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Portland's dangerous "neighborhoods"

As a Portland resident, I’m told I live in a neighborhood.

But the city's designation of "neighborhood" is sheer nonsense.

My home is in the Hillsdale "neighborhood" here in Southwest Portland. It’s perhaps best known for Wilson High School, its branch library and a bustling Sunday farmer’s market. We are at the Portland terminus of Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

But with a population of 7,800 and boundaries that separate Hillsdale “neighbors” by as much as three miles, Hillsdale is not my real neighborhood.

Indeed, the designation of Portland’s 99 so-called neighborhoods as “neighborhoods” is absurd, confusing and even dangerous.

That’s right. Dangerous. I’ll explain that in a minute.

First, realize that our real neighbors are the folks who live near us up and down the street or over the backyard fence. We occasionally chat and frequently witness our comings and going. We know many neighbors by name but should know more.

A real neighborhood consists of the 20 to 35 people living in roughly 10 to 15 dwellings.

Accordingly, Hillsdale consists of approximately 300 true neighborhoods.

So if Hillsdale, Hayhurst, Multnomah, Bridlemile and South Burlingame aren’t neighborhoods, what are they? They are COMMUNITIES, and we should call them what they are: communities of neighborhoods.

The altered designation would free the term “neighborhood” to be used to describe an important, even life-saving bond.

Recently one of the co-chairs of Hillsdale’s “Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET)” reported to the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association that the team has only 14 members, out of those Hillsdale 7800 residents. He warned that Hillsdale NET’s tiny volunteer cadre can’t possibly assist our large “neighborhood” in the event of an emergency like the massive earthquake predicted to strike Portland soon.

Note the repeated use of the term “neighborhood” above. I believe the misnomer stands in the way of grassroots organizing in true neighborhoods.

If Hillsdale were instead conceived of as a community of small, cohesive neighborhoods, emergency preparedness would be possible.

Each neighborhood, with its own distinctive place name, would have its own local emergency cache of supplies. It would be in a centrally located shed and store food, medical supplies and an emergency generator. Neighbors would pay for the shed and the supplies. The whole emergency mini-center might cost a couple hundred dollars for each household. Beyond its intended use, it would visually symbolize the bond uniting neighbors and their neighborhood.

I urge Mayor Charlie Hales to put the words “neighborhood” and “neighbors” to proper use for the health and safety of our citizens and our city.

Accordingly, the “Office of Neighborhood Involvement,” which answers to the Mayor, would redirect its work to real neighborhoods by acting through the present “neighborhood associations,” which will have been renamed “community associations.” The advisory job of the associations would not change (although they might meet less frequently), but they would become far more effective by serving as community forums for small, well-organized and caring neighborhoods.

Rick Seifert is the founding editor of The Southwest Community Connection.