Saturday, June 09, 2007

Neighbors as Strangers

Twelve strangers attended last Wednesday’s monthly Hillsdale Neighborhood Associations meeting.

And that’s a problem, because these “strangers” are also neighbors. At least they live in what we call the “Hillsdale Neighborhood.” All of them live on SW 29th Avenue. To one another, they are real neighbors. That’s the tip-off about why they were at Wednesday’s meeting at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.

You see, there’s a problem on SW 29th. I’ll get to that in a moment.

SW 29th is down the hill and about a quarter mile from my house. That’s really not that far away except I never have occasion to walk on the little street, which runs straight up the slope between busy Sunset Boulevard and Hamilton Street.

In the larger scheme of geography, we are relatively near each other, in the northwest “corner” of the Hillsdale. The southwest corner of the “Hillsdale neighborhood” is a good three miles away.

So you see how these “neighbors” might be strangers at the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association meeting.

Another reason they are strangers is that they had never before attended an association meeting. They never felt a need to, until now. For most of us “neighbors,” the neighborhood association only becomes important when something goes wrong.

We’re blessed, and paradoxically, cursed, because so little does go wrong.

This sudden appearance of “neighborhood strangers” or, if you will, “strange neighbors,” has happened before, and unless things change drastically, will happen again. Ten years ago, attendance at neighborhood associations throughout Southwest Portland exploded when city planners announced they wanted to increase zoning density here indiscriminately.

But that was then and this is now. We more or less won that fight with City Hall. Now only a few of those once irate neighbors are still involved in their neighborhood associations. Most have gone back to, well, doing whatever they did before.

Back to the crisis on SW 29th Avenue. To shrewd property owners, there’s money to be made out of the street’s deep lots. So a couple, relatively new to the street, wants to divide their lot by creating a “flag” lot where they can build an additional house. Current zoning allows them to do just that, never mind the feelings of neighbors, who are concerned about handling run-off (see photo), changes to “the character of the neighborhood” and managing increased traffic and parking on their crumbling narrow street.

What to do? Someone told the 29th Street neighbors that perhaps the Neighborhood Association could help.

Even as we regulars (I’m a board member) supported the neighbors’ concerns and agreed to send a letter to City officials, we told the group not to get its expectations up. Yes, the neighborhood can ask for an appeal of a land-use decision to a hearings officer. And yes, we can raise their concerns about environmental impacts etc. But if the developers are abiding by the rules, neighbors should prepare to suck up a land-use loss.

It’s no good showing up at the neighborhood association after a development is in the works. The approach should be to anticipate the problem – any problem (count’em) and demand code changes. (That’s not easy. City officials are equally notorious about failing to be proactive).

The need for prevention is hardly a great motivator. Witness everything from our failure to prepare for natural disasters to our planet-destroying lifestyles. Who, after all, is showing up at the Earth’s neighborhood association? Or make that plural: the Earth’s neighborhood associations?

Which takes us back to the problems of size. The folks on SW 29th Avenue need their own neighborhood and their own neighborhood association. They know where they live – their place — better than we do. What we share is a conglomeration of places called “Hillsdale,” which itself should be an autonomous township or a village or a community. But not a neighborhood.

The folks on SW 29th also need the power over the destiny of their place.

Before that can happen, we all need attend Hillsdale Neighborhood Association meetings, routinely (monthly), and use them as the forum and lobbying force for returning power to neighborhoods, real neighborhoods.

Ones where “neighbors” are neighbors, not strangers.

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Officials to get Hillsdale "Walk-Arounds"

Neighborhood leaders hope that up-c0ming Hillsdale "walk-arounds" with city officials will result to fewer run-arounds in dealing with them later.

Hillsdale Neighborhood Association (HNA) President Don Baack
shared plans to lead officials on walking tours of Hillsdale with the HNA Board on Wednesday, June 6.

On Friday, June 22, Baack and other community leaders will lead City Commissioner Erik Sten and Metro Councilor Robert Liberty on individual tours of the Town Center.

Community members are invited to join in the walks, which take approximately 2 hours.

The Sten stroll will start at Baker and Spice at 9:30 a.m. Liberty walkers will convene at 2 p.m. at the big oak tree near the Capitol Highway entrance to Wilson High School.

City Commissioners Dan Salzman, Randy Leonard and Sam Adams have walked with Baack and others in the past. Baack believes that the recent funding of a fully signaled cross-walk at Capitol Highway and Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway resulted from walks with the commissioners.

This Monday, June 11, a 7:30 a.m. walk with Brian Winchester, the new facilities manager of the Public School District, is scheduled to start from Starbuck's.

Baack said that he and others want to talk with Winchester about installing bike racks near the entrance of the Farmers Market and about parking improvements next to the Wilson Stadium. Parked cars now block pedestrians from using the sidewalk there. Another item on the walking agenda is a Rieke site inspection with an eye to a civic plaza and the placement of temporary buildings

Baack, renowned as a pedestrian advocate, said the walks are intended to familiarize officials with Town Center issues such as the development of a pedestrian loop, the civic plaza, undergrounding utilities and traffic calming.

Officials who have walked around Hillsdale have a much better idea of what is needed here, he said.

"If a picture is worth 1000 words," said Baack, "walk-arounds are worth 2000."

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Ripped City

I'm still aghast at that $66,000 that free-spending Blazermaniacs are willing to pay for a premium seat at season's worth of Trailblazer games.

And I keep running into comparisons. Yesterday it was college tuition; today it's what the average Oregonian makes in a year.

While our premium sitter shells out $66,000 for the season; it takes the average Oregonian two years ($33,000 per...) to make that much to live on — before taxes of course.

Maybe we should call it "Ripped City."

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Costs compared: Blazer seat vs. a college degree

The $66,000 that rich Blazer fans are shelling out for season seats in the Rose Garden hasn't stopped gnawing at me since I wrote yesterday's post.

Now I'm seeing comparative numbers and weighing value and values.

Today we find on The Oregonian's front page that four years of college (tuition, housing and living costs) at Southern Oregon University goes for a relatively inexpensive $69,000. Surprise, surprise, a lot of talented high school graduates can't afford the price tag, just a shade over what those season Blazer seats go for.

Four years at Reed College works out to a whopping $192,000. If our fat-cat Blazer fan opted out of his Rose Garden "Premium" seat for three years, he could pay for four years, or a "classroom seat," at Reed for some worthy high school graduate.

What might our stay-at-home BlazerManiac-turned-philanthropist (yes, that's what I'm suggesting) do with his time? He could always watch the Blazer games on TV. There are some pretty good books out there. He might even take a course in philanthropy.

If enough premium seat holders walked away from the Rose Garden, the Blazers might find themselves in financial straits worse than the ones they are in now. Who knows, the Blazers no longer may be able to afford $3 million West Hills estates like the one Scottie Pippen recently sold.

Would that be all bad? $1 million will still put a tall roof over their lofty heads.

It’s a leap I know, but Mahatma Gandhi's saying comes to mind: Be the change you want to see in the world. And, yes, the “you” means me and you, as well as our premium seat holder, Pippen et. al.

Truth to tell, most of us have bought $66,000 seats (or their equivalent) at one time or another.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Choices the wealthy make

If you work to unscramble the news, if you strive to make sense of its seemingly disparate stories, truths often emerge.

Today's Oregonian noted the death of philanthropist Jean Vollum, the widow of Tektronix co-founder Howard Vollum. She and Howard gave away tens of millions of dollars. Such stories are heart-warming but the fail to mention the roles thousands of Tektronix workers played in earning the money that the Vollums gave away to worthy causes.

But never mind; that's not my point.

My point comes from connecting the Vollum story to another story, one about sports on the business page of the same Oregonian issue. It's about how the luck-of-the-draw Portland Trailblazers have set out to capitalize on their number-one draft pick and the hype surrounding it.

Turns out that the wealthy, in addition to not being like you and me, aren't like themselves.

On the one hand, a Jean Vollum can be giving money to the Mt. Angel Abbey, the Oregon College of Art & Craft and the Native American Center at PSU, while well-healed Blazer fans prefer to fork over megabucks to get up close to the pick-and-rolls, jump shots and trash talk at the Rose Garden. "Premium-priced seating" goes for...ready?....$66,000 a seat per season.

So here we have a class of folks who will pay for a well-situated seat at a season's worth of basketball games an amount greater than most Americans will earn in a year.

Taken separately, the Vollum story and the Blazer story are what we call news. Taken together, they offer a truth about values and choices.

P.S. Related — I'll leave the relationship to you — is the front-page story (same issue!) of how former Blazer Scottie Pippen took a hit on selling his 18,700-square-foot West Hills manor and estate for a shade under $3 million. The buyers are described simply as "Florida transplants," Razvani and Felicia Andreescu. If they hurry, they might still be able to pick up a pair of those "premium priced" seats at the Rose Garden. Then again, there's always Mercy Corps....

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Will you be a taker or will you give some back?

I've had a request for the timely lyrics to the song Wilson High School math teacher Jon Beima wrote for the school's graduation last week.

Here they are:

Will You Be A Taker?

There’s dying in Darfur, there’s killing in Iraq,
The earth keeps getting warmer, losing her snow pack,
The rich keep getting richer, widening the gap,
Will you be a taker, or will you give some back?

Will you hide in the shadows, standing at the door,
Listen to your iPod, can’t hear no more,
Will you step out in the sunshine, taking in the day,
Will you be a giver, go a better way?

When you get your paper, will you hang it on the wall?
Will you fold it in your pocket, will you roll it in a ball?
Will you show the world how you have grown?
Will you lay it down and use it like a stepping stone?

There’re children in Portland go to bed at night,
No food in their stomachs, yeah that ain’t right,
Homeless shelters keep growing, bursting at the seams,
People at the bottom, giving up their dreams.

Will you hide in the shadows, standing at the door,
Listen to your iPod, can’t hear no more,
Will you step out in the sunshine, taking in the day,
Will you be a giver, go a better way?

When you get your paper, will you hang it on the wall?
Will you fold it in your pocket, will you roll it in a ball?
Will you show the world how you have grown?
Will you lay it down and use it like a stepping stone?

There’s dying in Darfur, there’s killing in Iraq,
The earth keeps getting warmer, losing her snow pack,
The rich keep getting richer, widening the gap,
Will you be a taker, or will you give some back?


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Wilson High's Graduation was inspiring

Linda Doyle edits and publishes an excellent e-mail newsletter for Hillsdale's Wilson High School. Called the Wilson Spotlight, it spotlights accomplishments in the school community.

The current issue presents the inspiring graduation speech delivered by Wilson principal Sue Brent. The inspiration was two-fold. The speech itself was a call to success and commitment, but much of the inspiration came in Brent's recounting the achievements of the graduating class.

Here, edited for brevity, is what she said:

Wilson families, visitors and graduates, thank you so much for coming to celebrate the successful completion of the class of 2007’s high school years.

I’d like to share some numbers with you: 1, 642, 2292, 11295, 343, 300, 140, 108, 61, 18, 98, 10, 3000, 7,000, 73, 2,173 and 600. The numbers say something about what this class of 343 graduates have achieved.

You spent approximately 2,292 days in school from Kindergarten through 12th grade. That’s 11,295 hours. You spent 642 days in high school, if you had perfect attendance.

You have shown tremendous skill and talent as you exit this public high school’s doors. Here are some of the accomplishments of this class: 10 seniors in Student Leadership were given the Multnomah County Sheriff’s award for raising over $3,000 this year to aid those less fortunate....

Three hundred of you will go on to two and four year colleges. (Here she invited all the male graduating seniors to stand.) Now would just the five of you standing in the front row, stay standing. All the rest of you sit down. Those of you standing, represent the world's white male college graduates and as such you are more affluent than 98 percent of the world; the gentlemen who sat down represent the rest of the world.

I’d like to share the story of two young people, Mohammed Abdullah and Emily Norton, who sit here among you.

Mohammed received the only Gates Millennium Scholarship awarded to a Portland Public Schools’ student. This means he will receive four years paid tuition to any institution he wishes to attend. It will also pay for his graduate school costs. Mohammed will attend Cornell University. He began high school at Benson, moved to Roosevelt and then transferred to Wilson in his senior year.

I mention Mohammed because he, like the 73 Wilson scholars who contributed 7,000 service hours, exemplifies the gift of giving back. His service was to the community and youth organizations; helping young students pursue their dreams by supervising a laboratory, helping young students set goals, choose books and reach reading milestones at the public library, teaching and tutoring students in the Ethiopian community.

His inspiration to succeed in science began in Africa, a continent debilitated by infectious diseases. When he first noticed that physicians in Ethiopia were performing a surgery without anesthesia, he became aware of the enormous medical challenges that the patients were facing. This first-hand experience of human suffering due to a lack of basic medical services has driven his decision to contribute by helping others.

He wants to become a doctor.

Emily Norton is one of 18 valedictorians and wants to pursue a career in International Relief Aid. She plans to attend Bucknell University. She is a Wilson Scholar whose service included constructing concrete floors for family homes in Oaxaca, Mexico with Northwest Medical Teams. As the Interact Club co-president, Emily has cooked dinners, served meals to the homeless, visited nursing home residents, and sold “Stop Genocide in Sudan” T-shirts to educate the community about the atrocities occurring in Sudan sending the proceeds to aid refugees.

Emily received the Bank of America Student Award, given to only five students in the greater metropolitan Portland area for her leadership in community service activities.

An immigrant to the US and a life-long citizen. These two graduates epitomize what we all wish for in the future, not only of America, but also of the globe, and the 21st century.

We in America who have been given so much — so much — must decide what we will do with the gifts and resources we have been afforded. Instead of using them solely for ourselves, we all have to commit to dedicate those less fortunate than ourselves.

I know that what you really care about in your heart of hearts is peace. Some of you planted $600 worth of marigolds to put that message out there. You see the situation in Afghanistan. You see the inferno in Iraq. You see the violence, the killing, the bloodshed, and, like me, you want it stopped.

So while symbols are important because they remind us of the work to be done, symbols by themselves do not replace the hard work. And what is this hard work? A great religious leader said, “If you want peace, work for justice." In the Hebrew tradition, the word “shalom” doesn’t mean just the absence of war, it means, righteousness, well‑being, integrity, healing.

Graduates, you have accomplished much. You have been given much. And much is expected of you. The world needs your gifts, your talents, your time and your love. Be generous with these.

And so I close with the words of Jim Henson’s frog, Kermit at his commencement speech to the class of 1996 at Southampton Graduate Campus, “…you are no longer tadpoles. The time has come for you to drop your tails and leave this swamp. But I am sure that wherever I go as I travel around the world, I will find each and every one of you working your tails off to save other swamps and give those of us who live there a chance to survive. We love you for it. Enjoy life! And thank you very much.”

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Monday, June 04, 2007

"Across the fields to the Health Factory (or something)"

As I’ve delved further into the box of World War II letters that my dad wrote my mother, I've discovered new rewards.

I’ll share more about (and of) the letters in the weeks ahead. The history of the letters are hung up on a mystery of sorts. So far a preliminary search of government data bases fails to show Dad serving with the Army Air Force units he used as return addresses on the letters.

Is sleuthing this 60-year-old mystery worth it? Right now, let's face it, the Veterans Administration has its hands full.

So time — my time, and the government's — will tell.

In the meanwhile, my search of the letter box has uncovered a different kind of writing. I’ve come across some of the “stories" I encouraged Dad to write and share with me after he was forced to retire when a sudden on-set of delusions overwhelmed him. In the months and years that followed, Dad lost all direction, falling into despondency. Literal shock therapy hadn’t worked. Now I hoped writing might.

I knew from the letters Dad had written me that he was a fine writer, although he disparaged his efforts. He had a keen eye and brisk, easy style. I wish he had written more.

Though he wrote in the third person, his stories (so far I have found four) were mostly about his life as a surgeon and a urologist. You will see that he was much in demand and self-conscious about how he was seen, particularly by his patients and their families. He was a sharp dresser and had a no-non-sense, in-charge style. For all that, he liked to joke disarmingly at the bedside that, as a urologist, he was nothing more than a “glorified plumber.” Hospitals were no more than “health factories.”

In surgery, beyond the waiting room and the bedside, he was unpredictable: Charming, moody, funny, petulant.

But he was always professional — galvanized, and at times haunted, by the potential for and terrible consequences of surgical error.

I came to know him in this unfatherly role because I worked three summers in high school and college as a surgical orderly with him and other surgeons.

He was openly known to the surgical staff as “Wild Bill.”

In addition to practicing where we lived, in Rockford, Illinois, Dad was regularly called to the small towns that anchored farming communities. He raced along back roads in his Buick Century convertibles. “Dyna-Flow” captured their ride, power and flair. His cars were never more than three years old — comfortable rewards for his frenzied but rewarding life.

Let him tell the stories to you as he did to me.

Here’s one – a reflection really — which he openly suspected of being "9th grade." It's about a trip to a rural outpost — a Genoa, Belvidere or Freeport.

The throw-away, self-mocking title is his….

Across the fields to the Health Factory (or something)

Two kids rode the same horse down a dusty side road. The deep blue porcelain silos sparkled in the morning sun.

The back and white dairy cows gathered in the corners of their fields.

The oats were the lightest green of all. The darker trees in odd arrangements moved softly in the morning breeze.

A muddy creek oozed slowly beneath a rusty, one-track bridge. A red-winged blackbird perched on a cattail beside the creek.

The invisible meadow lark’s call came from nowhere, but somewhere.

An old farmer drove his tractor down most of the black-topped road

A sway-backed barn rotted on a deserted homestead. But nearby, just down the road, a huge white, working barn stood with its guardian silos. A collie barked as he drove past the farm.

Only the kids and the old farmer seemed to tend the country for many miles.

The road signs were rusty and leaning at crazy angles. Usually the signs bore no relation to the map. There must be a million “Town Line Roads,” all dwindling into “County Trunk F” at the wrong angle.

Often the surface dropped quickly from smoother black top to loose gravel and dust, then back again. He had learned to choose the next turn by gauging telephone poles in the distance.

Where was everybody?

No matter that he left the surgical schedule at home. He made mental lists of things he needed for the next case, the doctors to be called, tests to be run. He continually checked the rear-view mirror, the telephone poles, the road ahead.

He had learned to start with a full gas tank. No filling stations in dairy country. A few phones, but always on party lines — again he’d learned the hard way. A credit card call to a country phone operator was greeted with a sneer between suspicion and down right disbelief. If he didn’t call direct from one hospital to the next, he knew the line would go dead.

Gradually as he closed in on familiar ground — a water tower, a radio tower — he cut his speed to a reasonable limit. No hurry now. He knew the operating schedule would be late anyway.

The houses were newer, closer to the road, closer to the ground, closer to each other. And he knew he was closer to more trouble.

He had no time for food — a cup of coffee only. No time to think of the last case, of yesterday, of tomorrow. Only time to unpack his instruments, change into scrub clothes, cap, mask — and operate.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Outlining Community

Often the topics I choose are like magnets pulling related thoughts to them. Such magnetic topics can become quickly overwhelmed (and overwhelming) and collapse under the weight of others, which may turn out to be equally magnetic.

A discussion about transportation leads to one about energy, which leads to one about population density, which leads to one about the politics of planning. And so it goes.

Focus becomes both a necessity and a constraint.

So over the last day I have decided to allow myself to explore a major magnetic theme of these posts — community in the 21st Century — in outline form, just to see what it attracts.

The outline follows. It is long but each item and subtopic is brief. I hope you will feel free to comment and add sections or combine topics and subtopics. No, this isn't a Wiki, but I'll take all suggestions under consideration and edit the outline accordingly.

I have no idea what might become of the outline. It could provide the structure for a book. Certainly each topic suggests a chapter. Or the outline could simply delineate future posts or be a focus of discussion.

Whatever comes of it, I look forward to your comments.

Here goes:

A Community for the 21st Century

Community in these times
Challenges and Opportunities

Test Case: Hillsdale

Population density
Plants and animals
(Energy and transportation) Parentheses indicate a link to another section
Global impacts

Distinctions: Cities, towns, townships, villages, town centers, communities, neighborhoods
What we know about numbers — effectiveness, cooperation and communication

Topography — Hills and Dales
On being part of something bigger

Social capital (volunteerism)
Individualism and community
The uses of time

The Commons
Names of places
A center
Meeting places

Governance and Self-Governance
Consensus “Beyond majority rule”
Keeping it small “Thoreau”

Weaning from fossil fuels

Public financing
• Taxes
• Fees
• Foundations
Volunteerism (social capital)

"Communication defines Community"
• There is no community without communication
• The quality of the communication defines the quality of the community
Forms of community media
• Internet
–Listservs, electronic newsletters and web pages
• "Old Media”
– Newspapers
– Low-power community radio
Problems with mass (non-community, anti-community) media
Centrifugal—sucking time and energy away from community
“It’s all about you” advertising and programing
• Narcisism
Fear and hate mongering
Isolation and anxiety
• Problem-oriented, not solution-oriented
Information, knowledge and wisdom

Utility Undergrounding
Pattern Language
Water features
Public art
Making places people want to be

Education and Awareness
Community Learning Centers
Year round
Action oriented
Community centered

Community Health Centers
The many dimensions of public health

Culture, Entertainment, Sports
Libraries — public and private
“Bowling Together”
The arts
• Dance
• Music
• Art exhibitions
Competitive and non-competitive sports
Work as play

Low impact
The role of trust eg. ride sharing
Trails and Sidewalks

Safety and preparedness
NETs — Neighborhood Emergency Teams
Fire bureau
• Volunteerism
Community policing

Underlying values
Tolerance, diversity with regular communication (see education)

Hillsdale: a test case

The Future: On planning and implementation

Bibliography (A “starter” list)
Akenfeld by Ronald Blythe
A Pattern Language
Deep Economy by Bill McKibben
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The Spirit of Community by Daniel Kemmis
Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam
Habits of the Heart

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