FROM THE EDITOR
Coincidentally, last month – the same month our editorial comment was about the value of Portland's 95 neighborhood associations in maintaining Portland's "small town" character, which has proven to be such an attraction in setting Portland apart from other major cities – we printed a "Letter to the Editor" from a community member questioning the value of these associations.
The community member in question had actually served on one of the city's most active neighborhood associations, and had advocated points of view that served to prod conventional thinking, and thus had been a valuable member of the association. We ourselves expressed the view, under his letter, that his provocative views were also on display in the letter, and were probably intended to spark thought and conversation, which is useful.
However, we continue in our view that to the extent that Portland is a city of small towns united by the concept of being part of a larger city – rather than being (like most big cities) a metropolis into which distinct towns had been pretty much absorbed – the unique charm of the Rose City has been and still is its neighborhoods, relating to each other and to the city government through the conduit of its 95 neighborhood associations.
We wish the City Council had not been prodded this summer to change the name of its Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which always worked directly with neighborhood associations to involve residents at the local level, to the Office of Community & Civic Life.
A name change does not necessarily mean a change of mission; but when it is rushed through the City Council as an emergency, something is clearly afoot, and the removal of the "neighborhoods" from the name is rather ominous. Is Portland on its way to becoming a miniature Los Angeles, overrunning its neighborhoods and making them all generic? Having lived in that mega metropolis for nearly a tenth of our life before moving here long ago, we sincerely hope not!
But if it signals a policy change, it should not be a policy change we who live here must simply accept. If we love Portland for its neighborhood atmosphere, we should not abandon the neighborhood associations which advocate for us at City Hall, but instead we should bestir ourselves to strengthen them with our own participation.
We, ourselves, have participated in our own neighborhood association – it's unpaid volunteer work – for some two decades now. We have also worked with other neighborhood associations, and have been active in several business associations in Inner Southeast as well.
We've noticed that what usually gets people involved in their own neighborhood association is strong concern about a specific problem, circumstance, or local issue. If they find they grow interested in other affairs of their neighborhood, and like to make a difference, they stay involved. And there are many ways to be involved!
First, every neighborhood association in Portland is led by a volunteer Board, and every one has Board elections in May; you can run for and serve on the Board. The length of the terms are short – a year or two – and require re-election if you'd like to continue.But, if you just have specific interests and concerns that are more focused, there are many other ways to be involved, and all of them are very useful to your own community.
Concerned about demolition and new construction, or simply the way the land is being developed or used in your neighborhood? Most neighborhood associations have a Land Use Committee, which review such matters and may make recommendations to the city which are submitted through the neighborhood association's Board for adoption.
The same for transportation issues, including roads, bike boulevard and traffic lanes, trails and sidewalks, and so forth: There's usually a Transportation Committee to review such matters for potential comment to the city.
And it's really true – up to now, such comments have often been effective in fine tuning city planning to be more in character for the neighborhoods in which they apply.
There are many other committees at most neighborhood associations, all of which rely on local residents volunteering their time to try to accomplish something positive for their neighborhood: Crime prevention committees, environmental committees, ad-hoc action committees, financial committees, fund-raising committees, communications committees, committees for a specific event or service, and so forth.
For example, in the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood, there is an immediate need for a couple of residents to step up to coordinate two very-long-standing and valuable projects that may disappear without such a volunteer, and other volunteers to fill the appropriate committees: The oldest neighborhood cleanup in the state is every May in the Westmorland Park parking lot – but its longtime coordinator, Kris Heiberg, is ready to step down, and so far nobody has come forward to work alongside her for a year, to learn the steps needed to organize and pull it off. Volunteers will help do it; but somebody needs to direct and organize.
And, the first Sunday next August will mark the 40th annual "Sundae in the Park" in upper Sellwood Park – a neighborhood party which draws from one to two thousand people of all ages for a pleasant afternoon and evening of music, food and ice cream, and a movie and activities, all on the lawn and under the trees.
Nancy Walsh has been the Chair of the Sundae in the Park Committee for a number of years, but she too finally needs to step down. So, there may not be a 41st annual Sundae in the Park if some volunteer does not step up soon to work alongside her and learn the ropes during the coming year, and others step in to staff the committee and distribute the responsibilities to make it a success. (If either opportunity sounds like fun for you, and if you'd like to make a difference in that neighborhood, call SMILE at 503/234-3520 and leave a message asking for more information about either of these.)
Here's the deal. If you have the interest, there is a committee in YOUR neighborhood, wherever it is, that would welcome YOU. You need never do more than you want to do. You'll get to know your neighbors, and learn what goes on where you live; and it often takes only take an evening or two a month to make a real difference.
If you're open to just thinking about it, a good start would be to attend a meeting or two of your own neighborhood association, and see if something catches your interest.
You can determine your own neighborhood (if you don't know it already), find out its neighborhood association, and determine when and where it meets in this part of town, by checking the website of the nonprofit "neighborhood coalition" that acts as a resource for the neighborhood associations in Inner Southeast, Southeast Uplift – which has its office on S.E. Main Street, a couple of blocks west of the parking lot of the Hawthorne Boulevard Fred Meyer Store along Chavez Blvd (formerly 39th).
So here's the place to start – www.seuplift.org/connect-with-your-neighborhood
Or, if you'd rather call for this information, they're open Monday through Thursday, 10 to 5 – call 503/232-0010.
You – yes, YOU – can have a hand in keeping Portland, Portland.