What UNR does, and why

Portland grassroots group United Neighborhoods for Reform seeks to stem the demolition of viable, affordable housing and its replacement with expensive and inefficient large single-family homes. Our demolition/development resolution, developed through significant neighbor outreach, gathered endorsements from 43 neighborhood associations citywide. We also regularly take our message to City Hall, starting in December 2014, continuing in 2015 on Feb. 12, June 3 (UNR presenters start at 51:20), Oct. 14 (UNR at 1:07:35), and Nov. 25 (UNR at 1:05); in 2016 on Feb. 17, Nov. 9 and 16, and Dec. 7; in 2017 on May 17; and in 2018 on Feb. 1.

Next up: Development Review Advisory Committee meets 8-10 a.m. Thursday, March 15, in Room 2500B on the second floor of 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave.

Portland Planning Commission takes up the Residential Infill Project at a briefing 5-7:30 p.m. April 24, then public hearings (prep your testimony!) May 8 and 15 at 1900 S.W. Fourth Ave., Room 2500.

"The time is always right to do what is right."
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Leaders step up

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly led the charge
for public health and safety last month.
Nowhere was there more evidence of change in the air than at a City Council session last month (demolition discussion starts at 1:16) where the mayor and commissioners clamored to have changes in demolition made effective as soon as possible.

Throwing his weight behind new rules effective at least by July 1, Mayor Ted Wheeler's opening salvo of "What would it take to expedite this?" seemed to show he's aware of the hits neighborhoods and Portland residents have been taking with unregulated demolition dust. As discussed here many times and shown by numerous studies, particulates of lead paint and other hazardous materials spread up to 400 feet from a demolition site, dusting people and properties and posing irreversible health and developmental effects.

Just a little hurts a lot. As the Centers for Disease Control has noted, avoidance is the best possible—and easiest—path to prevention.

Mayor Wheeler got in the spirit of public health and safety
at the February 1 session, noting that 25 mph—the allowable
limit for mechanical demolition—"is actually a pretty stiff
wind. That's not an inconsequential breeze." With such a low
barrier of protection and enforcement success unknown, it
may eventually be safer to require deconstruction for every
home or, better yet, keep homes standing in the first place.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly boldly brought on the proposal, especially notable because she oversees the Bureau of Development Services, where all the magic will happen to enforce the new rules. In addition, she asked and received support for expanding notification of affected neighbors twofold, from the previous 150 feet to 300 feet, to ensure people could try to protect against exposure, cover their food plots, and so on.

Other high points of the session included Tony Green of the Ombudsman's Office discussing how current demo rules created inequity because many neighbors would be more exposed to hazardous materials just because the homes in their neighborhoods were not as old as in other parts of the city and therefore not subject to the deconstruction requirement.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz chimed in to say that with this, and other issues relating to demolitions generally, it's shown that activists in a small number of neighborhoods are doing work that brings benefits to people citywide.

Tony Green of the Ombudsman's Office applauded
deconstruction but found that the city's mandate, which
 only covers houses built before 1917, has resulted in
"geographically disparate community benefits."
Watch here starting at 1:47.
As courts work through the liability of hazmat exposure elsewhere in the country, and the complicity of knowing about it, our leaders seem sincerely interested in making change for the better.

This steady evolution of City Council hopefully will continue with the forthcoming addition of a new commissioner. With a shift toward representation of people who live here rather than the mostly out-of-town business interests preying on viable affordable housing to tear it down for larger-margin projects, things can only get better.

This is especially heartening as the Residential Infill (Refill?) Project hurtles down the pike, which makes a demolition opportunity zone of much of the east side, exempting just a few areas because of the acknowledged displacement risk involved in upzoning.

If new zoning allows a multiunit payout on what had been a single-family property, the house currently there doesn't stand a chance. With few city protections for existing viable, affordable homes—even with many Portlanders embracing an environmental ethic of reuse and sustainability—the loss of old-growth housing will increase. But hopefully, thanks to City Council's efforts last month, we can all breathe a little easier.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

"No place will stay special by accident"

This from Ed McMahon, the senior resident fellow for sustainable development at the Urban Land Institute, when he spoke late last year at the University of Oregon's White Stag building. McMahon's focus on repurpose and finding win-win solutions bolsters the institute's mission to provide leadership in responsible use of land.

Before we lose them, it's worth asking.
How wonderful to see the possibilities of longer-term visioning for our evolution that are more healthful, sustainable, and inclusive than demolishing-at-all-costs, which thus far only provides more expensive housing, with little to no benefit to the community where it rises. (In fact, the hazmat dispersal involved in mechanical demolition is toxic pollution with permanent consequences for human health and development.)

McMahon wasn't the only one bringing inspiring ideas to town, noting that not only do "places make us" (moreover: "placemaking must be rooted in authenticity") but "sameness is a minus, not a plus, in today's world" and that "older smaller buildings consistently punch above their weight class" while also making use of durable old-growth resources.

Alex Gilliam likes it local, creating
projects with and for residents (as below).
Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop came last fall, too, courtesy of Pacific Northwest College of Art/Oregon College of Art & Craft, with a message about how development efforts succeed best with heavy grassroots involvement. Neighbors know what works, and projects prove all the better for their input.

Courtesy Ed McMahon/
Urban Land Institute
Ironically, while these two influential thinkers detailed the success of community-driven and -minded projects, Portland city staff seem to be moving in the opposite direction. In subtle and other ways, a move to diminish neighborhood associations' influence in city governance shows the increasing hold that business interests want to take on resources such as old-growth affordable housing.

Courtesy Public Workshop
Lately, the effort to demonize neighborhood associations seems to have gathered steam (helped by paid lobbyists); disgruntled Portlanders should take courage and be the change. If your neighborhood association doesn't represent you, run for the board. Show up to meetings. Vote!

Nothing could be more egalitarian than a neighborhood association, where all you have to do is exist somewhere in Portland to be eligible to participate—no common background, choice of transportation, or shared special interest required. No place is more inclusive and transparent at the ground level than a neighborhood association, which is bound by public meetings law, election rules, and voting processes.

Neighbors plant trees in Northeast, especially important as teardown
development razes mature urban tree canopy throughout Portland.
Commercial interests at the federal level increasingly call the shots—Portland is not immune—but for all the national grumbling about democracy, no one has seriously called for dismantling it and abandoning elections altogether. Why similarly move to negate neighborhood associations' power in self-determination, and disregard residents' pride of place? (Is it because the parasitic profiteering of teardown development is threatened by environmental and socially just protectionist efforts?)

Neighborhood associations are accountable, a conduit for information both directions between city staff and the street level, and are necessarily engaged groups dedicated to improvement. After all, neighbors know how to make positive change, whether it's planting trees, staging cleanups, solving local transportation issues, organizing neighborhood watches, and otherwise helping make this city such a fine place to live.

Another hallmark activity of neighborhood associations aside from
engagement in local land use issues are boots-on-the-ground,
hugely popular events such as bulky-waste cleanups, here manned
by Roseway board members and other volunteers.
Other critics of neighborhood associations say they're a waste of time. Some long meetings aside—few activists enjoy them (we would love company or to be spelled once in a while)—the neighborhood meetings are where the people meet and together collaborate on and enact a future.

One could argue that the diminished power of neighborhoods has had the resultant effect on participation. Give the people something more important to decide than what movie should play in the park that summer, and they will show up, as evidenced by meetings focused on land use issues.

This year, how about resolving to show up for your neighborhood? Read on for more reasons why or be inspired to act by the cautionary tale of near-total displacement experienced in one of Portland's classic neighborhoods—with all the free screenings coming up, there's no excuse to miss it.