An Eyesore to an Icon

Activist Andy Szolnoki in Lents is aiming to transform “one of the ugliest property in the neighborhood” into something more appropriate for a neighborhood commercial district.

At the intersection of 102nd Avenue, Foster Rd and the Springwater Corridor is a PGE substation surrounded by gravel roads, chain-link fencing and barbed wire. The forlorn property sits near businesses, homes, and the under renovation East Lents Floodplains. The property fails to support it’s neighborhood, and as you’ll see below, PGE knows how to do better. Lets convince them that we’re worth the effort.

Power substations are a necessary evil in urban areas.  The infrastructure at these sites transforms and distributes power load across the city, and the industrial nature of the task is difficult to deny. In most neighborhoods, PGE attempts at least some level of urban camouflage  implementing architectural design, landscaping and structure to fit in with the surrounding context. Check out the images below for Google streetview snapshots of other sites in the Portland area.

SE Belmont

Open, airy trees and layered landscaping help obscure the mess of electrical equipment behind. Nearby businesses are succeeding, showing us that even minimal coverage helps obscure the negative sights.

NE Knott

This creates much more of a wall than we saw on Belmont. Large (20 foot?) trees do a great job of hiding what’s going on behind, while still allowing visibility through the trunks.

NE Grand

This is the most urban of the sites. Rather than layers of landscaping, they hide the area in a structural shell, mimicking the buildings nearby.

SE 7th

Similar to Knott, the tall hedge rows block visibility from the main street. The uniformity complete lack of transparency is boring, and probably brings security issues but it’s better than nothing.

80th & Holgate

Closer to home, this site uses hedges to create a wall. Not as tall as those on 7th, they don’t really hide the equipment, but rather act as decoration to soften the harsh lines of metal.

Clearly, any of the designs above would be an improvement over what is there today. Because of the future development planned for in Lents, I think the urban structural approach seen on SE Grand is most appropriate for this location (but of course, PGE should consult with the immediate neighbors on preferred design.)

A Site of Historic Significance

While doing research on this site, it turns out the location is the site of the original Lents Junction, arguably the economic birthplace of the Town of Lent, now the Lents Neighborhood. We shouldn’t let this site be relegated to unappreciated industrial uses, rather, the site should be embraced, acknowledged and celebrated.

Lent’s Junction was the meeting place of the Interurban line running on the Springwater corridor, and the streetcar line running through SE Portland along Hawthorne/Foster. It was the trading post, connecting Gresham, Sellwood, and the city of Portland. Today, Lents is the transportation hub of modern times, where the Springwater and I-205 Paths, Foster Road, Green Line Max and the Freeway all merge.

Can the “Lents Junction Substation” be upgraded to reflect this heritage? Can we tell PGE that the Foster area deserves as good site design at our substation site? We can certainly try.

Imagine the new Lents Junction Substation. Framed with masonry, and adorned with landscaping. The north side along Foster Road can provide an urban structural frame, and ample sidewalk for the neighborhood to reach the new floodplains natural preserve. On the south side, along the Springwater corridor, the site can support the natural environment with more intense plantings, and honor the historic site with a sign on the structure, reminiscent of the  original “Lents Junction” sign on the depot. This site could be an icon, and could establish a new gateway to Lents along the trail.

To make this happen, PGE needs to hear from you. You can do this in a few ways, and we encourage you to do all three.

  • Call PGE Customer Relations Manager, Joe Cominsky at 503-612-3602, and talk to him directly. Tell him how you think the Lents site deserves treatments similar to other sites in Portland.
  • Fill out the form on the PGE website and write your message. Your message will give them more evidence of community support.
  • Send an message through our site by filling out the form at the bottom of this page. This is a form letter expressing your support for an improved substation at 102nd & Foster. The contents of the letter are below, and it will arrive to PGE from your name and email address provided below.

Hello PGE Customer Relations,

I am a customer living in the Foster/Lents area, and I’m writing to express my support for site improvements at the 102nd & Foster power substation.

I appreciate the need for these sites throughout our city, but I know you can do better. Similar sites on NE Knott St, SE Belmont St, and NE Grand Ave all show a sensitivity to context that is completely lacking from our location.

Furthermore, here in Lents you have a chance to enhance the community you operate in. Your site sits on the historic birthplace of the neighborhood. Improvements could go beyond beautification, and could help celebrate history and community.

Thank you for considering this email as a sign of broad community support for substation improvements.

Improve the Foster Substation
  1. (required)
  2. (valid email required)

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  1. YES! I pass this site 5 or more days a week and have often thought that this site needs to be landscaped to hide the ugliness. Way to go, Andy! Thanks, Nick for posting!

  2. Thanks for setting this blog up and for posting pictures of other substations. I had no idea so many options were possible. PGE certainly needs to improve this site!

  3. Thanks for this post. I’ve driven Foster Road for 30 years and
    it’s definitely time for PGE to invest in some landscaping. We know they can do better.

  4. Here is an update on this topic.
    Yesterday I had a conversation with Dean Funk, who is the manager of Local Government Affairs at PGE. He brought me up to date on the beautification of the PGE substation. PGE is committed to do something this year. There will be plantings, but not until after the summer when planting season starts.
    The most difficult issue to solve is the northern boundary of the substation which is the Foster Rd. side and of course the most visible. Engineering, landscaping and other people are looking at it. The issues are location, room for plantings, city code requirements and of course safety as far as all those wires and equipment in the area.

    I told him that we are very interested how the northern boundary will look like and in the least they need to consider some aesthetically tasteful fencing. So, they are looking into that. I should have more information in about 2 months.

  5. Here is my long promised update:
    In the last couple of months I had several conversations with Mr. Dean Funk regarding this project. Dean works in the Government Affairs/Public Policy department of PGE. On 7/21/13 I met with him in person at the site. I appreciate that he came out on his day off. As it stands now PGE seems to be definitely interested in doing something. The question is just what is this something going to be?
    Dean is showing interest in improving the appearance of the old railway station on the Spring Water Corridor side. I most certainly agreed to that and then we had a long conversation on the rest of the property.
    In my view, The Foster Rd. (north) side is the most problematic. Apparently for many reasons trees or shrubbery cannot be planted there. These reasons are technical due to the vicinity of the power lines; city code regarding sidewalks and possibly others. PGE’s solution was to change the present fencing to a black chain link fence, which to me is unacceptable. I showed him an example of a prefab aggregate or cement type of fence located on a property on the south side of Foster Rd., 1 house past the Chevron station East of 122nd Ave. He appeared to be amicable to something like that and will take the idea back to his people. I stressed the point that thousands of people a day drive by there and the importance of how PGE presents itself to the public.
    On the west side of the property we talked about trees similar to what was planted a while back on the south side next to the rail station. They need to figure out where the property line is there. He was also concerned about the 2 large transmission towers there.
    At this juncture I need help in keeping this alive and getting more Foster Rd. and Lents organizations show interest in this project Dean is interested in more historical pictures. Someone was telling me a while back about a picture showing a white picket fence around the property, but I can’t find it anywhere.

  6. I just became aware that Dean spells his name as Deane. Sorry for my mistake

  7. Hi Everyone,

    Well, it has been a while since you heard from me regarding the beautification of the PGE substation on Foster Rd.

    The reason is that for the last few months I have literally been stonewalled by PGE. Around November and December of last year I was told several times that they were working on much larger projects and I should be patient and call back after the New Year. So, I waited and decided to give them time to “recover” from the New Year festivities.

    I tried to contact Mr. Deane Funk in March through E-mails which were not answered. I called and when he called me back he said that he was waiting to hear from people from within PGE to see what their plans were regarding this project. He also told me not to contact him again until he contacts me.

    I waited about 2 weeks and nothing happened. I have the distinct feeling that in this case he is not an advocate at all to our cause. I have come to the end of my rope. In order to further this project we need someone who is willing to be more confrontational and take over the lead. Confrontation is not within my nature, I still envision a world where people do things because they are the right thing to do without arguments and confrontation, but with dialogue, cooperation and compromise.

    I wish to thank all who supported me in this effort.

    Andrew Szolnoki

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