Mike Houck is the Director of the Urban Greenspaces Institute, and a native Portlander. He has spent most of his professional career involved with the Audubon Society of Portland in some capacity or another, and currently serves as their Urban Naturalist. In this audio interview, our own Mitika Bajpai prompts Houck to discuss the importance of nature in cities. Although he notes that the philosophies of planners have shifted over his 35 year career, to perhaps even embracing the integration of greenery into the city, there is still a battle in proving that there is something worth saving amid all the concrete, and that a pristine environment does not equate a natural environment. The Urban Greenspaces Institute’s motto is “In livable cities is preservation of the wild.” Houck argues that while cities are essential: in order for them to be livable and lovable, people need access to nature where they live, work, and play.
In his wheelhouse are his efforts in Oregon in the decade spanning from the early 80’s to early 90’s. Houck started with a $5000 grant from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Non-Game Program and was eventually able to allocate $363 million dollars to purchase 17,000 acres of significant fish and wildlife habitats by the adoption of the Metropolitan Greenspaces Master Plan, as well as involving the City of Portland Water Agency in shifting their focus from not sewage management alone, but also to watershed health. His work helped to establish a broad initiative that manifested as local and regional level regulatory programs, a nonregulatory acquisition program, and the involvement of water quality agencies to bring in green infrastructure approaches.