Letters: 'Bummer gun' stories make us safer
RE: John Schrag's "A solution to 'bummer gun' journalism": Why do we attend to catastrophic journalism when it can be depressing?
We have neurons for self defense called peripersonal neurons. These subconsciously trigger defensive responses to seemingly threatening objects or people that suddenly intrude within our personal space.
For example, if you suddenly become aware that a bird is coming toward your face, your arm automatically goes up and you duck. Such actions are in part triggered by one's peripersonal neurons. These neurons determine areas of personal space around our faces, hands, torso, head, etc. The spaces are rather like bubbles of awareness that extend asymmetrically from these and other parts of our bodies.
These neurons have a social component that triggers a sympathetic inward cringe response when we see someone else in the process of being injured. They also engage when we read about other's misfortunes because we are able to imagine ourselves in their position.
We naturally wonder whether we can learn anything that helps us avoid the same misfortune. Such stories also appeal because they give us a sense of relief that it wasn't us. So while too much "if it bleeds it leads" journalism might make us depressed, it remains atavistically compelling. Information about potential threats to our safety can by themselves engender a feeling of empowerment insofar as they help us know what to avoid to be safer.
Tent cities don't belong in parks, natural areas
Recently the city of Portland removed a homeless encampment from a Columbia Slough natural area in Northeast Portland.
The Big Four Corners natural area harbors sensitive fish and wildlife habitats, lies on flood-prone land, is isolated from public transit, and distant from public services. We believe the houseless population in Portland deserves better treatment than a temporary camp at such a location.
Are the cities and counties doing enough to address the crisis of housing affordability and needs of the houseless population? No.
Do we need a larger commitment of public resources to transitional and permanent affordable housing, addiction and mental health support? Yes.
But our parks and natural areas are not appropriate and humane places to establish temporary encampments. We can do better, and the houseless deserve better.
In addition to holding our elected leaders accountable, certain neighborhoods, businesses, and individuals need to step up to the challenge of finding humane solutions.
Neighbors fighting the proposed Southeast Foster Road shelter, Overlook Neighborhood Association leaders seeking to exclude Hazelnut Grove residents, and downtown business leaders threatening to move their headquarters are divisive actions and not helpful.
Many of us in the conservation community have and will continue to support inclusionary zoning policies, SDC waivers for affordable housing, new funding/programs for housing, and social services for those in need.
We have more work to do locally, and at the national level (to fight federal housing budget cuts, for example). Many in the business, faith and nonprofit communities are engaged, but we can and should do more.
Nonetheless, constructing informal tent cities in floodplains, wetlands, and fire-prone forests where we have spent millions in public money is dumb and inhumane, and only distracts the public and diverts limited resources from real solutions.