NorthWest Field Guide

Years ago, I proposed a series of made-for-public-TV programs that would explore the urban built environment around various cities in the Pacific & Inland Northwest. Oregon Public Broadcasting was "too busy" to use this program idea. Since this was written, pod-casts have come on the scene. So, now I just think of making a series of video pod-casts.

The series could be a good high school project for some video class. It would take a lot of work, but there is a lot of footage and interviews out there just to be had. These would be documentary, factual, with some controversy thrown in -- IE the ethics or lack of ethics surrounding the use of all these systems.

Since many of the programs would be about regional services, local agencies could provide resources, and possibly underwrite programs.

These programs would make interesting viewing for young and old audiences.

Here is an example, produced by Oregon DEQ in the 1990's (?) [Recycle Lifecycle]

Frame from Recycle Lifecycle of Glass and Newspaper (Oregon DEQ)

Source to Destination

Each story would trace something from its source to destination. Stories would usually build from a discrete unit of flow to a torrent. Each story would first give the basics, but then go back into history, problems, politics, economics, people (workers), futures, etc, as appropriate. Examples of issues are given below, but are not meant to be inclusive. Of particular value would be the expertise and opinions of those working on the front line, for example the sewer plant operator.

Water Supply

Water dripping from snow melt, joining streams, Bull Run Reservoir, piping to Portland, pumping station, reservoir or water tank, to the home. Chlorination, water quality, supply, backup wells, industrial use of water.

Sewer System

Flushing of toilet, washing dishes, a shower, washing machine, garbage disposal, joining the flow, trunk lines, Pumping Stations, The Big Pipe, to sewage plant grinder, fermentation, settling, etc, disposal of sludge, release of treated water, burning methane gas. Sewer system modeling, storm water modeling (SAM & HYDRA).

Issues: Combined Sewer Overflows, back flow, effect of grease dumped down kitchen sink drain, auto oil dumped in storm drain. (proper ways of handling oil and grease.) [Keep the Wipes Out]


Items being placed in recycling. Curbside collection, how each handled, where it all goes - new glass or plastic, paper products, etc. How different people sort their stuff. Composting. Toxics. This would be more than just one segment, as each material itself could take 15 minutes, so there would be opening and closing segments of 15 minutes. The list of materials is long: Newspaper, plastic, motor oil, vegetable oil (bio-diesel), car batteries, AA batteries, yard debris, glass, shoes, tires.

Special Recycling Topics: composting, food rescuers, electronics, construction materials.

Issue: Poorly prepared curbside materials! Example questions: What happens to staples and strapping tape on cardboard boxes during recycling process? What about the glassine windows in business envelopes?

Trash, Garbage, Waste

Common things thrown in garbage bin, bin to can, can to street, picked up, down the street, transfer station, trip to Arlington, operation of Arlington. Compare to incinerator at Spokane for burning trash. Good reference - Garbageland, by Elizabeth Royte.


Single morning commuter starting car, going down neighborhood street, other cars collecting onto arterial, cars going onto freeway, ... problems of congestion, pollution, speeding in neighborhoods, consumption of resources (i.e how many gallons of gas are used each morning for commuting?) Congestion Pricing? Traffic projects in the area. Drivers doing whatever they please. This would not be a popular program among gas-heads.

Transit Riders

Single morning transit rider walking to bus stop, joining other riders, riding to transit mall, transferring to say MAX, then walking to work. Cover a a variety different riders transit trips. Park and Riders, Bikes on Bussers, walkers. Bus culture and etiquette. Taking multi-hop tours. How people spend dwell time. Compare Seattle, Portland, and Spokane transit operation.

Transit Workers

A day in the life of a bus driver, mechanic, Max engineer, schedule writer, fare inspector, cleaner. This could start before dawn and end after midnight, with things going on in the night to get ready for the next day.

Post Office (USPS)

Letters being mailed, sorted, delivered. Mass mailings. Packages.

UPS, FeDeX, et al

Use of Hubs. Agreements with USPS.

Electric Power

Sources of electrical power (generation), transmission, distribution to service areas (what determines service areas?), residential vs commercial hookups, recovery plans for storms, what Line crews do and the conditions they deal with, ...

Natural Gas

Similar to electrical power. Problems particular to gas. Could include other types of fuels.

Other Topics

Other topics, although not fitting into the "go with the flow" format could be: the phone system, cellular networks, WiFi, Internet service providers, animal control, disaster planning, trains & planes, libraries, and so on, without comment here.


This one would not be start-to-end so much as just a tour of Portland bridges, especially the ones that raise and lower - how they work. Simplified animation where needed, footage of machinery, gears, controls. The bridge keepers.

Port of Portland

Ships arriving being unloaded. Reverse. Dry dock repair, other services.


I enjoyed "You Ask For It" in the 1950's, especially when someone asked how something was made. Since my family was in the grocery business, I got to tour the Crescent Spice packing facility in Seattle, the Bumble Bee tuna packing plant in Astoria, the Pepsi Cola bottling plant, the Brownie cookie bakery, the Presto Log plant, etc, in Spokane. I always enjoy a good tour.

This concept was inspired in part by two separate wordless videos made by the State of Oregon DEQ about recycling glass and paper, set to jazz music. I rescued that VHS tape and paid a local company to produce an MPEG file to share. Here it is! [Recycle LifeCycle]

John Miller
Portland, OREGON
john @ time haven · us
12/1998 - 9/2006 - 9/2007 - 11/2020