What UNR does, and why

Portland grassroots group United Neighborhoods for Reform seeks to stem the demolition of viable, affordable housing. 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; in 2018 on Feb. 1; and many dates since.

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

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.