Last Friday at the Gerding Theater I attended the panel discussion about green building in Portland moderated by Metropolis editor Susan Szanasy as part of PNCA’s “Idea Studios”. My notes aren’t comprehensive, but hint at the 90-minute long conversation.
The panel was first asked to put Portland in the national context when it comes to green building. “Portland is definitely out near the front if not in the front,” Scott Lewis of Brightworks said. “I think there’s a danger of resting on our laurels. But I get kids applying for jobs because they want to move to Portland, because they think it’s the greenest city in the country.”
Bob Baldwin of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca added, “We’re in a place where it’s relatively easy to do well. If there’s something that troubles me…we don’t necessarily put the pieces together. It’s building by building.”
Mark Edlen, head of Gerding Edlen Development, said, “Green building is in our DNA more than other cities….But pretty soon, getting to LEED Platinum will be a yawner. We need to get to net-zero and regenerative buildings.”
Susan Anderson, head of the city’s Office of Sustainable Development, noted that greenhouse gas emissions are down 14% in Portland since 1990 while the national average is up 16%. “The challenge is we need to reduce emissions by 80%,” she said. Anderson also added that we should retrofit and weatherize every building in the city within 10 years, pointing to a program in Berkeley, California where banks and the city sell bonds to provide loans for retrofitting.
Randy Gragg, editor of local home magazine Portland Spaces, pointed out there’s a difference between strategic and tactical. We have a long history of public-private partnerships, and a comprehensive planning tradition, but the last few years we’ve been more tactical than strategic with ill-advised affairs like the Burnside couplet. Gragg also cited Lawrence Halprin’s Keller Fountain as the beginning of the downtown rebirth, acting as a metaphor for the return of the watershed.
Lest we pat ourselves on the collective back here in Portland, though, Scott Lewis had this reminder: “If we get every building to LEED platinum we’re still going off the cliff.” He cited a city in Abu Dhabi intended as an entirely net-zero metropolis, and asked, “How fast can our region run on 100% renewable power?”
Mark Edlen also connected worldwide food shortage and poverty to green building. “Until people in Africa can stop worrying about feeding their kids, they’re not going to worry about solar energy.” But he also called sustainability, “the biggest grassroots movement ever.”
Oh, and most importantly of all given the morning hour at which Friday’s panel was held: The event included lots of tasty, highly fattening donuts and some very respectable Illy coffee. I hope some of the rest of you were able to access the couple of pastries I didn’t scarf down.