“I have a passion for community. If people understand the place where they live, they’ll be more likely to stay and invest themselves in it.”
This is how 70-year-old Virginia Bruce sums up her life philosophy and her life work.
Interviewed in the white geodesic dome where she offices just off NW Murray Rd, Virginia talks fluently about many facets of community life:
- Virtual chats with her neighbors in 97229 on Nextdoor.com
- The local Business Association board member responsible for banners and flower baskets along NW Cornell Rd and other thoroughfares
- The need for parks in the new Bonny Slope West development
- Traffic fatalities on county roads
- The Cider Festival held every October
- Plans to restore the 1869 saltbox house of John Quincy Adams Young, who came to the area on the Oregon Trail and gave Cedar Mill its name
- Governance of urban unincorporated areas (UUAs)…and more
In fact, the area’s unincorporated status is a common thread across many of the topics and issues Virginia covers. Since its days as a rural outpost served by postmaster JQA Young from the saltbox family home, Cedar Mill has relied heavily on private, volunteer and improvised efforts to meet community needs. Even as Virginia continues this tradition with her newspaper, she asks herself and others if there might be a better way.
With Washington County’s growth almost double the state average, densely populated suburbs – including Cedar Hills, Garden Home, Raleigh Hills, West Slope, Aloha and Bethany – still function in a governance grey area. They have passed on the early incorporation examples set by Beaverton, Hillsboro, Forest Grove and Tigard. At the same time, Cedar Mill and other UUAs have resisted annexation by both Portland and Beaverton.
As a result of this history, services normally provided by city governments – water supply, sanitation, roads, schools, parks and libraries – have developed piecemeal through single purpose service districts, private companies, county taxes or volunteer contributions. Though Cedar Mill maintains a Portland address and zip code, for example, it’s served by the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District and Beaverton Independent School District. Its library was built by volunteers.
The quality of these basic services is generally high, says Virginia. But a 6-part series on the governance of Cedar Mill identifies areas where it lags behind neighboring cities, including representation and voice in local government, infrastructure (such as sidewalks, crosswalks and traffic lights), public spaces and events, community identity and planning, and economic development. Published in 2008, the last installment of the series sums up the choices open to Cedar Mill and other UUAs.
Whether we can get the kind of community we need and deserve without a city to guide our development remains to be seen. Alternatives to annexation or incorporation might include a strong private community development association, the village/hamlet concept that’s being explored in Clackamas County (we could learn from their successes and mistakes), even the provision of another urban service district specifically to deal with [services that are inadequate or lacking].
Eight years on, Virginia’s quick to concede that the County has stepped up its game and law enforcement and road services have improved. But she remains concerned about community identity and economic development.
Whatever the future holds, Virginia and her newspaper are pioneering guides to Cedar Mill. Her curiosity, energy and heart help residents understand its past and present, imagine its future, and feel a part of and give back to the community.