By Nancy Tannler, Editor

Dear Readers:

We speak for old houses

Recently The Southeast Examiner’s content has come under scrutiny by community members who think we are neglecting the power of the press by not weighing in on all sides of the infill housing issue.

We are being referred to as NIMBY’s by mainly reporting on what is fast becoming the old guard – those who like the character of the neighborhoods and want to preserve what they can of them for the future.

I had to agree. So in the future we will make a concerted effort to present both sides of the controversy.

Being a fourth generation Oregonian, I just assumed all the newcomers and younger generations wanted Portland neighborhoods to remain the same with that folksy charm that transcends the eras from the 1800s to 2000’s.

In most of these neighborhoods, there are houses that were built at the turn of the twentieth century that to me, lend an atmosphere of stability

What we are being faced with is the purported 123,000 new households we will need by the year 2035. Twenty percent of these new housing units will be built and are being built in Portland’s single-dwelling residential zones. Some of the new housing and buildings are amazing and very aesthetic while others, well…

This activity has raised the alarm for many residents who weren’t expecting such a rapid free-for-all for developers; especially development of large apartments where profits don’t stay in the community once they are built, unlike housing.

No matter how necessary the infill might be, it is disturbing to drive through our neighborhoods and think what did they tear down there… and there… and there?

Concern over this issue has caused citizens and organizations like the Architectural Heritage Center, Restore Oregon,  Portland Coalition for Historic Resources to become proactive in monitoring inner city development.

Most recently these organizations invited Noré Winter to give a presentation titled “Compatibility Matters: Lessons from around the Country on Compatible Infill.”

Winter is an urban designer and planner who specializes in serving communities  with special amenities, distinctive natural settings and traditional downtown and neighborhoods. His talk covered some of his most recent consultations with places like Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Denver Colorado and Los Angeles, California.

Winter said Denver is growing faster than Portland. They however, do not have the demolition issue going on like we do here. Nor do any of the other cities around the country that Winter’s company has been advising.

These cities are more interested in protecting their single family neighborhoods so their solutions lean more towards developing transit corridors, reformulating existing structures and developing land that is already available, instead of forcing it all to be within a few miles of downtown.

In Denver, an alternative community was recently created whose planning began back in 1995 called Stapleton. It was built on the 7.5 square miles that was formerly the Stapleton Airport.

The building of Stapleton started as a collaborative effort by business leaders, civic officials and citizens who wanted to have a say in how Denver should grow.

The idea was to take the best things about Denver’s classic neighborhoods – parks, welcoming front porches, alley-loaded garages, architectural diversity, tree-lined streets, more parks – and continue those urban patterns into new Denver neighborhoods that included affordable housing options.

Stapleton has become a model for urban redevelopment worldwide. Jim Heurer, Chairperson of the Portland Coalition for Historic Resources, said that groups like Portland Together see this type of intentional community as a needed solution. Areas like Gateway are ready to expand unfortunately developer’s here aren’t interested.

Portland could build a model development of mid-range cluster housing, housing over retail, a community space – do something that will help rebuild this part of the city instead of always relying on transforming the inner city for people who haven’t even arrived here yet.

Transportation is key for these communities to succeed and we already have a great system, TriMet would only need to amp up the frequency.

All the cities Winter works with are faced with the same problems Portland planners and residents are trying to solve. They have evolved into implementing many of the same infill solutions but with one difference – they harder to preserve their older neighborhoods.

Another type of preservation

On another note I found an article in The Washington Post to be inspiring especially coinciding with Ballot Measure 98 where a yes vote will in part fund technical education to high school students.

Sweden’s government plans to introduce tax breaks to people who choose to repair washers, dryers and other home appliances. Another portion of the proposal would include bicycles, clothes and shoes.

Having a generation of kids who know how to repair stuff could be a possibility in our country too. It would be especially great if we included cars like high schools used to.

Save your seeds

A different topic of conservation that has people taking action here and around the world is seed preservation.

I attended the documentary Seed: The Untold Story directed by Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz recently and learned a few things that as a civilization we should be aware of, the first, being that ninety percent of our seed stock no longer exists.

What is left is being protected in seed banks around the world. This sounds good in theory but  many of these seed banks are being bought out by large corporations who then have the control of their use.

The short story is that in 1854, seeds were distributed by horticultural seed catalogues, farmer or gardener exchanges, on-farm seed saving and given free to people by the U.S. government.

The propagation and distribution of seed throughout the states and territories helped new farmers prosper.

In the early part of the 20th century, hybrids seeds began to provide seed companies with a potential increase in product profitability because farmers would need to return to the seed distributor for materials each year.  (Farmers can’t reuse hybrid seeds.) Most of this development was occurring at Land Grant Universities who refused to give the companies exclusive rights to the seed.

Evidence also proved that these hybrids produced a higher yield per acre. In 1924, after more than 40 years of lobbying, the American Seed Trade Association succeeded in convincing Congress to cut the USDA seed distribution programs which then privatized the seed industry.

Fast forward to today, agribusiness is in charge and genetically-modified seeds are the norm. If any thing goes wrong in a production year – drought, rain, pests etc., it’s hard for farmers to recoup their losses and they often end up losing everything.

In the documentary activist Vandana Shiva believes this is one of the causes of the high incidence of farmer’s suicide in India in the last ten years.

I understand the need for more food, if it would end world hunger, but here’s a thought: in the midwest the biggest crop is corn that mostly goes to feeding livestock for us to eat and making high fructose corn syrups and plastics.

Perhaps vegetarians will be the ones to save the world…

(More on saving seeds page 6.)