Portland UREx Synthesis
Portland UREx City Team: Alice Brawley-Chesworth, Heejun Chang, Michele Crim, Thaddeus Miller, Jennifer Morse, Jonna Papaefthimiou, Vivek Shandas
Research Fellows and Interns: Jan Cordero-Casillas, Dana Hellman, David Morrison, Arun Pallathadka
Existing SETS Conditions
Portland is often considered an environmentally-conscious, planning-oriented city. Indeed, when the UREx SRN began, the city had already begun to think seriously about climate change preparedness through urban green infrastructure projects and adoption of the nation’s first local climate action plan in 1993. However, the city still faces several SETS challenges. As it continues to grow and develop, Portland struggles with gentrification, displacement, housing affordability, and homelessness. A large portion of our residents are considered demographically vulnerable to climate change, many due to poverty or advanced age.
Portland receives relatively high rates of annual precipitation, and although the numbers are not projected to change much in the coming decades, area residents must often contend with localized flooding, landslides, and disruptions to daily life. Urban heat is an even more deadly climatic concern, already affecting Portlanders and expected to increase in intensity as climate change and urban development progress. Furthermore, Portland is located within the Cascadia Subduction Zone and may experience at 9.0 magnitude earthquake at any time. Preparedness for this event is a critical concern among city practitioners.
Spatial Analysis and Exposure Mapping
Much of our local research has emphasized disproportionate exposure to heatwaves and flooding, which varies both spatially and socio-demographically (Cho & Chang 2017; Cooley & Chang 2017; Hoffman et al. 2020; Michelson & Chang 2020). We have identified both the physical locations of hazard exposure as well as the populations vulnerable to extreme events. Unsurprisingly, low-income and non-white residents face greater likelihood of exposure to both heat and flooding. Vulnerability maps at the census block group scale show that highly vulnerable areas are spatially-concentrated in certain neighborhoods in Portland (Fahy et al. 2019; Voelkel et al. 2016; Voelkel et al. 2018). Eastern neighborhoods, along Highway 205, are particularly vulnerable to seasonal hazards. These areas are characterized by relatively high impervious surface cover, copious industrial activity and major roadways, limited green space, lower incomes, and less education. Portland decision-makers must therefore pay attention to both physical and social conditions in order to protect these communities from natural hazards.
Green infrastructure (GI), which may mitigate some effects of heat and flooding, is also distributed inconsistently. Neighborhoods with lower incomes generally experience lower green infrastructure densities, with particularly low green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) (Baker et al. 2019). However, there are some promising signs as GSI has been shown to delay peak flow timing and reduce peak flow volume in a newly developed neighborhood in East Portland (Fahy & Chang 2019).
In addition to identifying high-risk areas in Portland, our team has produced practical solutions for mitigating climate risks locally. This includes studies on the effects of various green building treatments on urban heat (Makido et al. 2019); approaches to implementing municipal green stormwater infrastructure (Shandas et al. 2019); and options for integrating satellite-based and ground-based heat measurements to predict extreme heat (Shandas et al. 2019).
Working with the Community
Much of our work is based on community collaborations. We work with local organizations and Portland residents to collect data, write reports, and create lasting researcher-practitioner-community connections for change. For example, community volunteers were recruited in 2014 and again in 2019 to collect ambient temperatures across Portland using a novel system of automobile-mounted heat sensors. This same community-led and -executed approach has been replicated in several other cities to help researchers and residents identify urban heat island hot spots (Shandas et al. 2019). Citizen observations have also been used to explain local pluvial (rainfall) flooding events that are not necessarily correlated to high flooding potentials. This is likely to be associated with the fact that some residents may not report instances of local flooding to the City, suggesting that the City needs to outreach the community more proactively (Michelson & Chang 2019).
The UREx Portland team has maintained a close working relationship with the Portland State University’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS), which builds connections between researchers, community groups, government agencies, and businesses. Together, we have pursued research and planning opportunities that promote equity and livability, as well as infrastructural, technical and/or ecological preparedness for climate change .
Co-producing Knowledge for Resilience Governance
In the Fall of 2019, the Portland UREx team conducted two city-wide workshops. Throughout this process, the team worked closely with the Disaster Resilience and Recovery Advisory Group (DRRAG) which addresses earthquake preparedness and emergency response in addition to extreme weather associated with climate change. Although earthquakes are beyond the usual scope of UREx priorities, they are critically important to the City of Portland, which is at risk of a major earthquake in the coming years or decades. The first workshop was held in accordance with typical UREx Scenarios Workshop procedures, focused on developing transformative goals and strategies for physical risk factors (heat, flooding, landslides, wildfires, earthquake) and social equity. The practitioner report for Workshop 1 can be viewed here. One of the most valuable outcomes of the workshop, according to participants, was a shift in mentality from “make things less bad” to “transform and thrive.” This shift was an important pretext to the second workshop.
Since one of DRRAG’s primary goals is to create a plan for resilience governance, the second workshop diverged from the conventional UREx format to specifically focus on this goal. The objectives and methods for the workshop were co-produced with DRRAG leaders, and the resulting workshop was considered highly successful by DRRAG leadership. Producing four novel, plausible, and innovative resilience governance proposals, workshop participants said they accomplished a year of work in one day. Four governance profiles were envisioned in workshop 2: Centralized, Decentralized, Hybrid, and Community-Led. The Portland team and DRRAG continue to collaborate and are currently working on merging the outputs of Workshop 2 into a single proposal to be taken to City leadership.