By Garlynn Woodsong | Chair, CNA LUTC
Perhaps you remember, or have heard about, when neighborhoods used to mean something in Portland.
At one point, neighborhood associations in Portland successfully defeated the Mount Hood Freeway proposal. It would have begun at the ramp that juts out into space at the east end of the Marquam Bridge and bulldozed a wide path to destroy neighborhoods on either side of southeast Clinton Street to Gresham.
That’s clout, and it enabled the monetary resources allocated to the freeway to instead go toward construction of the first modern light rail line in Portland.
The city, on the freeway proposal and others, used to listen to input from neighborhoods, to be swayed by neighborhoods’ advocacy. Nowadays, does a letter on neighborhood association letterhead mean anything? Should it?
The city of Portland says it weighs input from individuals equally with that from organizations, that everybody is equal in the eyes of the public process. What, then, is the incentive for neighbors to band together to engage in collective decision-making to advocate what we think best for both our neighborhood and the city? How can neighborhood input be meaningful again within the city’s public processes? Should it?
One issue, indeed perhaps the main issue, revolves around physical presence. Everybody is busy. Parents are raising children, and most people are working to pay the rent or the mortgage and maintenance.
There are folks who have achieved sufficient stability in their lives to be able to make the time to physically show up and volunteer. And they usually represent just one demographic cross section of their neighborhoods.
Should people be required to show up in person to neighborhood meetings for their voices to be meaningful within the neighborhood association’s internal deliberative process? What about attending only periodically? Should the occasionally-voiced opinion carry more, less or the same weight as that of someone who shows up regularly?
Perhaps we need to look for more solutions to enable greater inclusivity. Are there various ways for people to engage on their own schedules? Can they do that without having to physically show up to regular meetings to participate in ongoing conversations within the shared forum of neighbors? It seems that, following director Suk Rhee’s visit to Concordia in September, there may be an opportunity to engage with the Office of Community and Civic Life to address these issues.
There’s a wealth of technology we might apply to include more voices in the neighborhood association processes. Our task is to decide what, how, within what constraints, and for what purpose.
The CNA Land Use & Transportation Committee (LUTC) will examine these and related concerns. We welcome your ideas about how we might meet these challenges to best represent the needs of our entire community.
Please email us at LUTC@ ConcordiaPDX.org to share your thoughts, and I’ll include them in a follow-up piece here in CNews. And we’ll let you know, via CNews and Facebook, when the LUTC meetings are scheduled to discuss those contributions and more… and how you can participate.
Garlynn Woodsong lives on 29th Avenue, serves on the CNA Board and is an avid bicyclist. He also is a dad who is passionate about the city his son will inherit. He is the planning + development partner with Cascadia Partners LLC, a local urban planning firm. Contact him at LandUse@ ConcordiaPDX.org.