Like many Loeb Fellows, Mike Houck likes to stay busy. A Loeb Fellow from 2004, Mike Houck lives, works and birds avidly in his native Portland, Oregon. Houck has long been a tireless and passionate advocate for conservation, urban parks and greenspaces, working with the Audubon Society for many years. Loebblogger Margaret Scott connected with Houck this summer to discuss his volunteer work with the City of Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Commission, his “lean and green” organization the Urban Greenspaces Institute and his time with the Loeb Fellowship.
Often known for its forward thinking and planning, the Planning and Sustainability Commission is one of Portland’s newest strategic initiatives and represents a merger of the previous Planning Commission with the city’s Sustainability Commission. Through its unique charge, Portland’s commission elevates the purpose and scope beyond the limitations of exclusively technical planning and zoning matters. As a commissioner, Mike Houck embodies diverse roles and complementary roles, seeing himself as both a planner and an advocate. After spending many years “on the other side of the table” as an advocate for urban park planning and urban nature conservation in the Portland metropolitan area, Houck is uniquely prepared for the position. He adeptly weaves together his multiple roles in the community, carefully weighing the importance of the commission’s broader focus of bridging planning and sustainability. Houck cites the recent adoption of the Climate Action Plan and Climate Preparation Strategy as just one example of the ways in which the commission is able to incorporate a long-range vision for sustainability with the immediacy of planning, zoning and natural resource protection.
Houck founded the Urban Greenspaces Institute in 1999 with the aim of creating “great cities” through the complex but ultimately incredibly rewarding effort of joining built and natural environments through the integration of urban green infrastructure: parks, trails, wildlife habitat, or urban greenspaces. In his work with UGI, Houck works closely with a number of other organizations through the Intertwine Alliance, a coalition of nonprofits; health providers; federal, state and local agencies; urban planners; urban design professions and other private groups. They are all dedicated to supporting regional growth management through the creation of an equitably accessible, comprehensive, interconnected and extensive park, trail and natural area system, the Intertwine, for the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan region. As with most of his commitments, Houck feels deeply about the value of the Intertwine, as evident in his publication Wild in the City: Exploring in the Intertwine. When asked about the role of the Intertwine and the Alliance in the future, he declares, “I wouldn’t put a name on a book if we weren’t committed to its long term success.”
Houck said his time with the Loeb Fellowship was an important time of reflection for him. His sentiments will be familiar to many Fellows: “The whole experience was an incredible opportunity to take a breath, because I had been working virtually all my career on a 24/7 basis. I was ready for some down time that allowed me to think a bit more, and reflect on the work I was doing.” This contemplation allowed Houck to explore new avenues for expressing his passion for his work, and through his time at the GSD he came to rely more heavily on his own photography and graphics than ever before. After a drawing class organized for Loeb fellows, led by Ann McGhee, Houck remembers that he was so taken with the endeavor that he “wound up dreaming about drawing.”
Houck encourages the incoming Loeb Fellows to safeguard this time for reflection (and dreaming) and to take advantage of the incredible people--from within the cohort or among the professors, classmates, visiting scholars or guest lecturers at the GSD--who often constitute the most powerful relationships or offer the most important resources during a Fellow’s time at Harvard. For Houck, this came in the form of a lifelong friendship with his Loeb roommate and colleague, Rodolpho Ramina, whom he has since visited several times in Brazil. Houck advises new Loebs to treasure the time for reflection, the time at Harvard and most importantly, the time with their Loeb colleagues.