Does Runoff Have To Run Off?

Can we green our streets and still preserve urbanism? Seattle and Portland may show us the way.

Read Time: 2 minutes

November 17, 2006, 9:00 AM PST

By Christian Madera @

We're making great progress greening our buildings. "Why not extend the green concepts to our streets as well?" Thus asks New Urbanist planner Mary Vogel, a leader in the design and deployment of High Performance Urban Structure. "Why not have landscaping that works to treat stormwater and recharge groundwater, and that adds habitat for native pollinators, biodiversity to the landscape, and beauty to the environment?"

Because of a challenge from CNU founder and Gentilly Charrette leader, Andres Duany, while we were working together with him here in New Orleans, Vogel goes even further. "Why not provide these elements in the densest parts of new and old urban areas? Could not multifunctional landscaping work as well in a place with a streetscape as charming as that in Old Town Alexandria or the French Quarter?"

She found that Seattle and Portland, Oregon are leading the way. They are redefining streets to be a critical part of the public realm rather than just thoroughfares for cars. And they are using the streetscape to make stormwater runoff a thing of the past. They are beginning to "green" streets even in their most populous areas.

Vogel believes that Seattle and Portland have come closest to designing natural stormwater management for an urban density that would please urbanists of all stripes. "Portland's 12th Avenue is a model for fitting nature-based stormwater management into the traditional street network in moderate- to high-density areas. In bringing even more of nature's functions into such areas, Seattle's "Swale on Yale" and Taylor 28 move further in the direction of...high-performance infrastructure. As designers incorporate these ideas in their own designs, expect them to spread -- like native fireweed after a forest fire."

Thanks to Charles Reith

Tuesday, November 14, 2006 in Urban Land

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