july 2016 life update
Today, I had the privilege of watching the Metro Council refer an $80 million package for cleaner water and air, habitat restoration, and conservation of open spaces to the region’s voters. Testimony filled the room with the remarkable stories of the Nature in Neighborhoods grant program the levy funds, targeting engagement and empowerment to marginalized communities to build and enjoy their local parks, rivers and trails, from Gresham to Hillsboro. I got to speak with the absurdly competent staff at Metro about the exact ways this investment would make our living in the Portland area a healthier proposition, by which we’d invest in climate resilience and adaptation, provide cleaner air to breathe, preserve the region’s beauty and wildlife (salmon habitat!), and jeez, so much more. The vote was held in Milwaukie, in this building with a breathtaking view of the Willamette River, which, I think most people in Portland have no idea how ridiculous the Willamette is from points south of the Tillikum Crossing. This is to speak nothing of the falls at Oregon City, which maybe someday we’ll be able to turn into a Multnomah Falls-esque destination, if we’re ever daring enough to tax ourselves for it. Yeah, paying taxes sucks, but these investments undeniably replay their dividends in virtually any economic measure you use, and Metro has plenty of proof of just how competent and intelligently they’ve kept their shit in line for the past thirty years as they’ve grown into managing a regional parks agency. A colleague testified today that the strong provisions detailing how Metro would invest in MWESB businesses meant that this measure is in many ways explicitly an anti-poverty initiative, in that’ll push harder to invest the money in communities with the least access to jobs and employment. A coalition of private and nonprofit organizations have been building for years, waiting in the wings to help spread the word about the initiative, get out the word of the importance of these investments, and ensure that we keep some of the best parts of living here around for the next generation. These groups range from from old school bird watchers and Willamette River canoe nerds to new hip groups building innovative urban parks in East Portland, taking kids from Aloha out on the Sandy River, stuff like that. From the Clackamas County fishing groups who probably won’t vote for anything else that I will to Washington County’s kayakers, Multnomah County restorationists and trail advocacy groups; they’re all gonna be spreading the word. These are exactly the sorts of things I think we should be doing in Portland, and I imagine it’s tough to find anyone who disagrees with me.
In the afternoon, I attended the kickoff party for the *other* campaign that launched today. They’ll ask Portland voters for $258 million for affordable housing; 1300 units in city limits. A coalition of over 150 housing partners, providers and allies been working for over two years to address the absurdity of homelessness and lack of places to sleep for vulnerable populations in Portland. Sometimes I worry that it’s truly the sign of a sick society that our affluence and decadence coexists in Dickensian juxtaposition with humans living and dying on our streets. It’s troubled me greatly in the last couple years as Portland’s housing market has exploded, exacerbating the circumstances. The tectonic shift in the relevance of Portland’s housing marking permeates my life, even beyond what you’d expect from my own haphazard steps towards adulthood. Fortunately, local governments have been bustling to bring the advocates and business groups together to mete out a starting point, and the room overflowed with community leaders from so many different backgrounds; the tech-startup guy next to the union advocate; the county commissioner standing next to the environmental justice junkies. It was difficult to leave the party, absorbing the summer sun streaming through the city streets that are lined with old warehouses and new development, without a certain kernel of optimism. Between that, and the YIMBY conference I attended last week in Boulder, So many of the interacting sputtering gears of the mechanisms we rely on to guide our democracy — nonprofit advocates, politicians and government agencies, elections — are finally syncing to produce *some* kind of response to the transportation, housing, and other problems that we’ve been waiting to do *something* about as Portland awkwardly stumbles from a big town to a small city.
On top of that, last week, our plucky little Oregon Walks helped lead the charge for the policy push called “#workzonewtf,” which honestly I’m still laughing at how on earth we got away with that name (and ran it in the Oregonian). We collected dozens of photos of sidewalks where new construction in Portland neighborhoods closed off the path to walk, which adds up to a substantial hazard in many rapidly developing neighborhoods. It’s a proactive solution that prioritizes and honors the importance of being able to exist on two feet in this rapidly growing town of ours, and to see the organization work with partners to pull this campaign off (with their board president barely even aware it was happening).
Make no mistake, it’s terrifying out there. There’s neofascist creepy teens popping up at PSU, climate change is preparing to decimate what remains of rural Oregon’s longtime industries, we’re probably out of water, and as always, the earthquake lurks. This is to say nothing of the (inter)national political scene, where I’m not even sure what color I’m supposed to be dousing my facebook in, to honor which horrific mass shooting, bombing, or political catastrophe we’re all abuzz about this week. But you’ll be hard pressed to find *anyone* who doesn’t believe that we’d be a bit better off by investing in our local environment for all the benefits we can get out of it, and we’d be better off by having some place for folks to sleep if they fall through the gaping holes of our underfunded social safety net in an era of austerity politics. Ever incrementally, we’re actively pushing to honor our commitment to the physical places we live. There’s valid criticism these initiatives don’t go far enough, and are too slow to be enacted to match the urgency of these overlapping crises. All I can I answer that democracy is messy, slow, and inherently a series of unfortunate compromises, and the only way to hasten change is to roll up your sleeves, bring out your pocketbook, and get ready to get to work. If there’s a common theme in the above paragraphs, its the incessant virtue of “collaboration” and working together, that’s increasingly being done by different circles of Portlanders, and adding your hands to the work only pushes us in the right direction. It goes without saying the folks building their careers, families, and lives around this work are some of the most intelligent, dedicated, admirable, and thoughtful people I’ve been fortunate to spend time with. I can’t wait to celebrate success with them in November, assuming we’ve put in the elbow grease to make it happen.