Portland is a Biophilic City


The City of Portland is well known  for its commitment and leadership to all things sustainable and green.  Being the leadership city that has a real focus on growth management (with a regional Urban Growth Boundary), it is also a city and region committed to the protection and appreciation of nature for future generations. Portland is well known as having one of the highest parks per-capita acreage in the nation, including large natural areas such as Forest Park and the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. Portland is especially known for its pioneering work on green streets and other innovative approaches to natural storm water management which include bioswales, green roofs and reusing grey water which is some of what defines a Biophilic City.

“Biophilic Cities are cities that contain abundant nature; they are cities that care about, seek to protect, restore and grow this nature, and that strive to foster deep connections and daily contact with the natural world.” –Timothy Beatley

Biophilic is a way to integrate Nature into Urban Design and Planning. After reading Timothy Beatley’s book “Biophilic Cities” for a PSU course, I was introduced to this topic and now have a better understanding of how Portland is a leader as a Biophilic City in the United States. And in knowing more about this I wanted to share some of  it with you.

I will focus on sharing what Beatley has already recognized in the city of Portland as Biophilic examples of greatness.

Not only are green walls becoming more mainstream, but designers and city leaders are envisioning even bolder ways to insert them into cities.” (Beatley, 125)

The newly-renovated Federal Building features a green wall and also includes a number of efficient, sustainable and innovative technologies including:

  • Solar thermal panels that will provide for 30% of the building’s domestic hot water
  • A 13,000 square foot solar roof that will produce 3% of the building’s electrical energy requirements annually
  • Modernized elevators that generate power as they descend
  • Unique shading devices on the south, west and east facades designed to respond to the sun conditions, maximize daylight and minimize solar heat gain during the summer
  • Energy efficient electric lighting systems with advanced controls that will reduce light energy usage by 40% compared to Oregon code
  • A 165,000 gallon cistern used to flush low-flow toilets and irrigate native landscaping
  • Energy efficient water fixtures, which in addition to rainwater reuse, will reduce overall water consumption by 60% compared to typical office buildings
  • A dedicated outside air system that provides 100% fresh air

This building has drawn a lot of controversy and praise, but overall it is a leader in the region and nation for its urban interface with nature.

 “In Portland, Oregon, through the advocacy of the community group City Repair, the city adopted and intersection repair ordinance, giving every neighborhood the right to take back and personalize the intersections closest to their homes as potential gathering and socializing spots. ” (Beatley, 136)

City Repair

Intersection Repair is the citizen-led conversion of an urban street intersection into public square.

-To get approval for a project like this, the City of Portland requires 80% approval from all residents within a two block radius of the intersection.

— The cost for the permit (about $1,000) and for the paint was raised through neighborhood donations.

This creates  a social- sustainably aware neighborhood by engaging civic involvement.

“Research has shown that compared to conventional  intersections, these unique neighborhood spaces encourage walking and bicycling, foster new interpersonal connections, and deepen a sense of community.” (136)

Intersection Repair is the citizen-led conversion of an urban street intersection into public square. Streets are usually the only public space we have in our neighborhoods. But most all of them have been designed with a single purpose in mind: moving cars around. With Intersection Repair, that public space is reclaimed for the local community. The intersection of pathways becomes a place for people to come together. The space becomes a Place – a public square, which is simply beautiful.

This shows how so many neighborhoods are reaching out to create a communal space where everyone is welcome and you all can connect and create lasting relationships.

“Studies suggest that green features help draw us outside and propel us to live more physically active lives. ” (Beatley, 6)

Envisioned as an urban park with a wetland focus, Tanner Springs Park serves both the surrounding neighborhood and visitors to the area. The sustainable design features innovative uses of water and stormwater, creating a refuge for people and wildlife in the midst of this bustling downtown neighborhood. The design process was highly interactive, involving the citizens of Portland through a series of public workshops.

This park is one of a kind and really stands out to the world in urban design that can tie in sustainability and balance between human, flora and fauna.

“Nature in Neighborhoods is a broad-based regional initiative to restore and protect the region’s natural assets.” (Beatley, 133)


Nature in Neighborhoods goes hand in hand in Portland, Oregon.

The Metro Council launched Nature in Neighborhoods in 2005, concluding years of contentious deliberations about a state-mandated regulatory framework called “Goal 5” and ushering in an era of public/private innovation, investment and collaboration.

Metro plays a lead role in Nature in Neighborhoods but recognizes that the protection and restoration of fish and wildlife habitat and the integration of natural areas into the urban environment eclipse the reach of any one organization; they require the coordinated and strategic action of many.

Today,  organizations region-wide are working together to fulfill the vision of Nature in Neighborhoods. Projects range from neighbors volunteering on small restoration projects on the region’s creeks and rivers to multi-year professional habitat enhancement efforts and everything in-between.  They get to work with the $227.4 million Nature in Neighborhoods Natural Areas Bond Measure approved by voters in November 2006, the largest urban conservation acquisition initiative in the United States in decades.

The Metro Council continues to provide active leadership to Nature in Neighborhoods with a commitment to a legacy of regional parks, natural areas, wildlife habitat, clean air and clean water for this and future generations.

What is next for the Biophilic city of Portland, Oregon?


Located in Paris, this is one of many of Patrick Blanc’s famous green walls.

“The vision will be dense, sustainable, walkable cities and places that are also full of nature and profoundly restorative, magical, and wondrous.” (Beatley, 158)

We look at what international cities such as Paris, Stockholm, Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Auckland, Barcelona, Berlin,and Singapore have to show us. And then what potential we have to grow together by integrating nature into urban design and planning. Let us see cities as they could be filled with nature and create a thriving community to benefit from all that grows around us.