By Jason King
When I moved to Oregon in 1997, I made a point of taking road trips and long weekends to explore all of the diversity of natural and cultural wonders the state has to offer. Over the last 16 years have had the opportunity to visit most of the far corners of our lovely state, spotting Bald Eagles in the Klamath, hiking the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood, rafting the Deschutes and the Umpqua, bird watching in Malheur and then soaking in the Alvord Hot Springs while watching a storm dissipate over Steens Mountain.
Oregon is more than just the sum of our natural beauty and resources, with a rich cultural heritage of agricultural production, progressive land use politics and transportation policies that contribute to quality of life. We’ve seen the distinct transition from urban to rural at the Urban Growth Boundary, and enjoyed clean drinking water in our glasses, fresh food on our plates, and clean air in our lungs. The shared legacy of this work is interwoven in the professional practice and history of landscape architecture in Oregon.
As part of the second anniversary festivities for the ASLA Oregon LANDbytes column, I decided to focus on another anniversary that celebrates this heritage. Statewide advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon recently announced The Land Use Trail to highlight some of the amazing places that have benefited from the ethos of ‘common good’ that makes Oregon special. This recently launched program encompasses the work of 1000 Friends around the state, as shown on their website for the Trail:
“To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the program in 2013, we’re launching this Land Use Trail. Not so much a single route as a compilation of 40 of our most treasured places. With each of Oregon’s 36 counties represented, this Trail is a way to appreciate just how vital land use planning and policy is to the state that we love.”
The categories of sites include Signature Natural Places, Great Communities, Thriving Working Landscapes, Land Use Roots, and Threats Defeated, and run the gamut from Smith Rock to Nye Beach, the Hood River Valley to Crater Lake. Think of it as a long trail – on with a number of legs and spanning years. The site is filled with information on sites, broken into these five categories, around the state, so find something close to where you live and practice, or take a long weekend to check out something you might have yet to uncover.
What does this mean to Landscape Architecture?
The relevance to landscape architecture is obvious, but it is something worth exploring to remember the inspiration that the natural and cultural landscape of our bioregion injects into our daily practice. As a discipline driven by context and the genius of place, we strive to use all of the available materials at our disposal to shape our plans. This doesn’t necessarily mean to ‘copy’ the natural world, but to learn from the ecology, to be inspired by the biodiversity, and to understand the unique life style and life cycle of all of our species (humans included).
The inspiration of nature has been evident throughout the decades of work throughout the state: regionally inspired architecture of timber and stone; the metaphorical mountains and creeks of Halprin’s Fountains in Downtown Portland or the true natural creations in parks and open spaces statewide; the natural systems inspired ‘biomimicry’ evident in our approach to stormwater management in urban areas; the weaving together of the productive and the beautiful for our delight and sustenance is at the heart of our profession.
We are also, as a profession, in a paradox. On one hand we are driven by the economics of client work and the desires to build places for people, industry and commerce in the name of progress and economic development. On the other, we are uniquely tasked while protecting the natural and cultural heritage that we live in as part of our mandate. How we balance the two is the measure of our success. To protect a natural treasure in a distant wildland while plowing up farmland for subdivisions in our home places is what we have always fought to avoid. The Land Use Trail offers many lessons on our successes that can bolster our resolve.
In traveling the state to work on projects over the years, it is our natural tendency to investigate what is the essence of a particular locale and see how that informs our approach. One case in point is Southern Oregon, where it is natural to be immediately swept away by the amazing ecosystem diversity present in the Siskiyou Mountains (image below). The convergence Cascade and Coastal species in a tapestry of vegetation is unique to the Rogue River valley, and continually offers guidance on unique plant associations, indigenous materials, regional forms, patterns and assemblages that are reflected in our designs. This phenomenon is multiplied wherever you work – the urban cores, the coasts, the high deserts, and the eastern flatlands.
On a totally different scale and context, when I arrived in Portland in 1997, the Pearl District was a mere grain of sand in the Oyster north of Burnside. The Henry Weinhard Brewery was still producing in full force, and the long stretch between Powell’s Books and the Bridgeport Brewery, was a lonely grouping of old warehouses and gritty industry, as seen in this aerial shot from the late 1980s.
That’s changed dramatically in the past decade and a half, with near constant development of urban infill and density in a community of high rise mixed use buildings, parks, and office spaces woven into the post-industrial fabric. It’s hard to see the old gritty side of the Pearl, and it is by no means a perfect neighborhood, but this area has proven a laboratory for innovative urban density, including many LEED buildings, green roofs, and unique sustainable urban site strategies. While contextually connected to the Pearl, these experiments have informed a range of urban landscape projects around the state, and through outsourcing of our experiences, around the globe.
Finally, as I surf through the 1000 Friends site, I came to the category of ‘Threats Defeated’. This is the most present of the ‘what if’ scenarios, (along with Measure 37), which could have altered the history of land use in our state. One I’ve continually found most fascinating is defeat of the Robert Moses proposed Mt. Hood Freeway through Portland (image below), which aimed to construct a massive interconnected system of highways that would have left the fabric of the community in tatters.
I see the old maps and think of how different this place would be, with interchanges and fly-overs cutting through neighborhoods and severing walkability, comfort, and beauty? The pathway of these major highways seems outrageous today in the context of our bustling walkable commercial corridors with mixed use buildings adjacent to residential areas. The human scale of these places define Portland as a city of unique, highly livable neighborhoods. But there are still traces, such as Piccolo Park (an open space that marks the former site of two homes destroyed for the freeway’s construction), or some of the ‘off-ramps’ to nowhere that exist through SE Portland.
I perused the list of places on the Land Use Trail and experienced what many of you will also feel. Memories of places that you’ve seen, wonder about places you haven’t. Or more viscerally, imagining what would exist today in the absence of the advocacy and land use planning work of the many over the years throughout the state of Oregon, like what would be the aftermath of the Mount Hood Freeway, as discussed above. The importance is that we have a visible remembrance of the battles fought and won, but also, that we know the fight isn’t over.
So, go to the website and read through the list of 40 places around the state that are captured on the Land Use Trail. Better yet, go visit a couple in person. And feel free use the comments box below to offer some ideas on the following questions.
- What are some of your memories of these places, and how they influence the way you practice?
- What are the endangered places we need to remain vigilant to protect and restore?
- What will we as landscape architects do in the next 40 years to protect and create more of these spaces.
Plan on visiting The Oregon Land Use Trail?
Share your experiences ‘on the trail’ by emailing email@example.com, post on their Facebook page, or if you are posting images to social media, use the hashtag #landusetrail.