One of the things I like best about my work is being out in communities – walking or driving streets, talking with residents, and engaging with institutions and businesses that serve them. Neighborhoods expand and deepen our sense of home, offering connection and belonging beyond property lines and family ties.
The spirit of place thrives in Portland. Did you know that it has 95 recognized neighborhoods? And each is represented by an association that gives residents a voice in local governance? The city’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) provides funding, information and technical support to help Portlanders build more inclusive, safe and livable communities.
In 2005 and 2006, Portland’s League of Women Voters published a two-part study of our neighborhood associations – past and present. They grew out of the activism of the 70’s. Some weighed in powerfully on land use decisions in the early days, helping to limit freeways and nudge the city toward walkable development and mass transit solutions. Over the past 40+ years, they have continued to evolve – through dissent and conflict as well as partnership, across changing political climates, and in good and bad economic times.
The vitality and achievements of our neighborhood associations command national attention. To take just one example, Portland occupies the whole final chapter of Better Together: Restoring the American Community (2003). Co-authored by Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, the book focuses on the power of networks or “social capital” to help people renew their communities and improve their lives.
At the same time, associations have struggled with top-down city programs; insular perspectives or NIMBYism (“not in my backyard”); limited funding and capacity; lack of accountability and inequities in how resources are used and shared across the 95 associations and five area coalitions they make up; and not enough diversity among those who participate in them.
It is both because I value community and see opportunities to strengthen it that I recently started attending meetings of my neighborhood association. If you haven’t and would like to, here’s how to get started:
- Type your home address in the search window of portlandmaps.com and hit enter.
- The name shown beside the heading ‘Neighborhood’ is your association.
- If you live in Multnomah County, the name will be a live link. Click on it and you’ll see contact and meeting info for your association.
- If you’re outside Multnomah County, simply copy and paste the name to a new web browser window and you’ll soon find your way to your association website.
Of course, as a practical matter it’s also my job to do desk and field research that will help clients decide where to live. Neighborhoods are one strand of content in my blog. So far, I’ve written about Cedar Hills, Forest Heights and Cully. Up next? The West Slope. Stay tuned.