By Suk Rhee | Portland Office of Community & Civic Life Director
Love and activism are frequent topics in these pages, whether quoting Muhammad Ali (August) or demonstrated through master recycling (June). The Office of Community & Civic Life, and Portlanders, proudly share this heritage.
We love working together, and in many different ways. This is seen in Civic Life’s programs, from neighborhood associations, to the city/county youth commission, to the Cannabis Policy Oversight Team. We love learning from change with an open heart, open mind and willing hands to better serve multiple generations.
We also love our city and recognize it is growing and shifting. Civic Life has been directed by the city auditor and council to change the part of city code that is our bureau’s job description. This means updating our current code to engage our city’s dynamic future.
To inform this change, we engaged with a diverse cross section of Portlanders –including those served and not served by Civic Life – about their values and how civic engagement can help us achieve greater things. This is important because government’s responsibility is to reflect all its members.
This year-long process included online surveys, community forums in five languages, working with high school journalism programs, meeting with groups familiar and new, a gathering to bring these groups together and more.
We heard things in common. Portlanders demand more equitable outcomes as we grow from a city of 653,000 to 880,000 by 2035. This means tackling big issues so that working families, communities of color and rent-burdened tenants can keep calling Portland home.
Portlanders want government to recognize their realities and ways of organizing. Some work the late shift, are caregivers, want to participate digitally, combine social and volunteer activities or organize through important cultural traditions.
We also heard differences. Notably, communities’ relationship with government is starkly unequal. The accountability – and the moral and legal obligation – to address this rests with government, not with those in whom government has invested, or not.
After a year of listening to Portlanders, the proposed code language builds on our current network by increasing opportunities for community building and engagement. It commits to delivering more racially and socially inclusive outcomes. It keeps current privileges in place for neighborhood associations, district coalitions and business districts until better systems are adopted. And, names government as accountable for serving all its members, with love for our differences and respect for our shared heritage of activism.
Editor’s note: Suk Rhee is the guest speaker at the Nov. 6 Concordia Neighborhood Association annual membership meeting. It’s at 7 p.m. in McMenamins Kennedy School Community Room.