On Wednesday at the 25th week of the Youth vs ODOT rally at Salmon Springs Springs, the usual set of youth protesters had their messages carried by dozens of people who had attended the YIMBYtown conference
Though clouds loomed ominously above the Willamette River, the weather stayed dry for an hour-and-a-half as about 70 rally attendees sang protest songs, chanted, held “Fund Futures Not Freeways” banners and mingled with people doing freeway fighting work on a national level.
With multiple levels of freeway lanes and ramps providing an fitting backdrop, Alex Contreras, who founded the Happy City Coalition to fight Los Angeles County freeway expansions, spoke at the rally.
“The freeway expansion problem aren’t just a local issue. It’s a global issue, and it’s something that we can very easily unite around to stop,” Contreras said.
Mike McGinn, the former mayor of Seattle and executive director of America Walks (above right), said he was excited to see youth so involved in fighting against freeway expansions.
“I’m thrilled to be here, because we need to get at the heart of this issue. It needs to be a multicultural coalition for change, and it needs to span the generations,” McGinn said. “We’re going to replace freeways with walking and biking and transit, and we’re going to replace long trips with great communities, and we’re going to replace asthma with healthy lungs and noise with good clean air.”
“I’m very proud of you for taking on this fight. You have to be courageous to do it. Fortunately, there are more people who feel like you do than people who don’t.”
— Amy Stelly, Claiborne Avenue Alliance
Longtime New Orleans freeway fighter and urban planning expert Amy Stelly concluded the guest speeches, commending the youth but also giving them some truthful advice for moving forward.
“Kick it up a notch. Definitely kick it up a notch,” Stelly said, encouraging them to take the protest directly to the governor’s office and provide ODOT with an explicit alternative to the I-5 expansion. “You can keep demanding, but they don’t have to listen to your demands. If you present them with an alternative, then they need to respond to it.”
Stelly’s words summed up the energy present at this time when there are great challenges to be met, but also hope and possibility that comes from working alongside similarly-minded, dogged people fighting for the common good. The YIMBYtown confluence with Youth vs ODOT provided perfect grounds for that peculiar feeling of cautious optimism.
“I’m very proud of you for taking on this fight. You have to be courageous to do it,” Stelly said. “But fortunately, there are more people who feel like you do than people who don’t.”
(This post wraps up our coverage of YIMBYtown 2022. See all our stories here.