Student Work

The Beaver Project

During the 2017 Winter Term, eight graduate students from the Master of Urban and Regional Planning, Master of Fine Arts, and Master of Environmental Science and Management programs at Portland State University engaged in a study of beavers in the Pacific Northwest.  The question was whether better understanding the beaver could help us understand more about the culture, identity, and character of the Pacific Northwest, particularly for those of us engaged in planning and other activities with and for communities in the region.

The project had two components.  First, each student identified a topic associated with beavers, and developed a research paper that explored that topic.  All of those papers are posted here for your use and enjoyment.  During the term we read Frances Backhouse’s Once they were Hats, her very informative and engaging book about beavers in North America.  Thanks to Esther Lev, Wetlands Conservancy Executive Director, and Sara Vickerman Gage, we were able to spend a morning discussing the book with Frances Backhouse.  We gratefully acknowledge the importance of both Frances’ work and her presence in the class with us.  If you are interested in and/or care about beavers, do read her book!

Second, each student used their paper as the point of departure for creating pages for a class “zine” about beavers.  A zine is a short, self-published, and mostly hand-crafted magazine.  Usually combining words and images, the zine form attempts to both transmit information to and engage the imagination of the reader.  Preliminary research in Portland revealed hardly any zines about or featuring beavers.  We aimed to fill that void, at least in part.

Fortunately, Portland and Portland State University is an epicenter for zine culture and thought.  The Independent Publishing Resource Center helps any interested community member learn the basics of zine production.  Most important for our project, Kate Bingaman-Burt, a PSU professor and designer, teacher, and zine maker extraordinaire, led a zine workshop for the class, and really carried the final product over the finish line.  The final product is also posted here for your enjoyment, and exists in the universe as an imprint of Kate’s Yes Press.  We humbly and gratefully thank Kate for her amazing skills and her contribution to this project. Thanks, Kate!

All the products of our beaver project are here for your use.  Feel free to use and share them.  We learned a lot and what we learned demonstrates that digging into the life and times of the beaver in our region does, in fact, lead to a new understanding of and appreciation for the territory.  For planners, artists, and environmental managers alike, the message is clear: go exploring!  Wiggle your way into the interstices of the biophysical, ecological, historical, cultural, and sociopolitical nature of your region. Both you and your practice will be better off for it, guaranteed.


Resilience + Region:

In fall, 2016, students in USP 549: Regional Planning and Metropolitan Growth Management engaged in a project for Metro, the regional government in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area.  The project explored the topic of resilience, and the ways that Metro could address resilience through its regional planning activities.  In sum, the project found that the idea of resilience has been around for a long time, and can refer both to the capacity for "bouncing back" to an old equilibrium or for adapting to a "new normal."  For the purposes of this work we defined regional resilience as the ability of a region to maintain essential functions while anticipating, absorbing, and responding to acute and chronic stress, constantly adapting to improve social equity, economic opportunity, and ecological conditions. Though there are few examples of regional resilience planning in this vein, there are interesting examples from cities that could be used by Metro to shape its work. What we found leads us to believe that resilience planning is best understood as a social learning process, with the ultimate goal being to enhance the capacity for adaptation in the region to both slow and fast moving stresses and changes.  Metro, as the nation's only directly elected regional government and having several unique planning powers, is in a unique position to lead the development of regional resilience planning.  The class would like to thank Metro Senior Planner Tom Kloster for his assistance with this project.  For questions or further information, please feel free to contact the instructor, Ethan Seltzer, at

Making a Region: Livability, Stewardship, and the Technology Association of Oregon

In the fall term of 2014, the students in USP 549 (Regional Planning and Metropolitan Growth Management) took up a project handed to them by the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO). As TAO and others have observed, the knowledge and innovation economies are making it easier for workers to choose where and how they want to work.

The choices made by talented workers revolve around the presence of stellar professional opportunities, a high degree of livability, and a climate of civic innovation. These workers desire a place where they can make a difference in creating the communities they want. These elements today comprise the Portland regional "brand".

Our regional brand is the result of a partnership among sectors and actors. The provision of professional opportunities is a responsibility of industry. Stewardship of livability is a public sector task. The creation of a climate of civic innovation is the product of a culture created and sustained by public, private, and not-for-profit sectors.

TAO has an important question which must be answered. What needs to be done to develop and sustain the region's brand, described in the above terms, in order to maintain the Portland area as a destination of choice for talented and creative workers in the knowledge economy? The report, contained herein, is the response given by the class to this challenging question.

For further information, please feel free to contact the course instructor, Ethan Seltzer,

METRO Fiscal Capacity Report

Our understanding of local economies has been profoundly influenced by recent work demonstrating the metropolitan context for economic analysis and performance.  However, thinking about local economies in a metropolitan context creates new concern for and attention to the fiscal health and capacity of local jurisdictions.  Simply put, jurisdictions in a metropolitan setting are all in it together, and metropolitan area performance depends not just on the fiscal health of a single jurisdiction, but the fiscal health of many.  Understanding local fiscal capacity, and the relative condition of regional jurisdictions, is important both for determining whether the capacity exists to invest in the implementation of local and regional plans, and whether all jurisdictions in the region have the opportunity to benefit from regional processes for growth and change.

In the fall of 2013, Metro, the regional government in the Portland metropolitan area, asked students in USP 549: Regional Planning and Metropolitan Growth Management, to develop information about the metropolitan context for understanding local fiscal capacity, how other regions have dealt with this issue, the state of fiscal capacity in the Metro region, and what might happen next.  The report available here provides the findings from the investigation.

For questions or further information, please contact Ethan Seltzer:

OMSI-Clinton: A Corridor for Invention and Innovation

Each Spring Quarter, the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning offers a Capstone Class
that brings together students from different disciplines and backgrounds to participate in an Urban Design
Workshop. We have now completed our tenth year of the Workshop. This year the work was focused
on a unique area of Portland that has long been overlooked. With the building of the Milwaukie Light
Rail line, the area between the OMSI and Clinton stations stands out as an area of multiple planned and
evolving uses, a three-dimensional array of activities and concerns, a confluence of numerous transport
and transportation requirements, a long-standing commitment to retain the industrial sanctuary in certain
areas, burgeoning institutional opportunities, and a wonderful chaos of opportunity.

Long Trails Project: Identifying Opportunities, Solving Problems, and Exploring Implementation

In the fall of 2012, students in USP 549: Regional Planning and Metropolitan Growth Management undertook an exploration of long trails, trails extending over long distances, in Northwestern Oregon.  The Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Parks Department were engaged in a joint assessment of a new trail extending from Garibaldi, on the Oregon coast, to the crest of the coast range and following the course of the Salmonberry river.  This trail can be viewed in the context of a system of long trails in Oregon and SW Washington.  The class product is now being utilized by consultants working on a masterplan for the Salmonberry trail. The work of the class reports on:  

1)  History of Long Trails and Regional Trail Networks

2)  Long Trails in Northwestern Oregon

3) The Demand for Long Trails-based Recreation

4)  Long Trails and Community Economic Development

5) Long Trails Implementation

The full project can be viewed here. 

MURP Students Awarded Solutions Generator Prize

First year MURP students Zef Wagner, Brooke Jordan, Derek Abe, Derek Dauphin and Ryan Farncomb's proposed a feasibility study for a universal transit pass to encourage students to take mass transportation.  Their universal transit pass project was selected for funding through the Solutions Generator student award program from the Portland State Institute for Sustainable Solutions.  Their project is one of 13 chosen for funding from a competitive group of more than 40 proposals.  A brief summary of their proposal follows:

PSU strives to be a leader in sustainability, yet many students still drive to campus despite the wide availability of public transit. The lack of adequate alternative transportation incentives leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions and transportation costs per student. Rising enrollment and reduced funding for the incentives currently offered threaten to make this problem even worse in the future.

Our proposed solution is to increase transit ridership and lower transportation costs by instituting a universal transit pass (U-Pass) program to replace the optional Flexpass currently offered. A U-Pass would be less expensive, more convenient, and simpler to administer because costs would be spread out among all students and the pass would be sent out automatically.

Our team will research the experiences of other schools and produce a report with case studies applicable to PSU. We will work with project partners like TAPS and TriMet to develop alternative implementation strategies, and administer a survey to assess student support for each alternative. We will then choose a preferred alternative, develop a U-Pass program plan, and work to build student support to implement the plan.

MURP student Kate Williams was also a contributor to a Solutions Generator project, a researched narrative and animation of the bioregional water cycle entitled Portland's Water Cycle: Bioregional Literacy & Climate Change. 

Environmental Migrants and the Future of the Willamette Valley

Though there is a wide range of opinions about everything having to do with climate change, one of the issues that has captured the attention, if not the imagination, of some is the prospect of “climate refugees,” populations displaced from their current locales due to climate-induced impacts on livability. With relatively large populations in the southeast and southwest now vulnerable to prolonged drought and consequent water shortages, the Willamette Valley may emerge as the site where population displaced by climate change may seek to relocate. 

This raises some interesting questions.  What is the prospect for climate refugees becoming an important stream of in-migrants in coming decades?  How vulnerable is our planning to an increase in migration? Where might these people come from, and what kinds of values or expectations for land use and lifestyle will they bring with them?  What kinds of concerns do climate refugees versus other kinds of migrants bring with them? Perhaps most important, what might we use as principles for accommodating unanticipated growth in the Willamette Valley, and how might those principles role into scenarios for future growth and change?

During the Fall term, 2011, students in USP 594: Planning in the Pacific Northwest, sought to address these questions by responding to three challenges:
• Challenge 1: What is the current thinking about climate refugees, about climate refugees in the western US, and how might this affect population change in the     Willamette Valley?
• Challenge 2: What are the core principles for planning in the Willamette Valley based on broadly held community values, history, and the ecology of the place?
• Challenge 3: How might unanticipated growth be accommodated in a manner that enhances livability, sense of place, and ecological sustainability and integrity? Under what, if any, circumstances could unanticipated growth be an important positive force for livability and furthering sustainability in the Valley?
The product of that inquiry is available here. Please send questions or comments to Ethan Seltzer.

Six students and recent graduates in the MURP program headed to China for summer internships.

The students utilized the partnerships between PSU, the Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design (CAUPD), and the Urban Planning and Design Institute of Shenzhen (UPDIS). Check out their blog about their experiences and adventures here.

International Sustainable Community Development students traveled to Nicaragua.

Students enrolled in Professor Richard White’s Summer Seminar on International Sustainable Community Development traveled to Nicaragua to learn from and share with community members there. The students provided a chronicle of their thoughts, experiences and insights in a class blog, available here.

The Portland "Badass-ness" Map

What happens when USP students try to define what it means to live in Portland?  Badassness!  Using a list of "what-makes-Portland-badass" factors, MPA student Eric Crum and USP PhD student Dillon Mahmoudi ranked Portland neighborhoods in their Badassness Map. The map was recently covered by the KATU News blog and was originally created for a GIS class at Portland State.  The map is best described by the companion video which shows Eric and Dillon attempting to do everything Portland in a single day.

Vision Plan - The South Coast Sustainability White Paper

An Exercise in Facilitating Holistic, Interdisciplinary, Cross Sectoral and Sustainable Approaches to Landscape Planning & Sustainable Development

This document reviews existing conditions in a neighborhood in the island nation of Barbados, and suggests practical methods and policy changes to bring the built environment into greater harmony with nature.  The author argues that under the rubric of "sustainability,"  relatively minor efforts can increase livability for residents and enhance tourism, one of the country's main economic drivers.

Clinton Street MAX Visioning

This project was developed by students in USP 575: Urban Design Workshop.  This course, co-taught by Don Stastny, FAICP and FAIA, and Ed Starkie, annually takes on an important urban design question in the region.  The course was developed to provide graduate students with more hands-on design training for the graduate certificate in Urban Design, offered through a partnership between the Toulan School and the Architecture Department at PSU.  The project this year addresses the issues associated with a station on a new light rail line.  The proposed Clinton Street Station would trigger redevelopment on surrounding properties, and would have to be planned and implemented in a manner that does not negatively impact surrounding neighborhoods and communities.  This project is becoming an important community issue, and the products of the workshop will be used by neighbors, neighborhood associations land owners, the transit agency, and city bureaus.

Metro Future Vision White Paper

This project was developed in partnership with Metro, the regional government in the Portland metropolitan area, to help to frame the core issues associated with updating the Metro "Future Vision," a long-term look at the broader region.  Metro is charged with updating the Future Vision every 15 years, with the next update due in 2010.  The papers collected here were developed by students in USP 594: Planning in the Pacific Northwest as a means for helping Metro decide what kind of update it wanted to do, and how.  These papers will be used by Metro as it develops the final workplan for updating the Future Vision.

Ecolopolis 3.0: Infrastructure and Sustainability in Cascadia

A report on infrastructure needs and opportunities in the Cascadia megaregion. This was produced via USP 549: Regional Planning and Metropolitan Growth Management, and is the third report in a series. The Cascadia Ecolopolis notion is a contribution to the America 2050 effort, a project of the Lincoln Institute and the Regional Plan Association to bring attention to emerging megaregions in the US as a framework for the next iteration of Federal urban and development policy.

The Spoke Report: Oregon Land Use Stories Project

This project was developed by MURP students Matt Berkow and George Zaninovich to provide voice to the many experiences that Oregonians have had, statewide, with land use planning. The project was prompted by the passage of Measure 37 in Oregon, and subsequently won the 2008 AICP National Student Project Award. Read more...

Sustainable Land Use Policy Options for the City of Lake Oswego 

Author: Jessica Sarver
Faculty advisors: Connie Ozawa and Barry Messer

This document reviews existing land use policy in the City of Lake Oswego, a suburb of Portland, Oregon, and makes recommendations for how the city might alter its current land use and building codes to include policies that support environmental (as constrasted with social and economic elements of) sustainability.

Finding a Fair Balance Between Protecting Property Rights and the Public Good:

A Policy Analysis of Valuation Methods Under Property Rights Law

Author: Jeannine Rustad
Faculty advisors: Connie Ozawa and Ethan Seltzer

This document reviews four methods of assessing the effects of government land use regulations on real property values, with a particular focus on the recent history of the challenges to the Oregon state land use law.