Local coalition maps neighborhood equity issues
- Merry Mackinnon
- The Bee - Features
Founded over a decade ago, the 'Coalition For A Livable Future' embraces an ambitious regional advocacy role - one that covers affordable housing, public transportation, living wage jobs, clean water, open spaces, wildlife habitat, and farmland protection. The nonprofit also seeks to end hunger in the community.
So it wasn't surprising when, last year, Director Jill Fuglister, feeling swamped by her daily agenda, asked the coalition's board to hire a Co-Director. Now Fuglister, who lives in the Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood, shares her job with Sellwood-Moreland resident Ron Carley, who previously oversaw a storm water management grants program for Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services.
Together, the two head a small nonprofit that is having a big impact on issues.
Reflecting the priorities of its diverse organizations, such as '1000 Friends of Oregon' and the Urban League, Fuglister and Carley, along with two other staff, coordinate the coalition. Most policy work is carried out by its ninety member organizations.
Recently, the coalition published an atlas which is contributing to the understanding of growth, and how it has affected different populations in the region.
By providing area maps and neighborhood listings, the atlas is a tool that often-ignored groups can use to influence local government decision-making and, perhaps, to get more of those resources, like parks, for their neighborhoods.
The 'Regional Equity Atlas' (www.equityatlas.org) tracks economic disparities developing as the region grows. With help from researchers at Portland State University, who compiled census data that focused on mostly disenfranchised populations, the 138-page atlas depicts geographic distribution of people juxtaposed by income, child poverty rates, and other indicators of economic and social equity.
'There are economists who say that leaving a portion of the population behind hurts the whole economy,' said Co-Director Jill Fuglister, whose own neighborhood of Creston-Kenilworth, according to the atlas, has a high rate of child poverty, and a 16.8 percent overall poverty rate amongst its 8,130 residents.
The Creston-Kenilworth neighborhood extends north between Holgate and Powell, is just east of the Brooklyn neighborhood, and is just north of the Reed and Woodstock neighborhoods.
Besides the maps showing population dispersals by region from 1990 to 2000, the atlas also focuses on each neighborhood in the Portland metropolitan region and lists their boundaries, population, number of people in poverty, number of people of color, number of children in poverty, vehicle ownership by household, and percentage of upper-income households.
Then, it lists neighborhood access to such resources as affordable housing, schools, grocery stores, transit, parks, and natural habitat.
For example, according to the atlas, in the year 2000, the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood had a population of 10,590. Almost ten percent of its residents lived in poverty. Over eleven percent of its children lived in poverty. Seventy-four percent of its population resided within a half mile of a grocery store, and 75 percent of residents lived within a quarter mile of a natural habitat.
Already, the coalition's work has influenced a Metro decision on how to direct some of its Regional Bond Measure 2006 funds. The coalition brought to Metro's attention the disparity between upper-income communities, with what it determined to be their higher number of parks and access to nature, vs. lower income areas, which have fewer parks and green spaces.
'They had this 'Opportunity Fund', explained Fuglister. 'And we said opportunity could be about equity, too.'
The coalition convinced Metro, in this case, to give priority to lower-income communities, by directing funds toward 'under-natured' areas of the region.
'So, $15 million will hopefully go to communities that have had the poorest access to natural areas and parks,' Fuglister observed.