Background image of Portland viewed across the Willamette River.

Partnering with nature,for Living Cities

How one city's growth could be greened, through new urban design approaches that work with nature.

Human life depends on the services provided by healthy ecosystems, including the things we can see: food, fiber, and raw materials — and those things we can’t see: water filtration, storm buffering, and climate stabilization; soil formation, photosynthesis, and pollination.

Recently, Ecotrust looked at how the Portland Metro area could better enhance and utilize these ecosystem services. In our Partners with Nature analysis, we asked:

How much of the region’s climate change commitments could be met through biological sequestration — trees and other plant matter?

How much of the city’s stormwater management could be met through green infrastructure?

How much of the region’s food needs might come from regional producers?


View through window of a person walking toward Natural Capital Center surrounded by green foliage

For carbon sequestration, we found that riparian areas and urban forests in The Intertwine Alliance’s regional parks and open spaces could meet 2.1 percent of Oregon’s greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2050.

On stormwater interception and infiltration, moderate additional tree planting over the City of Portland’s combined sewer system area (which covers about one-third of the city), could alone meet 6.3 percent to 14.8 percent of the city’s projected infrastructure needs by 2040.

And, for meeting the urban area’s food needs, based on a preliminary analysis of landscape suitability, we estimated that the region could meet demand for most crop categories, with the exception of meat products.

The work raises provocative questions about the new potential of cities.

As the world’s population shifts overwhelmingly to cities, urban designers are now thinking of the built environment as a central part of nature. Ecotrust is supporting that sea change in design thinking by mapping the flow of ecosystem services in cities and developing enhancement strategies for architects, developers, and city planners.

The ultimate goal is a mix of naturescaping and green technology that mimics the efficiency and beauty of nature, and delivers a positive boost for ecosystems.

It’s the living city of the future.