Last winter, Portland State student Paul Rosenbloom’s interest in sustainability sparked a project that went beyond everyone’s expectations.
After Rosenbloom started the “Diggable City” project for a two-term class in his PSU Urban and Regional Planning Masters degree program, the project has taken off within the city, and is now moving into phase two.
Backed by Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, the project looks to replace unused plots of land throughout the city and the county with agriculturally sustainable projects such as community gardens.
The idea began when a woman in the Sellwood neighborhood wanted to make a small area a community garden, Satlzman said.
“It got me thinking,” he said, “what other city owned properties could we make community gardens, parks and other things with?”
Teak Wall and Melissa Peterson presented the group’s project to the City Council in June of 2005 with the help of Brendan Finn, now Saltzman’s chief of staff, and Portland State alumni. Finn played a large part, Satlzman said, in spreading the word and helping to get the project get moving.
“PSU students have been very instrumental in the success of this project,” Saltzman said.
In phase one of the project. Rosenbloom and seven other PSU students did a study, taking inventory of unused plots of land across Portland and presenting them to the council, who took to the project.
The team received information from multiple public services on potential sites, ranging from the Bureau of Park Services to Transportation Services. They began with 875 potential sites, narrowed that to 289 locations and finally examined 24 candidate sites that were chosen for visits.
“The inventory we did was good, but a lot of properties may not be useable,” Rosenbloom said. “A lot of the properties that are identified are not necessarily signed and ready to go.”
Rosenbloom and his seven classmates were recognized soon after the completion of their project with the Oregon chapter of the American Planning Association giving the team the Student Achievement Award in Planning.
“It was a great acknowledgement by the planning community of the work we’ve done,” Rosenbloom said.
This is not the only recognition they have received. The group won the prize for “Best Community Building Film” at a film festival, according to Rosenbloom, for the documentary they made about the project.
Rosenbloom’s internship at the City Food Policy Council helped initiate his involvement in this work. Additionally, his undergrad degree from New College of California in culture, ecology and sustainable community added to his interests in this field.
Dr. Sy Adler, one of the three professors involved in the two-term program in Urban Studies and Planning, said that this program has brought many award winners but that these students have done quite a remarkable job.
“It has been a very successful project,” Adler said, “one that has gotten implemented.”
Rosenbloom said that he has been fairly happy about how the project has been institutionalized and that there is still plenty of room for people to continue working on the project. He said that he would continue to keep working on it as the opportunities came.
“There hasn’t been anything comprehensively done like this,” he said, attributing that to the projects success along with a “mix of timing.”
Rosenbloom said that Oregon State University is now starting a small farms program, much like the one already existing at Washington State University. He said that OSU does not have an extension of that program in Multnomah County, even though there is still farmland in the county.
“We would like to see in future an expanding of this out to a county or metro wide scale,” he said.
Rosenbloom is excited about the possibilities of the project.
“The best thing about this project is that it sparks more conversations and people just start thinking about it,” he said. “Sustainable agriculture isn’t in the vocab of the government. This is kind of on the cusp of being more accepted and more mainstream of what people are planning for.”