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Incorporating Green Infrastructure into Portland Brownfield Redevelopment

City of Portland

Portland, OR

The city of Portland is building innovative green infrastructure strategies into the redevelopment plan of a former brownfield.

Topics Covered

Redevelopment & Brownfields

Project Status

In Progress/Under Construction since 2014

Problem Addressed

Portland has experienced consistent population growth for decades, transitioning from an industrial port town to one of the most popular cities to live in the country.

As part of this growth, many of the city’s districts have been redeveloped to cater to the new younger population. Located about a mile from downtown Portland, Zidell Yards is the largest and last undeveloped waterfront parcel in the South Waterfront district, an area that has grown beyond its industrial roots and has become a hub of sustainable building. With the vibrant area around Zidell Yards seeing the development of high-rise condos, an aerial tram, a streetcar, and a medical university, the site on the Willamette River was primed to be the next big development.

Occupying thirty-three acres in the South Waterfront neighborhood, Zidell Yards is a critical component of Portland’s history. Owned by the Zidell family, who have worked on the river as owners of ship-building and steel-salvaging company since 1912, the site once built ships for the US Navy before becoming the nation’s largest ship dismantler, later building barges in 1960 until its shutdown in 2017.

In 1994, the Zidell family began financing long-term intensive clean-up of the site with the future vision of developing the property into a combination of housing, businesses, and open spaces. As a former shipyard, however, the site was labeled a brownfield, with redevelopment or reuse complicated by the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants. Finding ways to mediate these hazards was crucial before plans for redevelopment could take place.

Hazards present at the Zidell Yards site included soil contaminated with asbestos fibers and river sediment laced with metals and tributyltin, a biocide painted on ship hulls and docks to rid them of barnacles and mussels. The remediation project enhanced the river’s water quality, prevented further risk to the area’s groundwater, and greatly improved the habitat for fish and wildlife.

Solutions Used

With the site’s hazards neutralized, plans were put into place to incorporate Zidell Yards into the surrounding area with new development.

The plan, expected to be complete in 2035, includes building new retail, residential, and office spaces in the coming years. Residents would benefit from new streets, new parks, and new bike and riverfront trails. Among the goals of the development were to be the heart of Portland’s South Waterfront district and to build in an innovative way that was consistent with Portland’s international reputation as a leader in green infrastructure.

Alongside plans for the development of the land, The City of Portland applied for assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop green infrastructure scenarios for the Zidell Yards site.

Green infrastructure systems use plants, permeable surfaces, or landscaping to reduce the flow of stormwater, and the pollution it carries, to bodies of water. Due to the contaminated soil at Zidell Yards, minimizing or eliminating the need for new piped outfalls to the river was a priority and because the entire area was owned by the Zidell family, there was an opportunity to take an innovative approach. Examples of technologies like swales, planters, and green roofs that capture runoff from rooftops were looked at by the project team as part of their focus on managing stormwater at the source.

The city also investigated a new stormwater management system to carry combined public/private stormwater above ground through permeable surfaces and landscaping, instead of through underground city storm drain pipes, before it is discharged into the river. The above-ground method would avoid the financial and permitting difficulties related to running new pipes through the contaminated soil at Zidell Yards. By presenting an alternative to the traditional system for managing stormwater, this new system and its use of combined infrastructure will provide the community with better flood protection, habitat diversification, and beautiful green spaces.

By transforming Zidell Yards from a polluted, industrial site to the developed hub it is planned to be, Portland will have provided its residents with a valuable space that advances the city’s green infrastructure goals.



The city of Portland safely eliminated an environmental hazard and improved the habitat of the Willamette River for fish and wildlife.


The waterfront land the Zidell Yards sits on can now benefit the city’s growing population through housing and other redevelopment projects.


Because of the historic nature of the area, components of the shipyard will be incorporated into future projects


The redevelopment presented an opportunity for innovative stormwater management systems.

Who Should Consider

Growing cities looking to improve their communities by incorporating green infrastructure into redeveloped brownfield sites.

Last Updated

Mar 18th, 2022
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