Something old, something new and something green all over

This evening, Chet Orloff, an urban studies professor and historian, will celebrate the release of his new book “Above Portland” with a signing at Powell’s Books.

This evening, Chet Orloff, an urban studies professor and historian, will celebrate the release of his new book “Above Portland” with a signing at Powell’s Books. The book features low-level aerial photographs of Portland, all taken by Portland-based photographer Bruce Forster.

“When I moved here as a kid, in the late 1950s, all of that was full of houses,” he said pointing towards St. Michael’s Church on Southwest Fourth Avenue.

Now, the church shares the plot with a motel, and behind it is a LEED-certified condominium. The lot is also located directly next to the streetcar tracks.

According to Orloff, the streetcar is another modern innovation of the city that was not there when he was a child.

“When I was going to college in the 1970s, there were no light rails; the city was very automobile-dependent,” Orloff said. “That all changed in the 1980s and [since then] the city has changed dramatically.”

After the creation of the first MAX light rail in 1986, Portland was on the track to become one of the country’s top green cities; in 2009, it placed second after Chicago in the highest number of LEED-certified buildings in the country.

According to Orloff, Portland’s innovation in regards to urban design and green spaces has created a “livable city.” This is what first piqued Cameron Publishing’s interest in creating a photographic collection of Portland. Cameron Publishing is based out of California.

In March, Orloff was commissioned to provide some historical background of the city to go along with the photographs in a book titled “Above Portland.” It is the latest addition to Cameron Publishing’s popular “Above” series, which has featured picturesque views of Paris, New York and Chicago.

“Above Portland” features 175 photos by Forster, who has 35 years of experience in aerial photography. For his material in the book, Forster hovered 500 feet above the city on a helicopter.

“The biggest thrill is when you get up and have everything worked out,” Forster said. “I like to photograph early in the morning and late in the evening when possible, so that we can get that warm and beautiful light, which is very important to me.”

When Forster moved to Portland in 1970, the city was still in its early stages of developing a mass-transit system. One of the biggest changes that he has noticed over the years is the South Waterfront; Forster still has pictures of when the city laid the first cement in the area.

At the time, the South Waterfront area was home to Lincoln Plant, a sawdust-powered energy provider for the core of downtown. The plant closed in 1986 to make way for urban development such as high-rise condominiums and restaurants.

Recognizing that rich history of the Portland, Orloff, the former executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, said he intends this book to be a historical document of Portland that can be utilized by fellow historians years from now.

“Bruce and I want to look at the city as a physical entity and explain why the city looks the way it does,” Forster said. “I included seven historical photographs from the OHS because I want to show that contrast.”

For instance, one of the photographs in the book depicts Vanport College, the former home of PSU.

“What you’re looking at here is where Portland State got its start,” Orloff said, pointing to the photo. “In 1948 there was a flood that washed everything away, and that’s what it looks like today—a golf course.”

To help him tell the story of Portland, Orloff commissioned five other colleagues, who are all are notable figures in the field of transportation, architecture, planning, sustainability and parks.

After picking up a copy of “Above Portland” at Powell’s Books, PSU sophomore Janine Mulden said one of her favorite pictures is an aerial shot of Ladd’s Addition in southeast Portland. Mulden said she’s also an aspiring photographer and, like Forster, enjoys taking landscape pictures of the city.

Kelley Lenox, a marketing specialist at Powell’s, also said she was struck by the stunning view of Ladd’s Addition.

“Looking through it, I get the sense of flying over these areas,” added Lenox, a 21-year resident of Portland. “The captions and essays help provide interesting historical information and set the context for what you see in the picture.”

Like Forster and Orloff, Lenox said she also recalls a bygone vision of Portland.

“I was driving by the Clackamas valley, east of I-205, and I was struck by the urban growth there,” she said. “When I first moved here, it was just hill and pasture with a few houses.”

Forster said that he hopes readers will discover new things about Portland by looking at his photos.

“[For] people who don’t know what these areas look like, hopefully this gives them a new perspective on the city,” Forster said. “It delights me to have people see these sides of Portland.”

Orloff and Forster will feature the book today at Powell’s Books on West Burnside. The event will take place at 7:30 p.m.