STEP Project Reflection

A Study of Green Infrastructure in Portland, Oregon

By: Taylor Brill

This summer I traveled to Portland, OR for my STEP Signature Project to study green infrastructure and stormwater management techniques. During my week there I was able to learn a lot that I did not know before about the politics, the installation, the management of green infrastructure and how they relate. Not only did this research help me within the field of City and Regional Planning but, I was able to grow and become more independent and resourceful in the process. The STEP program is all about the personal growth and development in our educational experience and I think that this project did just that. Planning a trip and a research project was quite a process from beginning to end but, looking back I do think that it helped me develop skills and learn things that I lacked before

Picture of Jaime and I (I’m on the left)

STEP Prompts

1.       Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.  Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

For my STEP Signature Project I went to Portland, Oregon with my fellow classmate, Jaime Schmotzer, to study green infrastructure and stormwater management practices. For the duration of the trip we went on tour, interviewed professionals in the city and explored sites ourselves.

2.       What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?  Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

The STEP Signature Project helped me to better understand green infrastructure and what this can mean for a city. I also was able to develop personal skills that I had never considered this trip would foster. It was very interesting to see a city that was so green compared to midwestern cities like Columbus. Portland has worked a lot on incorporating tree canopy into their city development which is not only visually different but, for stormwater management practice as well. Before interviewing Mindy Brooks with the Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability I thought of green infrastructure as the constructed projects like bioswales and rain gardens incorporated into the city. I did not think of trees and streams as green infrastructure. She explained the importance to protect the natural stormwater features because they are essentially free and only require maintenance. This changed my view on what green infrastructure really is and that landscape feature that naturally exist like trees need to be protected and considered. This trip helped me to further my understanding of the environment and city development and how they are interrelated.

Before this project I had never planned or gone on a trip where I was responsible for the entirety of it. I had help from my classmate so, I wasn’t alone on the trip but, we both had never gone on a trip where it was just the two of us. It was a process with coordinating with the professionals that we wanted to meet with, finding a hotel and navigating public transit in a city we had never been before. I learned a lot about myself in this process. It was not as hard to get around as I expected. Portland is very walkable or there are many options for public transit that is easy to take. I noticed after the first day I was starting to learn the street names and could orient myself according to our hotel to tell which direction we had traveled in. If I had to go on another trip like this were I was one of two people responsible I think that I would be more confident in getting around without having a car. The STEP Project helped me to become a better more resourceful traveler

3.       What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?  Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.  

A part of the project involved interviewing professionals in Portland. We met with Mindy Brooks from the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability in Portland and Casey Cunningham with the Bureau of Environmental Services. They both give two different accounts on the green infrastructure in Portland. Mindy was able to explain more of the policy side and Casey talked more about the installation and the technical side of green infrastructure. Through the interview with Mindy I was able to transform my view of green infrastructure from the man made constructed rain gardens and green roofs to the natural streams and tree cover. She discussed that both are just as effective in stormwater management but, people tend to take trees for granted.

When planning the trip, we decided to take a tour of Portland to help us get acquainted with the city. This help tremendously with knowing where things and areas in the city were. I was a bit nervous for the trip because I had never planned a trip like this before and I had never been to Portland either. I had no idea what to expect for how to get around and location of places in real time. Maps and research gave me a decent idea but things are always different when there. I felt more comfortable getting around after the tour and more confident in my ability to travel and plan.

The tours and interview also taught me some things about the history and development of Portland that I didn’t know before or think was relevant to my research on green infrastructure. It was interesting to hear this information about the history and how that has influenced growth and development in the city. Tying the historical context into my research helped to give me a holistic view of the city and to help understand that context is important no matter what aspect of the city I looked at.

4.       Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.  

Being able to take a trip and do research helped me grow as a person and as a future city planner. I was able to develop professional skills by coordinating with professionals. I learned how to evaluate projects in an unfamiliar environment as well. In my future career I think that it is important that I learn to network and research. There is a lot to learn from going to a city to research rather than sitting behind a computer and gathering information that way. I learned much more about the city that I could have never found or fully understood from reading articles and textbooks. I think that having valuable field experience will help me in the future in knowing what to do when it is required of me.

I want to grow as an individual and become more independent. This trip was a great way for me to get to travel to a new city and also plan a trip. Until I put myself in a situation that I could not rely on someone else to tell me what we were doing, I never knew my skills. I was able to orient myself pretty well with the city and learn areas quickly. On other trips I have been on I do not remember this happening. I think this goes back to me trusting myself and being responsible for knowing my route. I did have a fellow classmate there with me but, I wanted to make sure that I was accountable and did my part to plan the trip.

Portland State University Stormwater Planters

stormwater planter located in front of a hall