Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on July 29th, 2011 at 10:10 am
Bernie Foster, the Publisher of The Skanner — Portland’s award-winning and self-described, “African American newspaper that keeps you up to date with everything going on in the black community” — has weighed in on the North Williams Avenue project.
In his editorial, Foster urges his readers to speak up on this and other transportation projects; but he also, in my opinion, unfairly criticizes PBOT and BikePortland in a way that hinders community relations.
Foster gave credit to a group of citizen activists (“a tight-knit cadre of moms and grandmothers”) who urged PBOT to slow down the project and consider the opinions of more Black residents. He said “concerns over the racial impact” of the project effectively, “slowed down the steamroller on PBOT’s already-written blueprint for North Williams.*”
It’s important to note that PBOT has not made any final decisions on the project. They have presented a list of potential options, all of which have been vetted by both a citizen-led Stakeholder Advisory Committee and a public open house. Could they have broadened the outreach process to include a larger — and more diverse — sampling of residents? Of course. In fact, adding new members to the SAC is on the next meeting agenda. However, I feel it’s unfair and inaccurate to say that PBOT has “steamrolled” anything on this project.
While I disagree with the “streamroller” comment, I was glad to read that Foster congratulated PBOT staff for hitting pause on the project to listen to “the injustices of past generations,” that have been brought up by concerned residents:
“Between them this newly-emerging community of stakeholders have widened the issues on the table and slowed down the process so that, in fact, all those impacted by it can be heard – and that’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
It also turns out that Mr. Foster has read the comments on BikePortland.
“Unfortunately, elements of Portland’s bike community immediately erupted in a flood of criticism against the Black community in general and the women attending the planning meetings in particular.
Hundreds of posts on the city’s popular bicycling blog reflect the emotionally-charged debate about bikes vs. Blacks on North Williams, some viciously – and personally — attacking the women for daring to challenge the bike plan.”
It’s unfortunate that Foster didn’t share with his readers that many comments that have expressed support for the racial and gentrification concerns brought up during this process. I’m afraid his editorial will be read by people who haven’t read my coverage and the comments who will come to the conclusion that BikePortland is leading this “flood of criticism” at Black residents and is taking a side in the “bikes vs. Blacks” conversation.
As I hope many of you know, that could not be further from the truth.
As Lee Moore said at the meeting this week, talking about race and diversity is “messy.” I think people from all perspectives deserve a place where they can share their thoughts. While some people have left comments that disagree strongly with some Williams residents, I am not aware of any “vicious” or “personal attacks” in the comments.
In my opinion, Foster’s editorial paints an false picture of the dialogue that has taken place on this site. And by doing so, he is actually hampering race relations and furthering the divisiveness he himself speaks against.
Foster also feels that North Williams corridor has a people problem more than a transportation problem. I’d say it has a people problem and a transportation problem. The street is broken and it does not provide adequate or safe access for all modes. We must tackle both problems or neither of them will be solved.
One key message in Foster’s editorial is important; he urges his readers to get involved with transportation projects and gives them the sage advice of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I couldn’t agree more.