Thursday, May 17, 2007

A wish list for Hillsdale — and beyond

Mayor Tom Potter's election night comments about the defeat of charter revision disturbed me. He said he no longer would push for change in Portland's form of government although he obviously feels it is needed.

If he doesn't return to the issue, who will? And, more importantly, when? The next mayor likely will be one of the current commissioners. They seem quite satisfied with the archaic, fragmented system we have.

Potter's words remind me of just how achingly long change can take. Increasingly I'm realizing that many of the changes I want to see happen in Hillsdale won't occur in my lifetime.

More and more I am resigned to maximizing the possibility of eventual success rather than actually witnessing it.

I’ll settle for hope and the knowledge that I’ve done what I can to effect change here.

For the record, here’s what I’d like to see happen:

I want to see the mess of utility wires put underground in the Town Center. It will cost $1 million in today’s dollars.

I want to see the Hillsdale plaza with its tiers of sheltering solar panels shading farmers
stalls. That too likely will cost $1 million.

I want to see DeWitt Park extended to Sunset Boulevard to create a plaza fully in front of the library. Another $ million. The kind of money Bill Gates makes in a day.

I want to see Hillsdale (in league with Multnomah Village and Bridlemile and perhaps Hayhurst or Southwest Hills Residential League), represented on a reconfigured and reformed City Council of 20 or so representatives elected by neighborhood coalitions. I have no idea what it will cost, but it won’t come cheap, media-driven politics being what it is.

I want to see our schools transformed into true inter- and multi-generational community learning centers. In this 21st Century maelstrom of change, we must go well beyond “no child left behind” to no person left behind. There’s no telling what that might cost, but the cost will be worth it. My guess is the greatest cost will be measured in volunteer capital, which is no cost at all by current budgetary standards.

I want to entice people to abandon the four to five hours each day they waste glued to their TV sets. I want them to devote that time to helping each other and their community. The regained hours (15 full years in a life span of 80 years) would be a huge investment of the human capital mentioned above.

I want to know by name all of the neighbors within two blocks of my house. Yes, even and perhaps especially, the ones whose dog barks incessantly beginning at 6 a.m. Knowing my neighbors costs only time — time well and joyously spent.

I want there to be one car per household and a small grocery and bus stop within easy walking distance of every Hillsdale household. If zoning allowed it and incentives were in place, it would cost nothing and might just help save the planet.

I want those grocery stores to sell only produce grown in an area no more than 60 miles from Portland. Market forces should take care of that, as we are seeing with our farmers market.

Beyond Hillsdale, I want an America that once again stands for justice, peace, equality and fair play. I want an America that is strong not in its self-righteousness or its military but in its magnanimity, morality and humility as a one nation among many.

I began this by saying I was in a time bind. I am unlikely to see any of these goals accomplished within my lifetime. I have come to accept that. My hope now is to help plant seeds so that future generations will reap the benefits.

Note: For the next four days, I will not be posting on The Red Electric as I will be out of town. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and inviting yours when I return.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Funds approved to fix "crosswalk from hell"

There’s good news tonight, but first a little terrifying background.

I often pray for pedestrians trying to cross Capitol Highway at Bertha Court where Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway splits off for the Raleigh Hills hinterland.

These innocents are literally a step away from becoming road kill.

If they are crossing north from the Bertha/Capitol corner, the crosswalk gets them to a small island in the middle of the busy thoroughfare. From there, they are on their own as unimpeded accelerating traffic zips onto Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. They call it a “slip lane,” but it is really more like a freeway on-ramp.

Even though the police recently conducted a well publicized enforcement at the striped but unsignaled crossing, drivers in full acceleration rarely cede the right-of-way to pedestrians.

Led by Don Baack, pedestrian advocate extraordinaire, the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association has lobbied the city for years to fix the blatant problem.

“Do it for kids!” Don has implored the council. Children often must cross the busy street on their way to school. Recently he and others have exclaimed, “Do it for the seniors!” noting that the new Watershed Senior Housing Project will bring elderly pedestrians to the treacherous crossing.

And now the good news: This afternoon, Don and others could declare victory when the city council put $85,000 in the budget to tame the traffic and upgrade the crossing.

Don sent out a celebratory note on his e-mail list (which has a mere 1000 names!) to thank all who wrote, called, testified and jumped up and down to rivet the commissioners' attention on the Capitol/Bertha/B-H Highway danger.

But of course, a lion’s share of thanks should go to Don, and not just now, but (City Hall gods willing) each time a pedestrian makes it safely from one side of Capitol Highway to the other.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Portland elections results: Change is dead; Long live change!

In results nearly identical proportionately, a paltry 65,000-weak Portland electorate has decided that, no, it doesn't want a so-called "strong mayor" form of government and that, yes, it does want a new charter review commission to propose changes in the form of Portland's dated commissioner government.

In both cases the vote was a thumping three to one. Together the votes make for a double mandate of sorts. The message: Get back to the drawing boards and give us an acceptable, efficient and representative form of government.

My own hope is that any new proposal will get scrap of the present commission fiefdoms and give voters the chance to create a government that gives neighborhoods a formal, elected place at the city council table.

I'd like to think that the proposal offered in this election failed because neighborhoods were left out of the political equation, NOT because the present commission form is acceptable. The passage of the charter commission measure is proof that the 20 percent of registered voters who actually cast ballots are still dissatisfied with what we have.

For the reform job to be done right, a new charter revision commission must have solid neighborhood representation on it. The commission that came up with the "strong mayor" proposal was a masterpiece of Portland diversity with one glaring exception — neighborhoods, which were virtually excluded from the process.

Finally, a confession. In an earlier post I urged readers to consider not voting at all on the "strong mayor" revision. But when faced with voting yes, no, or not at all, I voted yes. I did so with no enthusiasm. My feeling was that a yes vote would at least get the ball moving. Better that than standing still with what we have.

Maybe, just maybe, Tuesday's results will have the same effect. Let's hope so.

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The day I bombed on "the bomb"

Growing up in the Fifties, I always understood the term "the bomb" to be the A-Bomb and then the H-Bomb. I suppose that now it is the neutron bomb.

As kids, we were drilled to dive under our desks in case of a nuclear attack. A lot of good it would have done, but at least that was the drill.

Of course "a bomb" was also considered a performance that utterly failed...or, well, bombed.

Sexually attractive women were considered "bombs" or "bombshells," which seemed strange in light of the other meanings floating around.

Perhaps the 180 was preparing me for "bad" morphing in meaning to good, and "politically correct" actually being something that was decidedly incorrect.

For all my preparation and linguistic vigilance, I was taken totally off-guard today in my visual communication class when I was introduced to a new usage of "the bomb." A hasty, non-scientific, post-class survey reveals that anyone under the age of 40 knows of this usage. Those over don't.

Back to the class, which was about cartoons and how cartoonists, a strange lot, come upon their creations. One way is to play off multiple meanings of the same word. Take one meaning and put it in the visual context of another and you have the makings of a cartoon.

The example I used was that of a New Yorker cartoon showing a sitting dog talking on the telephone and saying, "O.K., I'm sitting. What is it?"

Got it?

O.K., so I suggested that the recent rash of bomb threats on the Portland Community College campuses might have the makings of a good cartoon. Sure enough, when I asked my students to come up with a cartoon idea, one used the bomb idea. Her cartoon featured a young man in the grasp of two security officers and protesting, "All I said was that your shoes were 'the bomb.'"

I sort of half laughed knowing that there must be something to the joke, but I wasn''t sure what. On the other hand the cartoonist's peers thought the drawing and caption were very funny.

Some explanation was clearly in order.

This was a cherished teachable moment — for the teacher. And so I learned that for the past several years "the bomb" means, in effect, "a knock out," a clear winner. Apparently the term is used with regularity by one Randy Jackson, a judge on "American Idol," a program I have, until now, managed to do without.

My survey revealed that "the bomb" predates Randy and may have emerged in the mid- to late-Nineties.

I flipped my ignorance into the professorial observation that the messages needs to be crafted to the audience. My student had done just that. Her audience just happened to exclude me.

I have to confess, this sort of thing is happening to me with greater and greater frequency. This is why there are mandatory retirement ages.

I may mandate my own retirement age, and soon, especially if I'm forced to watch "American Idol" to stay relevant. On the other hand, students may find me kind of interesting as a living artifact from the days when a bomb really was a bomb.

My role is to remind them that, alas, it still is.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Summer Hillsdale Book Sale is a go!

Once again the old Estby gas station on Capitol Highway will be the site of the Hillsdale used book sale.

Mark the date: Sunday, July 29. That's the same day as the annual Hillsdale Business and Professional Association Pancake breakfast.

Another date of note is Sunday, June 24. That's the first of five Sundays that we'll collect your donated books at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. So if you have books sitting around going unread or un-reread, pass them on to the sale. (We don't take textbooks, encyclopedias, or books that are out-of-date such as almanacs and old travel guidebooks.)

Last year we held two sales and raised nearly $6000 for the Hillsdale Alliance, whose members are our three public schools (Rieke, Robert Gray and Wilson), the library, the neighborhood association, SW Trails, Neighborhood House, HBPA, Hillsdale Neighborhood Emergency Team and Hillsdale Votes. The group has agreed to start a Hillsdale Foundation with the proceeds from the sales.

After the July sale, we will be looking for a new site as the gas station will be torn down. If we find one, we'll hold another sale near the holiday season.

If you are interested in volunteering to work on the sale, let me know. You can call me at (503) 245-7821 or simply e-mail me at the address shown here. We need volunteers to help staff the collection site on Sundays during the market and sort the fascinating donated books.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mothers' Day and Peace

In the Hillsdale Farmers' Market on this Mothers' Day, my friend Martie Sucec enlightened me on the American origins of Mothers' Day.

And, no, she said, the day is not a Hallmark Holiday, although sadly, for many, it has become one.

In this country, Mothers' Day's beginnings go back to the years immediately following the Civil War when mothers grieved the loss of sons and husbands.

Mothers' Day was a call to peace initiated by Julia Ward Howe, known for her "Battle Hymn of the Republic." In 1870, Howe wrote a Mothers' Day proclamation calling for mothers to convene to oppose war and to nurture a world of peace.

What better time than now, this very Mothers' Day, to renew her call? What better way to honor mothers than to rededicate this day to the cause of peace?

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