Exploring sustainable solutions for the spaces in between buildings in order to create greener, more resilient communities across North America is an idea that has long intrigued Mithun chairman and CEO Bert Gregory, FAIA. (Gregory is also a current member of eco-structure’s editorial advisory board.) What if, he asked himself in the early 2000s, a neighborhood could expand wildlife habitat and be carbon neutral while living within its own solar and water (rainfall) budgets, and develop renewable energy sources to support these improvements? His answer to this question can be found on paper in the Lloyd Crossing Sustainable Urban Design Plan and Catalyst Project in Portland, Ore.

At that time, the then-newly defined objectives for green development issued by the Portland Development Commission (PDC), emphasized mobility, activity, and livability. When the PDC issued an RFQ for the Lloyd District in 2002, it envisioned the project as a vibrant, mixed-use urban neighborhood with high density, a distinct identity, and a variety of transportation options, much like the city’s earlier Pearl District redevelopment. Under the plan, the city would add 8 million square feet of development (retail, commercial, housing) and quadruple the area’s population by the year 2050.

At the time of the initiative’s origins, Abe Farkas was serving as the PDC’s development director, overseeing urban renewal efforts throughout the city. In the future, the city of Portland would require municipal buildings to meet LEED Gold standards. However, despite Portland’s eventual commitment to obtaining LEED certification for municipal buildings, “the PDC hadn’t yet looked beyond the ‘vertical sustainability’ of individual buildings to include ‘horizontal sustainability’ as part of its agenda,” says Farkas, who now is development services director at EcoNorthwest, an economics consulting firm. The genesis of the Lloyd Crossing plan also predated the introduction of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system by almost 10 years.

Design concepts for the plan, which earned special recognition as a Top Ten Green Project by the AIA Committee on the Environment in 2005, focused on a 35-block area in the Lloyd District near downtown Portland. Home to the Rose Garden Arena, the Oregon Convention Center, and Lloyd Center Mall, this predominately commercial zone is bordered by couplets and ring roads that provide convenient auto access, but also create barriers to adjacent neighborhoods. The plan’s moniker, Lloyd Crossing, refers to the intersection of Portland’s MAX light rail and a planned streetcar extension.

An earlier urban master plan had examined redevelopment possibilities for the section’s 54 acres; however its recommendations did not fully embrace energy, water, and climate issues, notes Gregory, who is based in Mithun’s headquarters in Seattle. “The next level of thinking in urban design needs to focus on the interrelationship between buildings and their context,” he says. “Understanding the integral nature of building loads and the energy or water supply is absolutely critical.”

Context here meant designing habitat and tree-cover strategies to include green infrastructure, wildlife corridors, and bioswales to form an integrated urban streetscape. A proposed districtwide stormwater strategy would capture and treat rainwater to improve conditions in the nearby Willamette River, and reduce demand on Portland’s combined stormwater-sewer and potable water system. At the center of it all was a mixed-use, high-rise development—dubbed the Catalyst Project—which incorporated many of the concepts outlined in the plan for open space, habitat, water, and energy. A cluster of proposed buildings, each of which would aim for LEED Platinum certification, would feature extensive natural ventilation and daylighting, rooftop gardens, and rainwater collection systems. Two concepts were completed: One mid-rise option of 150 residential units in two separate structures, and one high-rise alternative with a total of 240 to 300 units. Planned energy systems for the district also included 10 megawatts of photovoltaic (PV) capacity through rooftop systems, south-facing PV wall cladding, PV window shades for south-facing glazing, and PV arrays on all of the buildings, as well as 1.4 megawatts of wind-turbine capacity.

The plan also established a methodology for benchmarking habitat, water, and energy use as part of future sustainable development—and for modeling an urban setting that mimics natural systems. Ultimately, these metrics demonstrated how a thriving urban place could function at pre-development levels; that is, like the pristine mixed-conifer forest which existed close to 200 years ago on the site. Mithun, the PDC, and the rest of the planning team, which included contributors from the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and the Department of Transportation, also wanted to ensure that this conceptual design could be transferable to other urban settings and beyond individual buildings to include campus planning, institutions, cities, and entire regions.

Whole-systems thinking, therefore, became critical to designing an inclusive, sustainable, neighborhood-wide infrastructure. With leadership from Mithun, plan participants included community leaders, landowners, engineers, and economists as well as specialists in real estate, landscape architecture, urban design, and some of the region’s top experts in energy analysis, marketing, and branding.

Now executive director of the Portland Sustainability Institute, Rob Bennett also played an integral role in helping to create the plan’s cost and financing mechanisms to pay for district-scale water and energy utilities. Ultimately, this led to the formation of a Resource Management Association, a new private–public entity responsible for managing the district’s sustainability assets, particularly incremental savings from high-performing energy and water systems to finance the capital costs for new green infrastructure. A marketing team helped develop a sustainable identity to aid in marketing the neighborhood, and plans were developed to reinvest $9 million in savings that resulted each year from the sustainable strategies to further fund green infrastructure.

Since completion of the plan and its presentation to the city, the study area has remained largely unchanged. The recent recession prevented any further action, while the district’s largest landowner, the Ashforth Co., sold off several key properties. And yet, Lloyd Crossing as a concept lives on: “It helped to create a template for others to build on,” Farkas explains. “The EcoDistricts initiative evolved and grew from that study—literally exploring the possibilities of a horizontal and vertical green environment” at Portland State University, the city’s South Waterfront area, the Oregon Sustainability Center, and elsewhere.

With its growing impact on the region, “Lloyd Crossing is clearly the Magna Carta of EcoDistricts,” Bennett says. “We created the initiative as a way to systemically institutionalize green-neighborhood development—and that’s a direct descendant of this plan.” ?

David R. Macaulay is a frequent collaborator of Mithun and the author of Integrated Design: Mithun. He also is the author of the blog greenarchitext.com. For more information on the Lloyd Crossing plan, visit aiatopten.org.