pricing in the form of meters (whereas on-street parking had been free), discounted transit passes, and other transportation demand management strategies” (Bianco 2000). Ultimately, it was successful in decreasing the volume of commuter traffic in the area by 7% in a single year. While this was a pretty small scale undertaking that did not yield an earth shattering result, it did display that over 20 years ago the Portland government was aware of adverse effects brought upon by automobile congestion and created and implemented effective solutions that most likely decreased pollution in this sector.
Another method that has been used to lessen Portland’s Ecological footprint is a classical environmental concept that seeks to define humans' biophysical connection to the planet, specifically our demand on natural capital (Castree et al. 2018, 43). The term ecological footprint was first introduced by Wackernagel and Rees in 1996 as a simple measure of the sustainability of a... More without uprooting entire structures or systems is “sustainable redevelopment” (Miller 2005). This method involves refitting existing buildings to meet more modern and rigorous "Environment" is a word so embedded in environmental discourse and scholarship that it has effectively disappeared. We all know what the environment is—or do we? And what do our unexamined assumptions about environment mean for how we approach environmental issues? A careful examination of the word might lead us to... More standards, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. This could involve implementing active or passive solar, retrofitting windows to better insulate buildings and many other innovative features. David Miller’s book Toward a New Regionalism: Environmental Architecture in the Pacific Northwest. Sustainable Design Solutions from the Pacific Northwest demonstrated a few projects of this sort that have already been undertaken in Portland’s Pearl District, among other similar ventures throughout the region (Miller 2005).
Ultimately, real change often has to be driven by the market. Sustainable redevelopment projects are only attainable if tenants will pay to live or work in these renewed settings. Tools like Walk Score aim to give prospective renters and homeowners the ability to vet properties based on how convenient they are to commute from. The goal of this tool is to evaluate properties on a numerical scale which evaluates how little an inhabitant would need to drive. Making a high Walk Score (high representing maximum walkability) desirable drives the market to supply convenient urban landscapes with reduced automobile activity.
Green architecture and sustainable redevelopment, the topics i focused on in 160 and 220, are only two facets of improving our built environments. The need for transportation, how inhabitants of a physically move around it, is a major determining factor of the health and impact of a city. I am more inclined to concentrate on the relationship between transportation and the ecological health of built environments. This is not to say I am ignoring architecture. However, to be able to do effective research I must narrow my focus.
The first key question I have is: How can restructuring transportation systems in existing American cities reduce the toll individual commuters take on the environmental well-being of built environments and their surroundings?
As far as I know, there is no possibility of building some perfect eco city that we can all move to and forget the ills of the past. We have to retool the systems we already have, including transportation. Transportation in most major American cities needs an overhaul, much like the sustainable redevelopment of buildings mentioned above. I have found two papers that examine different, but not mutually exclusive, options for less harmful modes of transportation. The first, Addressing Sustainability in Transportation Systems: Definitions, Indicators, and Metrics, examines sustainable transportation initiatives in North America, Europe and Oceania and defines metrics to determine their success (Mihyeon Jeon and Amekudzi 2005). This paper focuses mostly on what governments and larger systems can do to improve and modernize the transportation they provide to remove more cars from the road.
The other paper, Feasibility Study on Green Transportation, approaches the problem from a different angle. Instead of removing cars from the road, the authors of this paper examine the feasibility of transitioning from fleets of commuters dependent on cars reliant on internal combustion engines (ICEs) with electric vehicles (EVs) (Todorovic and Simic 2019). The advantage of this approach is that the transition would only require commuters to adopt a new technology, rather than having municipal governments implement widespread changes to their cities’ infrastructures.
My second question is: What can the U.S. learn from other countries who have already restructured cities to curtail their impacts on key environmental diagnostics?
The reality is the U.S. is behind the curve in terms of many environmental standards. Much of the developed world has recognized the threats of climate change and responded to varying degrees of effectiveness. Assuming the U.S. government (both local and federal) has to do something about our transportation, what can we adopt from countries that have already grappled with this same problem? Adjo A.Amekudzia, C.Jotin Khisty and Meleckidzedeck Khayesic suggest using the sustainability footprint to assess the impact of new transportation systems (Amekudzi, Jotin Khisty, and Khayesi 2009). This framework will be helpful in determining which cities to compare to Portland and to establish a rough list of goals for American cities to reach for their transportation systems to be deemed ecologically effective.
Related Work and Next Steps
I am fortunate to have been able to travel a fair amount before this year and the pandemic. In that time, I got to observe how other major cities (ones that are much bigger than Portland) handled their own transportation infrastructure. I want to emphasize again how solutions for this problem are already out there. Books like Challenges and Advances in Sustainable Transportation Systems: Plan, Design, Build, Manage, and Maintain are filled with case studies on how common and complex problems, both environmental and structural, relating to transportation have been overcome or subsided. This book is a collection of 86 papers from the 10th Asia Pacific Transportation Development Conference (“Challenges and Advances in Sustainable Transportation Systems : Plan, Design, Build, Manage, and Maintain: Proceedings of the 10th Asia Pacific Transportation Development Conference, Beijing, China, May 25-27, 2014 – Lewis & Clark” n.d.). There is a wealth of research and applied science roughly outlining the next steps that should be taken by American cities like Portland to mitigate the effects of climate change through transportation restructuring.
Another important item to recognize is that with any major change there will always be reluctance to advance or even recognize this change as advancement. This is not as simple as discovering the pertinent technologies and implementing them. This reminds me of a paper we used in our ENVS 220 poster research that told of a farm that exists within the heart of Tokyo. For many, the path of the city was to expand both upwards and outwards. But for the owners of this centuries old farm, their way of life posed no threat (Yokohari and Amati 2005). In the end, coexistence was the only option. One way of life cannot be erased to make way for a new one, no matter the perceived benefit of the new over the old.
The last thing I want to address is that despite my choice to situate this project in Portland, this is still a global problem. Portland, like many American cities, is in a unique position where their only option is to redefine and restructure their transportation systems. The developing world, however, is a different position. Cities that have yet to be built, or are in the process of building, can adjust before they get to where American cities are now. Sadly, this study by Kumares C. Sinha indicates that developing cities are following the path of the United States (Sinha 2003). Global capitalism has driven fossil fuel dependent, unregulated solutions to be the cheap ones. There needs to be a way for green options like those adopted by cities like Vancouver and Tokyo to be attainable for developing countries. Otherwise, they will mirror the path of the United States; a path that was dictated by a jaded market that favored lining pockets over commuter and environmental benefit.
Amekudzi, Adjo A., C. Jotin Khisty, and Meleckidzedeck Khayesi. 2009. “Using the Sustainability Footprint Model to Assess Development Impacts of Transportation Systems.” Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 43 (4): 339–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2008.11.002.
Bianco, Martha J. 2000. “Effective Transportation Demand Management: Combining Parking Pricing, Transit Incentives, and Transportation Management in a Commercial District of Portland, Oregon.” Transportation Research Record 1711 (1): 46–54. https://doi.org/10.3141/1711-07.
“Challenges and Advances in Sustainable Transportation Systems : Plan, Design, Build, Manage, and Maintain : Proceedings of the 10th Asia Pacific Transportation Development Conference, Beijing, China, May 25-27, 2014 – Lewis & Clark.” n.d. Accessed September 14, 2020. https://primo.lclark.edu/primo-explore/fulldisplay/CP71254854250001451/LCC.
Mihyeon Jeon, Christy, and Adjo Amekudzi. 2005. “Addressing Sustainability in Transportation Systems: Definitions, Indicators, and Metrics.” Journal of Infrastructure Systems 11 (1): 31–50. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)1076-0342(2005)11:1(31).
Miller, David E. 2005. Toward a New Regionalism: Environmental Architecture in the Pacific Northwest. Sustainable Design Solutions from the Pacific Northwest. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Sinha, Kumares C. 2003. “Sustainability and Urban Public Transportation.” Journal of Transportation Engineering 129 (4): 331–41. https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)0733-947X(2003)129:4(331).
Todorovic, Milan, and Milan Simic. 2019. “Feasibility Study on Green Transportation.” Energy Procedia, 2nd International Conference on Energy and Power, ICEP2018, 13–15 December 2018, Sydney, Australia, 160 (February): 534–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egypro.2019.02.203.
“Walk Score.” n.d. Walk Score. Accessed September 16, 2020. https://www.walkscore.com/.
Wines, James. 2000. Green Architecture. Architecture & Design Series. Köln ; New York: Taschen.
Yokohari, Makoto, and Marco Amati. 2005. “Nature in the City, City in the Nature: Case Studies of the Restoration of Urban Nature in Tokyo, Japan and Toronto, Canada.” Landscape and Ecological Engineering 1 (1): 53–59. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11355-005-0012-2.