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Act locally; thoughts on North Portland

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 24th, 2007 at 12:07 pm

Since I proposed a neighborhood meeting last week (in response to community reaction to an attack on cyclists in North Portland), I've been thinking about the issues, reading comments, seeking advice, and trying to determine the best way forward.

Some issues on the table -- race, gentrification, youth violence -- are vast and complex and I have no delusions of solving them or even tackling them directly. We can't ignore these issues, but I think there are others in the community better suited to tackling them head-on.

So what do bikes have to do with this?

I think we can all agree that great places to ride, begin with great places to live. What if we focused the energy, idealism and dedication the bike community is known for and applied that to improving our own neighborhoods?

After all, this is not just about bikes...but maybe bikes (and the people that ride them) can be part of the solution.

Many of us care about much more than bike lanes and Bridge Pedal. But if you talk to people outside the bike scene, you realize many of them are (unfortunately) still caught up in negative images perpetuated by things like Critical Mass (someone jokingly called me "one of those bike nazis" recently).

I think we can show Portland a new side of the bike community and begin to change that perception by focusing our activism more locally; starting right outside our doorsteps.

My friend Elly Blue puts it this way:

“Bicyclists in general have a big stake in community issues because we're more vulnerable, but the flip side of that is that we're more invested in the landscape we're riding through than other road users. We've chosen not to armor ourselves on the road so it's up to us to reach out beyond our own immediate self-interest and make things a little safer for everyone when they get out of their cars.”

I'd like to start where Ashley Gorman and Heather Moles were attacked...which is about a mile or so from where I live and on a route I ride frequently.

And to be clear, it's not just about this one incident. Many signs are converging around on a need for more community policing and community building. Consider these points:

    Sweet Summer Cycle ride
  • We've been advocating for more bike patrols even before the attacks happened.
  • Many people have come forward with stories about being harassed by kids in North Portland.
  • There is a major lack of involvement in many North Portland neighborhoods (eight people showed up to a recent PDOT Budget Forum).
  • Mayor Potter said, "We must restore the trust between the police and the community," in his recent State of the City address.
  • North and Northeast Portland have recently seen a surge in graffiti and gang activity.
  • There's a dire lack of diversity in Portland's cycling population.

It's hard for me to ignore these signs. So what can we do?

I believe the first step is simply knowledge and awareness of what’s already going on. In Portland we have a well-established network of neighborhood associations. The trouble is, too many of them languish in apathy and are kept alive by a small, core group of regulars. My own neighborhood association (Piedmont), is always grumbling about a lack of attendance at meetings.

I've been putting off getting more involved for way too long, and I plan to start regularly attending my neighborhood meetings.

As for a general North Portland neighborhood awareness meeting, I'm still ironing out details and I'm open to your input. In addition to supplying information and advice on how to get involved, I hope to have guest speakers, representatives from surrounding neighborhoods, and an opportunity to share ideas and make connections.

One idea I'm excited about is the formation of citizen-led, volunteer bike patrols (in addition to more officers on bikes). Officer Robert Pickett from Southeast Bike Patrol has offered his time to attend the meeting and even hopes to lead a few bike patrols in North Portland to get things started.

[John Canda (foreground).]

In a few hours I'm meeting with John Canda. John is the former director of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods and leader of the Mayor's Office of Youth Violence Prevention. I look forward to hearing his input and perspectives.

Whatever happens, in the end my hope is to provide a small spark of awareness that leads to more of us getting involved, acting locally, and focusing our amazing energy and ideas to build stronger communities that aren't just fun and safe to bike in, but are great to live in too.

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Comments
  • Ethan January 24, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Outstanding post Jonathan, can't wait to see where this leads.

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  • Lenny Anderson January 24, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    The Community Cycling Center on NE Alberta has been doing programs to get low income residents on to bikes for commuting and fun for a long time. Bring them into this discussion.

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  • Matt Davis January 24, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Interesting story, Jonathan. Let us know how your meeting with Canda goes?

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  • Chris Sullivan January 24, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    Speaking of police in North Portland, Police Chief Rozie Siezer is considering cutting the North Precinct to save money. (More on this story here: http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/Content?oid=106507&category=22101)

    She's coming out to meet with the neighborhoods tonight, if you're intersted in attending. Here's the info:

    Title: Portland Safety Action Committee - Rozie Siezer, Portland Police Chief ,guest

    Date: Wednesday January 24, 2007
    Time: 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
    Location: Historic Kenton Firehouse
    Street: 2209 N Schofield
    Phone: Will Crow - 503-247-9424 or Havilah Ferschweiler - (503) 823-4098

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  • Jonathan Maus January 24, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    Lenny,

    thanks. the folks at the CCC follow this site closely and they will certainly be in the discussion, even if I don't address them directly.

    and Chris,
    Thanks for that reminder. I've got to be at Eleni's preschool tonight but I would love a report from someone that goes.

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  • Ninja January 24, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    I think that one thing that will be critical in moving forward on this process is a willingness from all interested folks to be engaged in the struggles of the other folks at the table, and a sincere commitment to integrating the concerns of all involved.

    Some examples I can think of:
    1) Cyclists need to be open to hearing that residents don't like them and why. We also need to prepared to make concessions in creating new cycling facilities, if that turns out to be what we hear from the communities in N/NE Portland.

    2) One thing I hear about in a lot of different arenas (cyclists, social justice networks, social service agencies, etc.) is that many citizens don't trust the police. Working on starting a Portland Police Bureau Civilian Review Board is something that I think people from all walks of life might be interested in.

    two cents...

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  • Jonathan Maus January 24, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    Just got back from my meeting with John Canda. It was very cool...he is a solid guy and I'm excited to share more details.

    We talked about using bikes for community policing (both officially and citizen-led), augmenting existing foot patrol to use bikes and other interesting topics. More news to follow in a full story tomorrow. Here's a photo:

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  • Donald January 24, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    Golly, I'm a bit tormented, but I feel this all may be a bit of ado about not much.

    First, I'm sorry for the folks who were assaulted. Just as I'm sorry every time a driver makes a poor decision or an honest mistake and hurts a cyclist. Which happens a lot more often than young, media-friendly-faced cyclists being thumped on in an up and re-coming part of town. And those everyday insults to the pedal-pushers among us aren't publicized nearly enough.

    So let me be clear about my feelings: The issues surrounding cyclist safety aren't limited to a quadrant on a municipal map. They apply city-wide and society-wide.

    I'm a family man, with a modest North Portland home that is generating sweet ROI. I have a stroller and a bike trailer and I spend afternoons with my kids at the park.

    Typical NoPo gentrifier?

    Not really. I'm also a 1984 Jeff grad. Officer Jackson used to run my truant and red-eyed behind out of the gazebo in the very same park I now enjoy with my boys. (Sorry to see you retire, Harry. You were our first and best community cop, sir.)

    I'm an avid cyclist and former competive driver. I use my bike to tow my lads to PIR events. (Seriously, all you recent noiseaphobes should have realized what you were getting yourself into before you signed on the dotted line to buy your dream house a half mile from a racetrack...)

    Pardon the expository rant, but I'm trying to establish my creds. My point is, when newcomers start gnashing their teeth about assumed issues, and those concerns are magnified in the lens of the local media, the entire community is done a disservice.

    I feel North Portland is a terrific exercise in democracy and a free economy. People have voted with their feet and their pocketbooks and the result is the rebuilding of a once vital neighborhood into something new, exciting and of our own making.

    In the process, glass artists and chickenwing vendors and fresh-from-college renters and newly-promoted homeowners have all started to create a liveable neighborhood out of what was only very recently a forgotten and wasted space.

    We have begun to, as Pogo might have observed, conquer the insurmountable opportunities of this fragile community.

    So, in this unsteady time of transition, what are we to do? Here's my thought: Be nice to each other.

    Smile when you make eye contact. Realize, also, that eye contact may be threatening to some cultures and experiences, so, you know, go easy on it.

    Stop at the stop line, not in the crosswalk. DON'T RUN RED LIGHTS. Keep your flashers full of good batteries. Give peds the right of way. Don't encroach on a bus stop lane, even if it seems safer, like in front of the hospital.

    Beyond that, be a positive ambassador for your lifestyle and your transportation choice. But, damnit, quit wringing your hands about this trivial matter and that perceived injustice. Understand also that it's not about who owns this and who used to own that. It's about who's here now and how together we make it work.

    (Oh, and a side note: Let's cut the cops and Tri-Met some slack and maybe even give them their due credit. If it wasn't for the professionals on thier staffs and the light rail and community policing that they advocated, this would still be PDX's great wasteland.)

    Let's have meetings. Let's get together and get to know each other. That's terrific and positive and I'll see you there. But, dangit, let's stop coupling "North Portland" with poorly supported ideas that, somehow, things are dramaticaly wrong in this neck of the woods and, by transference, our society as a whole.

    On top of doing little to help, it's just flat out not true.

    See you on the Avenues.

    _Donald

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