missing. To write the green city, and its absence. I am in South
Waterfront as one in a series of thirteen monthly guest artists.
Most of the invitees have been visual artists—
dancers, sculp-tors, photographers. I’m the writer. But concierges control the
entries, residents are behind their doors. So I contrive to meet
people in elevators or at six o’clock get-togethers and commit-tees. Friends of the Island. Transportation. Greenway.
And they turn out to be quite friendly. “Come up to see the
view,” they say, so of course I do. Twenty-fifth floor, riverside,
Mount Hood visible today. Fourteenth floor, cityside, lovely in
lights on a clear winter’s night. Thirtieth-floor penthouse, 180-
degree view for $2.4 million. Down in the afterthought Guest Unit
(second floor) I peer over the parking entrance. But I can still see
the twinkling spans of bridges and the silvery gondolas silently
ascending the mountain. Utopia, as I said—the sort of thing
you’d expect at Disneyland or Epcot. Who wouldn’t like this?
Some residents do show up at my Wednesday workshops, as
well as people from elsewhere in the city. I ask, What language
roots us here? We write the rain, the light, the breath, the place,
capturing visions one detail at a time. Between the completed high-rises, I discover a one-block New York view: Slice of sky. Verticality.
The next blocks are dirt (to the left) and tower-in-the-making (to the
right). Into the view leans a crane hoisting potties high into the
morning. Above them, an even taller gantry dangles a windowed
wall-section, bright yellow between the towers, gray sky through
the window in the sky, Magritte moment for hardhats and idlers.
Pieces rise and swing into place. The tower flies together in
slow motion like a demolition in reverse.
What’s green about
a cluster of high-rises on urban brown-fields? It’s the question I ask the next morning, when I get a tour
from engineer and urbanist Dennis Wilde, the project’s “green
guy.” A few years grayer than I am, Dennis is an intense and vital
advocate for South Waterfront. He points to the five buildings
completed so far, each of which has received a silver, gold, or plati-num award through the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Envi-ronmental Design) program of the U.S. Green Building Council.
And he makes the case that it’s more than trade-group hype.
South Waterfront is a public/private partnership of the city,
OHSU, and two visionary developers —
Williams & Dame Devel-opment, and Gerding Edlen. Their buildings feature recycled
construction wastes, sustainably harvested materials, zero-emis-sions interiors, and exceptional energy e;ciency. Building at this
neighborhood scale has allowed the developers to look at how
structures relate to one other, to the river, and to the rest of the
an integrating vision usually lost to single-building owner-ship and economics. Runo= in rainy Portland, for instance, can
be both a pollutant (carrying roadway oils) and a burden on over-taxed sewers. So the builders installed “ecoroofs” to slow runo=,
then channeled rainwater together with groundwater from un-derground parking (the riverside site is right at the water table)
and “daylighted” it all into a sequence of bioswales and open
creeks curving through the site, before returning it, free of
chemicals and temperature-neutral, to the Willamette River.
But the greenest aspect is not in the technicalities. It is sim-ply South Waterfont’s location and density. Walkable urbanism
is the mantra of the so-called Smart Growth movement. Over