What is environmental design or “green” building construction? There are a number of construction techniques and practices that could be considered “green” or environmentally friendly. Some of the more well-known green building practices that might come to mind are energy efficient appliances, green roofs (roofs covered in plant materials), or solar panels for providing electricity. However, there are a number of other, more subtle, green building practices that can be employed in individual building design, or even in larger development projects.
Trees, when placed properly, can keep a home cool by blocking sunlight in the summer and letting more light in during the winter when leaves fall. Landscaping materials can be selected that are drought-resistant, reducing the need for water usage. Home sites can be designed and oriented in certain directions to harness passive solar energy. Retaining existing structures can be more environmentally friendly by reusing and conserving resources and materials.
One component of environmental design that is becoming more popular is the use of stormwater bioswales adjacent to streets to manage and treat stormwater run-off in a neighborhood. You may be asking what a stormwater bioswale is, and if so, here is a quick video that explains how they work (you have probably seen one before without realizing it!)
Stormwater bioswales were included in the reconstruction of Alpine Avenue, and you will also see bioswales along the newly reconstructed Hill Road, near the intersection of Hill Road and Baker Creek Road, when that street project is complete. Another new residential subdivision along Cumulus Avenue is also installing bioswales in the streets to treat stormwater run-off.
Do you think that it is important that these types of environmental design or “green” construction techniques be used in our neighborhoods?
When you think of your favorite neighborhood, what is it that makes it specifically stand out as a great place? Most likely, that neighborhood has something unique about it that makes it stand out in your mind. A lot of the places that I think of have something in common – unique public art.
McMinnville’s downtown area has some great examples. We have all probably sat down at least once by Ben Franklin or Abraham Lincoln, but there are many other installations around town (in case you haven’t found them all, this Oregon Art Beat segment from OPB shows a few more popular ones around town: https://www.pbs.org/video/oregon-art-beat-mcminnville-public-art/).
Another one of my favorite public art examples comes from my hometown. In Minneapolis, all of the sewer manhole covers on Nicollet Mall, a pedestrian-oriented street, are decorated with engravings of iconic things from Minnesota nature. One has a walleye (the state fish) and another has a loon (the state bird). These public art pieces are small in scale, but standout as you walk down the sidewalk. This form of public art comes from an idea of taking your normal infrastructure pieces that are required in any urban area (think utility boxes, streetlights, manhole covers, etc.) and turning them into an opportunity for public art. These small public art pieces, while somewhat minor, can spark a conversation, provide a good photo-opp, and overall help to contribute to the character of a place.
Do you think that opportunities for public art is an important characteristic of a great neighborhood?
Biking can be a great form of transportation. In McMinnville, our city is small enough that biking across town does not take that long, and if it was easy to bike across town, someone could use a bike to get a lot of their trips and errands done without depending on a car. There are also all of the health benefits of active transportation to consider!
Avid cyclists may not mind riding their bike in the street, riding close to and right alongside cars, and occasionally having to move into traffic to negotiate their way around a parked car, at a stop sign, or through an intersection with a stop light. However, that type of bike riding could be scary for some people, and it definitely is not an environment that small children or most families would feel comfortable riding in.
This has been supported by research and studies, which have found that “Americans have varying levels of tolerance for traffic stress, which is a combination of perceived danger and other stressors (e.g., noise, exhaust fumes) associated with riding a bike close to motor traffic. While a small fraction of the population will tolerate sharing a road with heavy or fast traffic, a large majority is 'traffic-intolerant,' willing to tolerate only a small degree of traffic stress. According to one popular scheme for classifying riders, the traffic-intolerant majority is called 'interested but concerned,' in contrast to the 'enthused and confident' and the 'strong and fearless,' smaller groups that will tolerate greater levels of stress.”
Are there other options for bike facilities that more people would be comfortable using? Perhaps an expanded off-street bike trail system or protected bike lanes that provide connections, not only between residential areas, but also to other destinations such as our schools, the historic downtown, and other shops and stores. Are there missing links or specific areas in McMinnville that make traveling through town by bike difficult? Should those types of things be included as a Great Neighborhood Principle?
You have likely heard the term Walk Score. If not, Walk Score is a concept made popular by a website that evaluates and scores the walkability of any given address, or even the walkability of an overall city. The website uses a number of different inputs to measure the walkability of a place – number of walking routes, distances between amenities, population, street size, block lengths, and intersection density. Many of these things relate to city planning and the development standards that we have in place for the build-out of our neighborhoods.
Let’s look at McMinnville’s Walk Score: https://www.redfin.com/city/11457/OR/McMinnville/housing-market#transportation
Overall, McMinnville’s Walk Score is 41, which puts us in the “Car-Dependent City” category. However, Walk Scores vary widely throughout the city. In our residential areas closer to downtown, the Walk Score is higher. In other residential areas further away from the central core, the Walk Score is lower.
A random address at 1099 NE Ford Street (which isn’t an actual address but is located near the intersection of NE Ford Street and NE 11th Street) has a Walk Score of 84, which is in the “Very Walkable” category. On the other hand, a random address at 2420 NW West Hills Drive (again, not an actual address but on West Hills Drive west of Hill Road and north of 2nd Street) has a Walk Score of 15.
What are some of the differences in these neighborhoods that might affect walkability? Obviously there are more amenities downtown, but there is also more connectivity in the areas of our city with a grid street network, something we will discuss in a later blog post.
Enter your own address on the Walk Score website to see how walkable it is in the place that you live. As you think about walkability in your neighborhood, are there any potential Great Neighborhood Principles that would make McMinnville’s neighborhoods more pedestrian friendly?
What makes a great neighborhood in McMinnville? What are the elements that exist in all of the neighborhoods and places that you think are great?
As you think about those questions, remember that great neighborhoods don’t always happen by accident. They often are the result of careful planning and thoughtful design that creates places that are sustainable, walkable, vibrant, social, and livable, all of which increases the quality of life for residents of all ages and incomes in the neighborhood.
The Great Neighborhood Principles project will identify the key principles, or characteristics, that make for a great neighborhood in McMinnville.
To identify those principles, we need your input! Starting next week, we will be providing mini-surveys twice a week to gather community input on important neighborhood characteristics. The input from these surveys will be used to develop the City of McMinnville’s Great Neighborhood Principles. We will also be sharing additional blog posts with information on best practices in planning and neighborhood design to help describe each particular principle under consideration. Hopefully the blog posts will also prompt thoughts and conversations on the principles as well!
If you are interested in completing a more in-depth online survey, we will have one of those available soon too!
Think about your least favorite things that happen when you leave the house every morning. It could be the traffic that backs up along your street, maybe the car exhaust as you bike to work, the noise of the morning commute, maybe it’s how little you move during the day. Now imagine what a place might look like if pedestrian and automobile priority were flipped. What if we paid more attention to getting ourselves places, rather than our cars?
Let’s paint a picture, Bob Ross style, of this new concept. After you draw in the puffy clouds, picture yourself standing in the middle of a street. The painted lines and asphalt of the road have been replaced by a new material, maybe brick, cobblestone, rock, or just your standard cement.
Looking straight down this new street, people are walking around from store, to restaurant, to winery, with no cars in sight.
The noise your ears pickup is limited to conversations of passerby’s, music flowing down the corridor, and the wind gently shifting the trees.
You live a couple blocks from this street, but it doesn’t take long to get home because everything is much closer without the need to plan intersections, stoplights, crosswalks, or road width. When people move themselves, the destinations are closer together, yet somehow the environment is much quieter, much cleaner.
If I could pick just one principle, I think the best multi-use category lies with pedestrian priority.
Taking ourselves out of the over-dramatization of this painted picture, many cities are actually taking steps to prioritize people. The City of Salem has a great example in their pedestrian bridge, and Denver’s “LoDo” (or Lower Downtown) touts fantastic walkability scores. My favorite example by far, is Burlington’s Church Street. Church Street is a pedestrian only street that claims a vibrant stretch of festivals, music, restaurants, and even quiet places. Even our very own McMinnville isn’t far behind the trend with the recent opening of Alpine Avenue, and the famous Third Street.
Think about how your interactions with neighbors might change if a col-de-sac were to play the role of an extended front yard. What if there was a direct pedestrian path from your home to downtown without all the traffic?
When we prioritize pedestrians, we’re doing so much more. We’re raising the priorities of our health, diverse communities, kids, the environment, and removing barriers to bring people together.
Fall is here! For many, the change in seasons is marked by falling leaves, the return of football season, and the (hate it or love it) phenom – pumpkin spice lattes. But don’t get too cozy just yet, the chill in the air and crunch of leaves under your feet should also signal that rodents are scrambling to find shelter and hunker down for the cold season. But before we start talking rats, here are some fun facts about autumn:
We see our neighbors hustling to trim tree branches, clean out their summer gardens, clear junk from the garage so they can park inside for the winter, and a number of other activities that can create future rodent residences. Here are some tips from Seattle’s King County for reducing your risk of rodent infestation:
So take advantage of the next few sunny weeks by mowing your lawn, running a couple of loads of yard debris to the recycling center and re-stacking your wood pile. If you are concerned about any neighboring properties that may be facilitating some rodent-friendly activity, please reach out to the City of McMinnville’s Code Compliance staff immediately.
One of my favorite things about McMinnville is its historic downtown shopping district, 3rd Street. I enjoy walking up and down 3rd Street every chance I get. I’m a sucker for historic structures and architecture, so I catch myself wandering around looking at the many old buildings wondering what life was like at the time they were built. But then I’m distracted from the brick and stone facades by the smells from the many restaurants and cafes up and down 3rd Street. The sounds of conversation over meals or a beverage at the outdoor seating along the edge of the sidewalk are welcome to my ears, and together with the sights of the window displays in the shops, the street comes alive to my senses. But perhaps my favorite feature of 3rd Street are the street trees.
The maples, lindens, and hornbeams lining 3rd Street change throughout the seasons when the brick and stone facades or restaurant menus may not - the fall color of the leaves, the patterns of the branches outlined with dazzling lights in the winter, the leaves emerging in the spring so they can provide shade in the summer. All these characteristics that change from season to season add another layer of vitality to the 3rd Street corridor, one that I think is crucial to the success of any outdoor space, and even a commercial district. I recognize that my background in landscape architecture may bias me to place extra emphasis on trees and their role in commercial districts like 3rd Street, but there is actually some science that supports the idea that street trees and other landscape features can help commercial districts thrive.
A successful commercial district could, in part, be defined as one that attracts people to it, encourages them to spend their time there, and encourages them to spend their money there. A 2005 study by University of Washington researcher Kathleen L. Wolf showed that street trees and streetscapes can help with all three of these criteria. The study found that urban forests are associated with more favorable perceptions of the business district and its amenities. There was also found to be a higher rating of merchants, products, and in-store experiences in business districts with trees than without trees. What does all this mean? According to Wolf, “Favorable expectations of the shopping experience are initiated long before a consumer enters a shop’s doors.” Shopping areas with trees were found to attract people from greater distances and for longer periods of time than ones with no trees, and the study also found that customers were comfortable paying between 9% and 12% more for goods in a well-landscaped place. Street trees and streetscape can play an important role in attracting and retaining customers and getting them to open their wallets a little wider.
Street trees and their associated streetscape can not only have positive environmental impacts that most people are aware of, but they also have hidden benefits for commercial districts that will help them prosper. Considering this, it’s no wonder that the 3rd Street street trees are as revered as they are. Those maples, lindens, and hornbeams serve as reminders and examples that thoughtful and integrated streetscaping is beneficial to commercial districts, which in turn can help create a “Great Neighborhood”.
"Great Neighborhood Principles" will help us explore what makes a neighborhood in