Last week while visiting Portland, OR, I stumbled upon the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center.  I was intrigued by the building and surrounding area – the square block space was inviting and offered a great place to sit and get a smoothie at the center’s café.   Inside, the building resembles a transformed warehouse with large timber flooring and open atrium.  It also offers a pleasant outdoor area surrounded by trees, plants and grape vines.  When I asked the local barista about the history of the Center, she explained that after a century of service as a warehouse for the goods of the industrial economy, the Natural Capital Center was revitalized as a marketplace that fosters the ideas, goods, and services of a conservation eco-economy.

The renovation of the brick and timber building respects the character of the original 1895 structure while incorporating environmentally-innovative materials and techniques.  Today, the mixed-use structure houses a café, clothing store, offices and a pizza parlor whose “heat exchanger” reuses the heat from its ovens to boil water for the entire building.  An eco-roof and street-level landscaping filter the site’s rainwater.

The center is accessible by Portland Streetcar, bicycle (with generous outdoor parking spaces), bus, on foot and with limited car parking, making it a community destination.  As I sat in the outdoor area I watched as people sat and enjoyed a meal, parked their bike, got a coffee and read the paper.  The scent of the outdoor garden area contains hints of apple trees, figs and herbs, making it a delightful place to eat and socialize.

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