Our view: Portland Isn't dying
The Nation's Zoe Carpenter ended her poignant article on Portland ("The Past 2 Years Have Left Portland Reeling. What Kind of Recovery Comes Next?") by asking the question: "Who is this city for?"
It's an apt question after months of business closures; racial justice protests; white supremacist violence; inflammatory Trump rhetoric; and livability concerns about trash, vandalism, houselessness and public safety.
But as two BIPOC elected leaders, we want to explain why we remain hopeful about this city we love. Portland is for all of our residents, and our residents committed to that inclusiveness in many ways over recent years.
Portland's history is often revisited and retold with a focus on our innovative urban design, transit and bicycle infrastructure, distinct neighborhoods, and civic vitality.
These elements have, famously, made our city the place we all love, and they continue to make it special.
Yet it's also the uncomfortable truth that these elements were able to flourish because many Portlanders were excluded. Many were actually accomplished at the expense of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other Portlanders of color, as Ms. Carpenter notes in her piece.
Evidence of this prior exclusion is everywhere: in names of our civic spaces and monuments; neighborhood redlining; Displacement; gentrification; wealth; education; health; and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
The reeling, dying "Portland" is a city in willful ignorance of its own white supremacy and institutional racism. Portland endures, and Portlanders are realizing that our community is lacking until we bring all residents in as equal partners.
We are asking for full truths about our history and reconciliation so that we can move forward intact. We want a compassionate, healthy, accessible, affordable city that works for everybody. And we are backing up our words with action.
While some in the media has portrayed a city in chaos, voters have doubled down on investing in equity and inclusion over the past two and a half years. We created the Portland Street Response, an un-armed 911 first responder to provide compassionate care to those experiencing behavioral health issues or houselessness. We resoundingly said quality universal preschool was essential for all children to have an equitable start in life. We funded our parks to ensure greater accessibility for low-income and BIPOC Portlanders. We've deeply invested in affordable housing and the services necessary to support our houseless neighbors and adapted our zoning to recognize shifts in how people house themselves within their financial means. We passed dedicated funding for climate action centered on frontline communities, and overwhelmingly approved a new police accountability system.
During this same period, there's been a significant change in the makeup of our leadership. For the first time in Oregon history both Portland's City Council and Multnomah County's Commission are majority-minority led jurisdictions and we have 12 BIPOC legislators representing us at our state capital.
Are these really signs of impending death? We say no.
Those who proclaim Portland's demise are often commenting on its viability for business, so we'll put this in business terms: An investment needs time to accrue value. In 2020, Portlanders resoundingly called for change and made investments in new policies and new elected officials with refreshingly diverse life experiences. We have confidence that the investments our voters have made will pay dividends.
You can already see it. To address gun violence, we invested in a public health response defined by community-based organizations and upstream, culturally responsive interventions. Multnomah County declared racism to be a public health crisis, and passed a "once in a generation budget" to combat houselessness and to boost early childhood education. Our BIPOC Legislative Caucus, too, passed a significant chunk of its ambitious agenda.
Our communities have organized for over a century to build our own capacity in Portland. Our communities have put in the time and are doing the advocacy that's gotten us this far, and we're prepared to do what it takes to fundamentally change how our governments do business.
It's hard work, but that does not mean it isn't worth doing, and our city isn't dying because we're choosing to do it. It means we're fighting for a better life. A life in which we collectively prioritize justice, respect, health, inclusivity and affordability. And that leaves us hopeful for the future of our dear city.
And if that sounds like your kind of city, join us in creating and celebrating Portland's rebirth.
Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson serves District 3, which includes portions of the county east of Interstate 84 and bounded by Southeast Cesar Chavez and Southeast 148th Street. Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty oversees Portland Fire & Rescue, Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Office of Community & Civic Life.
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