By Garlynn Woodsong | CNA Board Member, SW1 | CNA LUTC Chair
Portland city commissioner Chloe Eudaly ordered the rewrite of city code 3.96, which governs the relationship between the neighborhoods, neighborhood associations, district coalitions, business district associations and elements of the city government.
She expressed a desire to increase equity by reshaping who gets a say in city policy. She feels neighborhood associations too often represent white homeowners and exclude renters, people of color and immigrants.
She believes neighborhoods serve as gatekeepers that stand in the way of denser development and additional affordable housing.
Your Concordia Neighborhood Association board does not disagree with her diagnosis. We feel, however, there are effective solutions to increase participation, ones that don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Fundamentally, we believe there is a place for geographically-based groups in our citywide dialogue. Faith- and ethnicity-based groups alone cannot sustain the robust civic life Portlanders pride ourselves in. This is a city of neighborhoods to celebrate, preserve and enhance.
In the spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s concept of a ward republic – and toward the goal of promoting and enabling more diverse participation in the most local geographic units of our democracy – the CNA board made these recommendations to city council:
- Elect neighborhood association board members in county-administered general elections. That’s how it works for East Multnomah County Soil and Water Conservation District and circuit court judges. Our local neighborhood associations provide much in the form of community-building activities. They surely are important enough to rate at least this basic level of recognition.
- Allow individuals to nominate themselves and others for board elections for free.
- Ensure neighborhood associations reach out to all community-based organizations within their borders to make those groups aware of the opportunity to be elected the neighborhood association boards.
- Dedicate a meaningful percentage of revenue from on-street parking – both from residential permit programs and from meters – toward neighborhood improvement project programs comanaged by each neighborhood association in partnership with the city and neighborhood coalition offices. This revenue stream could be used in combination with other funding sources to help deliver more livability outcomes in shorter periods of time. Neighbors would help decide where and when to build bulb-outs, place benches, stripe crosswalks, plant trees, place public art, hold events and otherwise help achieve and maintain community livability goals.
- Head off efforts by some neighborhoods to slow the development of much-needed new homes during our extended housing crisis by the city providing more by-right fastapproval development pathways in all neighborhoods. So, if projects are proposed that meet adopted development and design standards, they can be approved administratively and without the opportunity for delay presented by discretionary review and lengthy public involvement and appeal processes.
- Protect neighborhood livability from new development – rather than destroy it – by empowering neighborhood associations to work with the city to develop and adopt design standards that work as a part of a citywide form-based code. That will allow each neighborhood to articulate and enforce its own local design character, as long as those regulations don’t impede factors measured by the Buildable Lands Inventory that are related to the ability to provide sufficient development capacity within our urban growth boundary.
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.