Our Own Olmsted
Fairview is home to one of the best landscape architects in the West. Mike Abbate lives in Fairview Village, in a home with (of course) a deliriously lovely landscape that involves recycled glass, trellised jasmine, espalier grapes, beds of hosta and fern and lavender, raised garden beds, and potted tropicals standing sentry on a deck overlooking Fairview Creek.
Mike is our very own Frederick Law Olmsted, a gifted landscape architect who creates beautiful, functional outdoor places across the Pacific Northwest. His projects include Multnomah Falls, Mt. Rainier National Park, Mt. Hood National Forest, the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Zoo and the first settlement in Oregon, the Champoeg State Heritage Area south of Newburg, a gorgeous quilt of field and forest home to over 130 bird species. Mike has also designed parks, plazas, and private developments throughout the region including Hood River Waterfront Park, Tanner Springs Park in Portland’s Pearl District, and right here in East County, the Gresham Art Plaza, where the farmer’s market and annual tree lighting are held, and also Fairview Community Park near City Hall. Today, over half his work is focused on helping people create beautiful residential gardens for their homes.
Of all the people I’ll work with as a city councilor, Mike is the one I find most inspiring. And we’re lucky, because we’ll be seeing more of his work here in Fairview.
Mike created the winning design for a roundabout that will be built at the intersection of Halsey Street and Fairview Parkway likely sometime in 2022. The design is brilliant – strong and simple and utterly fitting for our city. A handful of giant native conifers will shoot up from the traffic circle, surrounded by landscaping designed like crop rows and a dramatic outcrop of Columbia River basalt. The finishing touch: a sculpture of a great blue heron, graceful resident of our lakes and ponds. Funding to build the roundabout will likely come from the city’s urban renewal program, which borrows against future tax revenues to fund capital projects aimed at revitalizing urban areas – a program that helped build the Portland State University campus in downtown Portland and the Legacy Emanuel Hospital complex and the Albina neighborhood in Northeast Portland.
Mike also helped shape the concept for the food cart pod scheduled to open this summer at the intersection of 223rd and Halsey. With the Main Streets on Halsey project ready to bloom – projects are in the works and underway in Fairview, Wood Village, and Troutdale – Mike could play a big role in shaping what our shared main street will look like.
From the roundabout design, you get a good sense of Mike’s work: informed by the unique history and ecology of a place, effortlessly functional, creative with color and texture, and consisting of strong, simple shapes and patterns.
Mike loves Fairview and has helped create and run PlayEast!, the parks and recreation program for Fairview and Wood Village that has served over 2,500 kids. He also loves being able to walk to City Hall and the post office and gather in green spaces with his neighbors. He calls Fairview Village a “complete neighborhood,” with sidewalks, street trees, small front yards, front porches and lots of open space. After living in the Village for 15 years with his wife Vicki, Mike has come up with a new way of measuring neighborhood success.
“I call it the ‘Trick or Treat Index’,” he says. “Great neighborhoods can’t help but be places that attract droves of kids at Halloween. The characteristics that lead to a high Trick or Treat Index score include: good sidewalks, clear crosswalks, good lighting, street trees that help separate pedestrians from vehicle travel lanes, front doors close to the street, a mix of housing sizes and types, and a mix of incomes. At our home, we regularly run out of candy after 1,500 trick or treaters, a testimony to the great planning of the neighborhood.”
Mike’s work also is deeply rooted in a love of the natural world, and a belief that we have a duty to protect it. I just finished his book, “Gardening Eden,” a passionate case that Christians, indeed all spiritual people, have a special call to protect the planet – which is God’s creation. In the book, Mike explains the concept of “creation care,” busts some sustainability myths, and offers specific advice about how to make change in your own life to reduce waste, fight pollution, save water and otherwise protect the environment.
Mike really is unique. His professional excellence and integrity, and his commitment to community are strong. And his personal story is interesting. As a California kid, he loved both art and science – drawing rock album covers and studying marine biology and ecology in high school. But he didn’t have the money or the grades to attend college. So out of high school, he joined the Navy for five years, took advantage of the GI Bill, and got accepted to Cal Poly Pomona, one of the best landscape architecture programs in the U.S.
Mike and I share a love of science and art, sustainability and design, and creative, inclusive ways of seeing community. We’ve had a long talk about Fairview’s identity, and the need for that to be clearly expressed as we plan to build on the last few big patches of ground left.
An identity for Fairview, Mike said, should be rooted in nature and focused on the future. He calls it “Fairview-Forward” – and I am behind it 100 percent. Here’s what he wrote to me a few days ago about the need to far ahead when we talk about, and plan, our city:
“We need to remember that strong, dynamic communities are those that get selected by young people as the place they want to live, raise their families, and invest in. As a place to locate a business, we must be flexible enough to support new business types and formats. So, we celebrate our past, but constantly innovate in the ways we encourage successful businesses, build community spirit, and support households and families of all cultural heritages.
Plus, we must always be trying to anticipate the changes that will affect our community in the next 20 years. Things such as autonomous vehicles, telecommuting, and the importance of public internet access will cause us to design our communities differently in the future – and the most forward-thinking communities will become the most desirable places to live and work.”
You can find out more about Mike at his website:www.abbatedesigns.com, or on Houzz at www.houzz.com/pro/abbatedesigns