Thursday, October 22, 2009

'Small ball' in Hillsdale's endless game

Last night at our quarterly Hillsdale Alliance meeting, I found myself playing two games in succession.

I didn't win either, but it didn't matter.

The Alliance is sort of a summit of leaders from neighborhood organizations, and last night the topic was how to move forward on a 15-year-old master plan for our community,

We’ve taken several runs at this city-backed “town center” plan. It is packed with pages of action items. The idea is to make our Portland neighborhood of Hillsdale a better place.

It’s a wonderful place as is, but it has huge potential to be a truly remarkable "model" urban village. It is much more than its "neighborhood" designation.

Don't get me wrong. We have accomplished more than a few of the items on the planning list: a farmers market, street trees, traffic calming, a strategic cross-walk signal, a trails network, civic signage.

When last night’s discussion started echoing the more ambitious plans (many we'd considered before), I decided to aim for the bleachers.

In this World Series season, baseball analogies have impinged on my thinking.

Forgive me.

My mighty swing was familiar to those who have followed my recent at-bats about Hillsdale. I want some autonomy from the city government, which is truly archaic and atrophied.

I want self-governance, for at least a 5- or 10-year trial period. I’m tired of the County putting its library wherever it wants it, of the Housing Authority cramming a new public housing project into an isolated, demeaning site, of the city transportation department’s neglect of our sidewalk needs.

Give us the money and let us decide what to do with it. And, for equity’s sake, pair us up with a neighborhood with even greater needs. Give them power and money to shape their destiny too!

My home-run swing connected with thin air.

As I heard my words, I wondered whether even I wanted to take on such responsibility. No one cheered during my at bat.

The discussion moved on, sending me back to the dugout.

Others talked about inviting developers to come in and make things happen. But during these hard times, developers have other things to think about. They are cleaning up the messes from the recent past. They are hardly falling over themselves to develop Hillsdale or anywhere else, except perhaps China.

Worse, empty storefronts are starting to appear here. They don't call it a "recession" for nothing.

And even if developers could find the capital, would we really want folks in Southern California, Texas or Arizona deciding the fate of our community?

Well, some at the meeting asked, how about an “implementer” from the city bureaucracy? Or from Metro, our regional government. We’ve tried that and been smitten by bureaucratic malaise. Local overnment seems high on planning in progressive Portland and low on implementation.

That’s why I advocated “big ball” home rule in the first place. Spare us more planning and zero action!

The more we talked, the more I realized that the best we can hope for is “small ball.”

A start-off single, a bunt, a steal, a walk.

Ultimately small ball wins games. And right now our roster has a lot of players who can hit flares and shots through the infield and bunt to advance runners.

• We have a new bicycle coalition with plans to transform Hillsdale into a bicycle hub by installing bike corrals and maps of the area.

• We want to close down a major thoroughfare, Capitol Highway, for a one-day community celebration next summer.

• We want to hold concerts and build bocce courts and install whimsical neon signs in storefront windows.

If we do all those things, others will follow.

No, maybe it’s my age, but I'd rather put down the bunt and dig out the steal than aim for the bleachers. "Small ball" makes for better game highlights, anyway. What is more boring than watching a ball clear the outfield?

Besides, for me playing the game is where the fun is. And the nice thing about this Hillsdale game is that no one has fully defined what victory is. It is mostly viewed as building some architect's or planner's vision. Rarely is it defined in terms of people and community.

That's the point. We just keep on playing and more folks join the game. One day we will look back to see all the runs we’ve scored and the fun we have had and how much better we’ve become for our eternal succession of innings — for the endless game.

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Blogger Ron Marson said...

Hi Rick,

Loved your baseball analogy. Life does appear to be a game with endless innings. And to stretch the analogy a bit further. Am I the batter? The pitcher? The umpire? The spectators? The game itself?

Seems I am all of these possibilities, very small to very large, depending on where my identity currently resides. And who or what decides that?


11:12 AM  

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