Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Red Electric (the train) featured on history site

While tracing sitemeter "references" showing how visitors happen to come to this blog site, I ran across a real find, the Portland History site.

Expect to spend some time when you click on this link. The site is rich with old photographs, many from color-tinted post cards. The site brings back the past. On the home page, scroll down check out the card of Council Crest when it was the site of a full-blown amusement park.

The PDX history site has a special photo-packed page devoted to The Red Electric interurban electric train, which is the namesake of this blog (and chili at The Three Square Grill and of one of our walking/biking local trails. The trail follows one of the train's routes). The Red Electric page is a long scroll that includes maps and considerable text.

Imagine riding on the Red Electric, getting on at Bertha Station (now Hillsdale) and rumbling down the long grade to a rough-and-tumble downtown Portland.

The vague vision of the commute comes into clearer focus as you look at these old photographs.

Enjoy the ride!

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hillsdale's dilemma: No power, no leadership

It was all a bit embarrassing. About 25 for us sat, searched and scanned each other’s faces in the meeting room last night and couldn’t find a leader among us.

The result: for the indefinite future, the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association will be leaderless. It will have a vacant president’s seat. Instead, the association, which largely consists of the 25 or so people who show up to its monthly meetings, will be run by a reluctant, rag-tag triumvirate of officers, none of whom is willing to take charge.

What’s going on here?

Hillsdale is known to be one of the most active neighborhoods in Portland. A big reason for its reputation is the outgoing, decisive, outspoken president, Don Baack. In his nearly seven-years with the gavel, he made it known that we weren’t going to be rolled by City Hall— at least not without a fight.

Sure, he’s bent several people the wrong way, including a few neighbors. He was actually feared in some quarters of City Hall. Occasionally he’d impulsively speak for the neighborhood without consulting anyone.

But he always had our best interests at heart. And he was not above admitting when he’d been wrong.

There was only one Don Baack in the room last night, and he was stepping down.

And so we searched the faces.

“I have health problems in the family,” said one prospective candidate. No one suspected him of lying.

“My teaching demands don’t allow it,” said another, who was telling the truth.

“I’m traveling too much. I couldn’t be here much of the time,” said another and he was right.

One clearly qualified candidate was a former president, but he said, “I’ve done the job for 10 years. That’s enough.” Who could disagree?

There was no reason to question any of them. And even if there was, who would?

There were also the unspoken problems with the position and even with the association.

There are hardly any enticements to take the post. It doesn’t pay a dime. It carries no benefits. Delegating tasks to others isn’t easy (for the reasons cited above). And seeing what Don has gone through, is hardly inviting. People often show up in force at neighborhood association meeting only when they are pissed off.

Who wants that?

Then there’s the little problem that Portland neighborhood associations have neither money nor power. Ultimately they just meet. Sure, developers and city engineers are required to lay plans before the associations, but the outcome of such meetings carries no weight in law.

If there is any power at all, it’s in the ability to embarrass as a way of forcing action from public officials, property owners, developers or city engineers. The embarrassment can be amplified because we have an active community press to publicize the foibles of all of the above. (Three of us were at last night's meeting.)

And occasionally, just occasionally, the embarrassment — or threat of it — works.

In a way, my hope is that this blog post will do its small part to embarrass the neighborhood into producing a leader for the neighborhood association.

The next president has to be someone sort of, but not exactly. like, Don. A person with a dollop of righteous indignation. A person willing to jump up and down and yell, “You can’t do that! We live here! Who do you think you are!”

Recently I’ve concluded that Hillsdale needs some autonomy from the City of Portland. (Actually, I think it should secede, but one step at a time.) Give us, with no strings attached, some of the tax money we pay to the city. Say $200,000 per year. Let us decide what to do with it. Let us hire our own “city manager” to work with property owners and the City for change.

After last night’s meeting, I began to doubt my proposal. If no one would step forward to lead the neighborhood association, who would manage a semi-autonomous Hillsdale community?

But the more I’ve thought about it, our very lack of power is the problem. If Hillsdale had resources and authority to take control of more of its destiny, all kinds of folks might be willing to step up and lead.

For now, what we need most is leadership and a neighborhood association board that insist the City give us the power and resources to determine our own future.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ruth Adkins' school board recommendations

Ruth Adkins is a Hillsdale school activist who was elected to the school board two years ago. Here is her letter to friends in which she makes her endorsements in the current board election. If these are the folks Ruth wants on the board, I'm for them.
Dear friends,

By now you have probably received your ballot in the mail. This is a very important election for our schools – and in a low-turnout May election, every vote counts!
I am voting for my Board colleagues Martín González (Zone 4) and Trudy Sargent (Zone 6), and Scott Bailey (Zone 5).

Martín was appointed by the Board last year to finish Dan Ryan's term, and now is running for a full 4-year term, with our unanimous support. Martín brings to the Board many years of experience as a community organizer and as a tireless, effective advocate for parents and children. He has done a very good job representing not just his zone but the needs and concerns of the entire district, in particular communities that haven't always had a voice at the table. He isn't afraid to tackle tough issues like teacher and principal quality, and equity in district decision making. Martín is an important and courageous voice on our Board and I look forward to continuing to work with him in the future!

Scott Bailey is my choice for Zone 5. I've always been impressed by Scott's tenacity and smarts. His economics background as well as his long experience as a schools advocate will be a great asset on the Board. Scott has been deeply immersed in PPS issues for years and he knows how to constructively bring about needed change in the district. Scott is running in the most strongly contested race, so I am including additional info about him below.

Trudy is running unopposed. She is working extremely hard on behalf of Portland's kids and I look forward to continuing to work with her as we face the budget crisis and other challenges.
Thanks to everyone for your support for our public schools, now more than ever. Don't forget to turn in your ballot by May 19!


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Monday, May 04, 2009

Democracy and Newspapers — revisited

Considerable discussion has been prompted by a recent City Club forum on whether the impending death of newspapers threatens the survival of democracy.

After an initial post on the topic here on the Red Electric, I threw another log on the fire in my current Southwest Community Connection column, HERE. Its most trenchant points are these:

1. Even when newspapers were thriving, American democracy had (and has) serious problems — poor voter turn-out, lobbyist manipulation, trivializing TV ads, vulnerable voting machines, money calling the shots. The list goes on and on....

2. The Internet's "micro-journalism" will invigorate democracy at the neighborhood level. Look for less "big city" government and demands for more local autonomy. Portland is ripe for this kind of localism and reform.

3. With more people practicing on-line journalism, there's a greater need for accredited journalism education in the schools or on-line. I don't mention it in the column, but we might even grant a registered certificate to those who have been through an on-line journalism course. Also, we'll need a large pack of on-line media watchdogs to keep an eye on on-line media.

Newspapers may be dying, but journalism is flourishing! That can only help democracy.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

What's the big deal with Twitter?

Okay, I’ve been signed up on Twitter for several weeks. I have a handful of followers and seven or eight folks I’m following.

I still can’t see what the big deal is.

The “tweets” I’m getting here seem like rejects from a Chinese fortune cookie factory.

Many of my unfollowed “followers” appear to have something to sell. A house, a vacation in the Bahamas, a dinette, a hair tint, a massage.

I’ve used my 140 characters to alert my followers that I’ve posted yet another issue of The Hillsdale News. The little on-line newspaper can be found here.

I’ve also invited followers to join me cleaning up litter in Hillsdale. Surprise, none showed up. Who can blame them? They have hair to tint and backs to rub.

I’ve experimented with “news bursts.” So-and-so in the neighborhood died, a new store is opening, etc. Frankly, none of these tweets is important if you perch in a far-away tree, as most of my followers do. It may not be important even if you roost on a branch in this one.

I’ve read about the guy who wrote “Arrested!” because he was, and a whole bunch of followers came to his assistance. “Freed!” he tweeted, because he thought they'd like to know.

I still can’t figure out how, in custody, he was allowed to keep his smart phone to text his admittedly brief message. Perhaps he did it before the cuffs were clamped on. As for me, I'd still be fumbling around in my "contacts" list.

Mastering my cellphone is still on my "to do" list.

I suppose I’m being too rough on Twitter. I could ask the same questions about blogging in general and The Red Electric in particular.

What’s the point? Don’t we all have better things to do?

On second thought, at least with a tweet, I’m done in 140 characters.

According to my word count program, this post is somewhere north of 1400 characters, ten tweets. I could have said it with one: “OK. I give. What’s the big deal with Twitter?”

Come to think of it, I’ll go to my Twitter site and post exactly that. I'll tweet you what I find out, if you "follow" me.

Do you?

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