A Photographic Retrospective of N/NE PDX (1987 – 2008) by Julie Keefe


This project explores how the Living Community Challenge can be used as a tool by existing residential neighborhoods to not only maximize the social and environmental benefits of community redevelopment, but also address some of the inherent challenges: maintaining affordability for existing residents, guarding against gentrification, and minimizing the displacement of homes, businesses, and institutions. The site is the Emerson Street Community, an 80-acre section of dense residential development in Northeast Portland’s former, historically African-American, Albina neighborhood, with one of the most racially, culturally, and socio-economically diverse populations in the city. The project team – includes all community residents, community-based artists, Oregon Benefits Companies, local non-profits and allied professionals — sees synergies in promoting energy efficiency, building resilient infrastructure, and activating resident owners and tenants to strengthening neighborhood relationships and create a restorative and sustainable live-work community.

Project Team Members:  Diane Freaney, Nicholas Papaefthimiou, Mia Sheperd


The intent of the Beauty Petal is to recognize beauty as a harbinger for preserving, conserving and serving the greater good.

The Emerson Street Community is anchored by the Emerson Street House, an ART HOUSE, a kaleidoscope of artistic practices, constantly changing and evolving. The kaleidoscope expands throughout the neighborhood and into adjacent neighborhoods embracing the new, honoring the old, creating strong, resilient communities.

— “I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”  ― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


The intent of the Health and Happiness Petal is to create and sustainable, resilient communities filled with happy, healthy people.

Healthiness is entwined with happiness and unique for each person. Each person accepting and celebrating his/her/their ONLYNESS is key to creating a community where each

— Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. — Margaret Mead


The intent of the Equity Petal is economic access for all people regardless of physical abilities, age, or socioeconomic status.

“I believe the children are our are future;  Teach them well and let them lead the way” —- recorded by Whitney Houston

Start with our Children, our most important resource. Honor our Teachers, who serve our Children. Trust our Teachers and our Children to create the world we want to live in.

Our role is to pave the way by dismantling the administrative hierarchy, including standardized tests and accreditations.

‘We Created a School System Based on Equality’  March 17, 2014, The Atlantic, Krista Kiuru, Finnish Education Chief


The Intent of the Place Petal is to provide a stabile Community with permanent homes where folks can put down roots and belong.

ONLYNESS is that spot in the world only you stand in, a function of your distinct history and experiences, visions and hopes. Nilofer Merchant

Place is a collection of our  ONLYNESS, where folks come together to put down roots and belong. Place has been violated for centuries by OWNERS. The time to heal the trauma of a lifetime is NOW. Where do we start?

A neighborhood cooperative, sometimes called a community land trust. Housing can be owned or rented. Members are homeowners and renters. Decisions about the neighborhood are made by the members. Neighborhood schools, neighborhood businesses, neighborhood energy and water projects, so many issues that have historically been made outside of the neighborhood.

— My deepest desire is to help people use their creativity to find their unique voice; and then use it to let go, gather up and move on. — S. Renee Mitchell, Creative Revolutionist


The intent of the Water Petal is to view and use water as a precious, finite resource, critical for maintaining healthy watersheds and ecosystems that humans greatly depend on.

The Emerson Street Community is located in Portland, Oregon, a city known for its progressive approach to utilizing Green Infrastructure for managing its watersheds.  Green Infrastructure involves the use of natural landscaping features such as bio-swales, rain gardens, and green roofs for allowing infiltration and decreasing stormwater runoff in dense urban areas. Excessive stormwater runoff can cause flooding and downstream pollution of rivers and streams. In addition, permeable paving and other porous pavements are used in placed of impermeable road surfaces to allow water to infiltrate into the ground and potentially deeper groundwater aquifers.

The Emerson Street House located within the Emerson Street Community uses a number of Green Infrastructure features. The driveway consists of permeable paving and all of the gutter systems drain to a dry well, allowing for the storage and slow infiltration of water on-site and preventing excessive off-site flows into adjacent Emerson Street.

A portion of the Emerson Street House consists of a green roof, a roof made of native soils and plants, where stormwater is slowly infiltrated and any excess runs into the dry well. The landscape around the house consists of native plants adapted to the water demands and climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Despite many of the watershed initiatives in Portland and the Emerson Street Community, there a number of improvements to be made in this community. Green lawns could be converted into native plant landscapes for maximizing rainfall use towards building ‘micro’ front yard habitats for butterflies, birds, and beneficial insects. Green lawns could also be converted to urban food gardens, increasing access to healthy food and improving long-term food security.

Houses could contain rain barrels (tens of gallons) and rain tanks (hundreds to thousands of gallons) adjacent to roof downspouts for storing roof runoff to alleviate cumulative neighborhood flooding and provide a necessary water supply for dry summertime gardening and landscape water needs. Additional bio-swales and rain gardens could be installed throughout the neighborhood.

Lastly Greywater is a potential water source permittable by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, for using in the landscape to water appropriate plants and lower the demand on city water infrastructure.

— Well used, it decketh joy, Adorneth, doubleth joy; Ill used, it will destroy. Water. Ralph Waldo Emerson


The intent of the Energy Petal is to signal a new age of planning, wherein a proposed Community relies solely on renewable forms of energy and operates year-round in a pollution-free manner.

Earth Advantage Zero Energy

Earth Advantage Zero Energy

Earth Advantage Zero Energy Home Certificate –  a slam dunk and we have satisfied the Energy Petal. Right?

Except something seems odd.  We contacted Jimmy Jia of Distributed Energy Management. Jimmy works with companies to create energy strategies that create competitive advantage. Residential and commercial both rely on the GRID  and Jimmy shared some thoughts.

If the GRID goes down, the GRID will recover more quickly if folks have two sources of energy, i.e. electricity and natural gas. Whoops! We capped the natural gas line in the street since we only wanted renewable energy, not an ideal solution in an extended emergency.

Solar is a popular choice right now because of the tax sheltered advantages and financing plans available. The States and the Federal governments are shelling out big bucks right now. All the calculations are hypothetical and ignore the possibility that folks may just want to be early adopters and pay cash.

We paid cash and installed solar, ignoring tax benefits and expected rate of return. The Emerson Street House had to be Net Zero – cost to be connected to the GRID only for one full year to qualify for the Energy Petal. A badly designed electrical system, faulty arc fault breakers manufactured by SIEMANS and the failure of the Sanden SANCO2™ High-Efficiency Heat Pump Water Heater to provide heat and hot water sent us to space heaters to keep warm for 6 weeks while we diagnosed the problems, causing NET ZERO failure.  We are still working to get back on track.

For the larger community, behavioral changes and more insulation often yield savings without technology. As an example, using night flushing instead of air-conditioning in summer and wearing sweaters in winter. We have also been reviewing Electric bills which are complex and difficult to understand. If utilities were required to produce SIMPLE easy to understand bills, would folks become more comfortable with developing strategies to reduce energy usage?

— The future of the energy sector must improve societal core values of comfort, convenience and quality of life. — The Book of Energy Leadership Frameworks. Jimmy Jia


The intent of the Materials Petal is to create a successful materials economy that is nontoxic, transparent and socially equitable.

Lovett Deconstruction deconstructed the original, mold ridden house on the property. The crew was professional and respectful. Jeremy Jensen, Duncan Farms, built 4 twin bed frames and one queen bed frame from wood salvaged from the original house.

Avoiding materials on the RED LIST seemed easy during the planning process, although we found avoiding the Red List not so easy in practice. The Portland Materials Transparency Collaborative (PMTC) hosted a discussion – Decoding Transparency (May 2017) – between the Design Community and manufacturers and vendors. Everyone seems to be struggling with transparency. The Design/Build Contractor has refused to provide us with documentation for materials used in the house so we are unable to check compliance with the Red List.

50 Mile Sourcing of Materials. In the planning stage, we discussed sourcing within a 50 miles radius.  Our Team decided on Passive House (Passivhaus), a design/build methodology developed and widely used in Germany. We decide it was impossible to meet the 50 miles radius since the major systems would be sourced from Germany.

The Emerson Street House received a PHIUS+ Certified Project Certification from the Passive House Insitute US. We learned that this certification is based on an Excel calculation BEFORE the house was built.  Jeff Stern, In Situ Architecture, performed the CPHC (Certified Passive House Calculation) but did not continue overseeing the work of the Design/Build Designer.

Stephen Tanner, Tanner Windows and Doors, built Waldsee BioHaus Environmental Living Center, Certified as the first Passive House in the United States. Waldsee BioHaus was built to German Passivhaus standards, which are more rigorous than US standards. Stephan helped us understand the problems we experienced at the Emerson Street House.

“In Europe, architects don’t view green technologies as individual building components. Their approach is a more holistic one, for all the sustainable design components to work in harmony … for the building itself to be integrated with nature not stand separate from it … for the living and learning spaces of BioHaus to reinforce the rich, hands-on learning experience that is core to Concordia Language Villages.” — PHIUS Case Study

Waldsee BioHaus offers “a rich immersion experience in German language and culture.” Understanding locks and keys in German culture is necessary to understand why OPTIWIN Windows and Doors work well in Germany and NOT in the United States. Locks and keys last a lifetime in Germany; in the US we change locks often and duplicate keys. OPTIWIN door and window handles, which are standard in Germany, confound every person who walks into the Emerson Street House. We are constantly jumping up to open a door before a guest puts the locking mechanism out of kilter yet again.

LESSONS LEARNED are what I expected from the Design/Build Contractor.  Mistakes happen and, with effective collaboration and communication between the Design/Build Contractor and the Owner, solutions can be found. The process worked well until November 2015 when communication changed from collaboration to Gaslighting.

LESSONS LEARNED – PROCESS The design of a high-performance structure like the Waldsee BioHaus requires detailed planning by a highly skilled design team. The achievement is comparable to extreme mountaineering—necessitating strong and experienced leadership and a highly motivated team to make it safely all the way to the peak. The long-term success relies on carefully crafted details and a proper understanding of building science, the design of appropriate building envelope systems, the evaluation and design of thermal-bridge free connection details, and a clear strategy for a durable air infiltration barrier. These skills need to be combined with a “keep it simple” approach to allow for effective execution on the job site. In summary, the BioHaus success is founded in concise planning for a high-performance design, a carefully selected team of designers and builders, effective collaboration and communication, quality control, and proper commissioning.

LESSONS LEARNED – MEP DESIGN The design of a small-load heating system requires a great amount of professional know-how and experience. In this case, the design of the hydronic heating system proved too difficult for the team and as such does not work as designed—even though individual components are fully functioning. As a result, space heat is only being provided by the ground-source heatpump system, and not augmented by the solar thermal panels on the roof. The building’s performance however, has exceeded the predicted performance 4 out of 5 years. — PHIUS Case Study

We are grateful to Stephan Tanner for helping us through LESSONS LEARNED.  The OPTIWIN doors, supplied by Stephan’s company in Minnesota, had problems. Stephan introduced me to the folks at Hammer & Hand, General Contractor in Portland, OR. Dan, Hammer & Hand Wood Shop Manager, made an appointment to look at the doors. Dan described the work he would be doing and told me I would receive a Contract and an estimate from the Project Administrator. Once the paperwork was signed and accepted and the part that Stephan Tanner was delivered, Dan would make an appointment to do the work.

The Contract was in Plain English and easy to understand, for an estimate of $504.40. The actual bill was $567.45. Dan teaches as he works and we  had so many questions, we were surprised the actual bill wasn’t higher. We are wishing we START OVER and choose Hammer & Hand as General Contractor for the Emerson Street House.

Stephan told us that a Passive House needs a minimum of two year before all systems are functioning effectively. Just knowing the two-year milestone took the pressure off and allowed us to move on.

The Emerson Street House is a LIVING BUILDING in the Emerson Street Community, a LIVING COMMUNITY. Change is the only constant in nature.

— We expect too much of new buildings, and too little of ourselves. — Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jane Jacobs