A lot's been lost in the chatter about the proposed changes to City Code Chapter 3.96 governing Portland's Office of Community and Civic Life.
Debate has swirled about the fate of neighborhood associations, which I can tell you, as a committee member who helped craft the proposed change, will retain their important role as neighborhood-based groups.
But what's been lost in this back-and-forth is how groundbreaking this language truly is — and how far it takes us in fostering inclusive democracy in Portland. Let me point you to three key parts of the proposed changes I'm especially proud of:
• Greater inclusivity: Chapter 3.96.020.B of the proposed code introduces an important shift in who has a voice in civic life. Where the existing code identifies residents and business owners as its constituency, the new language recognizes the many ways in which people engage in a place and the stake they hold in that neighborhood.
The code states, "The Office serves people who live, play, worship, and work in the City as individuals and through all forms of groups, including but not limited to affinity-, business-, community-, identity-, issue-, and neighborhood-based groups, and across generations."
This broader definition expands participation in Portland's civic activity to all those who participate and contribute to the prosperity of our city.
• Recognizing the past: For a city like Portland with a complex history rife with disparities, where communities of color have been marginalized, excluded, red-taped and displaced, it is critical to acknowledge harms committed in the past in order to progress into the future. Chapter 3.96.020.D does just that, stating:
"The origins of our democracy include colonialism, white supremacy, and economic exploitation, as well as native sovereignty and the striving for self-determination by all communities. These origins continue to shape our assumptions, institutions, and practices. The Office's purpose is to support civic engagement as a powerful way to expose assumptions reflecting historical origins and rebuild our government institutions and practices to be more fair, just, and in service of all Portlanders."
This rare instance of formal acknowledgment of the past and commitment to right those wrongs should be recognized as a critical step forward for the city.
• Deeper engagement: Chapter 3.96.040 expands the ways in which the city interacts with its constituency. No longer is merely transactional engagement acceptable. This chapter calls on Civic Life to better partner with communities by reporting on program impacts, facilitating exchanges between communities and government, and seeking community input. Through these and other approaches, this chapter seeks to make relationships between the city and community members active and iterative and ensure community voices shape local policy.
This change is particularly important for marginalized communities and communities of color, who are often adversely impacted by decisions when we are not able to co-create solutions guided by lived experience and collective wisdom of communities.
Self-determination is the surest way to stop doing things unto communities. With this chapter, we empower communities to participate in decision-making and create more effective, enduring solutions.
This code change is an important step in Portland's future of more inclusive civic engagement and a stronger city where we can all belong and thrive. I, for one, am ready for that future.
Chi Nguyen is a resident of Portland and executive director of APANO, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.
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