by germinatrix | June 19th, 2011
My new favorite city is Portland, Oregon. I was there talking up my book (have you heard of it? ahem. I digress…) and was constantly taken aback by the beauty of the city – surely they ordered the sunshine and flowering trees especially for my visit! (Oh, a girl can dream!) I think the thing that swept my heart away was how environmentally and civically minded the city as a whole is. The citizens are proud of the intense conservation practiced in their city- there are no strip malls in the central city and outlying neighborhoods- no Targets, nothing but lovely little neighborhoods anchored by shopping streets. On these streets you’ll find coffee shops, restaurants with some of the best chefs in the country happily cooking away, wonderful unique shops offering a world of artisanal wonders … Portland, where have you BEEN all my life?
So I was wandering through one of the neighborhoods and I saw an amazing thing – a beautiful little series of bioswales, built on the parkways. Not every parkway planting strip had a bioswale on it, but there were enough of them that they formed a wonderful visual throughline on the block, as well as performing a valuable function.
A bioswale is a stormwater conveyance system. The idea is to direct the water runoff from impermeable areas, like parking walks, sidewalks, and streets, into the bioswale (or as it was formerly known in the “olden days” – the ditch) and keep it there, moving between stones of different sizes and vegetation so that impurities are filtered out before the water hits the storm drain. The swale needs a gentle slope, rocks, and plants. Easy! They can meander, they can be straight – they just have to keep the water percolating through the swale- the job of the rocks and the plant is to slow the flow of the water so the filtering process can happen. In a rainy climate like the one they have in the Pacific Northwest, the benefits of a bioswale are obvious – the polluted run-off from streets and parking lots can be filtered before it is dumped into the storm drains and subsequently into the Wilamette river, and they are wonderful ornamental features that turn what could be a waste of space into something beautiful.
Portland has a huge bioswale situation going on – you see them all over the city, and I hear they are planning more. The parkway strips (okay -HELLSTRIPS) of our fair land are sorely in need of attention, and Portland is leading the charge to turn them into productive rain-gardens. While I like planting food in MY hellstrip, I think this is a fantastic use of that no-man’s-land. Many of the bioswales in Portland were done by the city and industrial planners, but this one seems to have been done by the citizens of this little street. I was so enchanted. Every bioswale was slightly different, which added to the experience – the design throughline was carried out, but slightly shifted every time you saw it. Fantastic.
Everywhere I went in Portland, I saw things that attest to the fact that people there care about their communities, their city, and their world. People are crazy about gardening, they bike everywhere, they are protective of their open space and are justifiably suspicious of developers who would take the character of the city and change it. Don’t go changin’ Portland! I love you JUST the way you are!
Do you live in a rainy climate? Why not consider creating your own bioswale/rain garden?
XOXO Your Germinatrix