Thursday, March 01, 2007

Charter revision bungles chance for change

If the Hillsdale neighborhood has an action agenda right now, these are its principle items—in no particular order:

• Creating a sheltered and inviting home for the Hillsdale Farmers Market.

Undergrounding unsightly utilities in Hillsdale.

• Making a safe Capitol Highway pedestrian crossing at the nascent Watershed housing building in Hillsdale.

• Creating an attractive civic plaza.

• Expanding Hillsdale’s DeWitt Park and giving it a public presence on Sunset Boulevard.

• Building sidewalks so that our children can walk to school safely.

• Hiring a part-time staffer to implement our Town Center Plan (and the plans of other town centers in Portland.)

For the past few months (years?), many of us in Hillsdale have implored the city’s bureaucracy and elected commission to take action on these matters.

We have struggled in vain.

I had held out some hope that a proposed charter revision would help end the impasse.

The proposal being put to the voters on the May ballot would substitute a new “strong mayor/city administrator” form of governance for the present “commission” one.

From the neighborhoods’ perspective, there’s not a tinker’s damn worth of difference between the two.

The same City Hall culture that gives lip service to the neighborhoods (and tilts to downtown interests) has created this “revision.”

The charter review commission did nothing to recognize, legitimize and institutionalize neighborhoods as the keys to making Portland a dynamic, creative place of citizen involvement and governance.

The strength of any city is an involved citizenry. Any new charter should nurture and infuse that involvement in the city’s governance by creating a much larger, neighborhood-accountable, neighborhood-elected commission.

Frankly, I’m on the verge of giving up on city reform and advocating for something radically different.

When I share Hillsdale’s goals with those in the know, they tell me that Woodburn or Lake Oswego or Tigard have achieved many of them.

Well, Woodburn, Lake Oswego and Tigard are incorporated, independent towns that don’t answer to the City of Portland.

You can see where this is going. And, yes, I’m not sure I want to go there either, but I think breaking free is well worth considering.

And I do know this: Portland is a city in civic peril until it empowers its neighborhoods—and engages its citizens.

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