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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 27, 2006 10:14 AM. The previous post in this blog was Climb every mountain. The next post in this blog is Cesspool snorkeling. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"We are ALL the city"

A frequent commenter on this blog, Frank Dufay, left an interesting post last night. It read in part:

The challenge is to do what's right in an environment where a hundred opinions each think they're right. Is Homer Williams "the City?" Nope. Melvin Mark? Nah. Steve Shoppe? Jack Bogdanski? Mr. T? Cynthia? Markdaman? Me?

We are ALL the City. THAT's the hard part to understand, as is figuring out how best to serve us all.

Nicely put. If I had to pick a slogan for this blog, at the moment at least, I'd go with "We are all the city."

Comments (27)

"...as is figuring out how best to serve us all."

THAT'S the key, and apparently no one in city government has a clue about any priorities involved. It seems to me that Potter's "visioning" implies that all the basics are taken care of already.

After posting his "vision quest" questions, how about some questions involving city priorities? How about ranking the list after it's compiled.

The way things are going now, in ten years your slogan would have to be: "we are all city employees".

...or dependents

Isn't this why we have elections? To decide who's going to determine city priorities, and then evaluate them on their performance 4 years hence?

I don't know if each of us thinks we are right. I actually revise my views often based on new information I get. What is important, I think, is that we have the debate about WHAT is right (not who) in PUBLIC.

Good citizens are the riches of a city.

True, but that one's fallen into over-use.

"Isn't this why we have elections? To decide who's going to determine city priorities, and then evaluate them on their performance 4 years hence?"

Oddly enough, as Measure 11, this blog and the I&R system have shown, voters in the state and in the city seem to think that process isn't enough (or isn't working). I'm advocating a sort of Measure 11 for city government. If Potter has to ask citizens (more accurately, residents) what they want city government to do next, he obviously doesn't have enough contact with reality and needs some guidance. Let's give the current and future mayors and council members some basic priorities and see how they measure up. As things stand, expectations of the city's elected officials' are ill-defined and, therefore, hard to empirically measure. Sten is a shining example of a failure with his Water Bureau debacle - yet he still serves.

It would be a start toward accomplishing some of what Dufay's very incisive comment sets out as our most important task.

Rich citizens are the riches of a city.

I guess if they could take care of the basics (parks, roads and jailspace) OK.

The heartburn comes when they get into playing developer when they can't find money for the basics. Of course, the mantra always is that taxes 20 years from now will pay for all of this money now.

So sum/substance, they get into projects they really shouldn't, so I'd un-ask the question of "what's right for the city" with respect to those.

"We are ALL the City. THAT's the hard part to understand, as is figuring out how best to serve us all. "

Obeying the law pertaining to the fiscal impacts of projects might be an excellent start. Just realizing that municipal law APPLIES to them would be one heckuva start for that crowd.

It's pretty hard for citizens to know what the hell is going on when any news from the capitol or city hall is nonexistent in our local press. When, miracle of miracles, they decide it's more important than a meth bust or hollywood gossip, it's an afterthought given a cursory glance. Sure, the local TV stations obviously take the cake, but the Oregonian isn't far behind.

I guess if they could take care of the basics (parks, roads and jailspace) OK...
The heartburn comes when they get into playing developer

But even the simple basics like where --or if-- you build roads (or parks, or jails, or sewers, or schools) has profound impacts on development. Think of the impact of I-5...or the un-built Mt Hood Freeway (which would have devastated MY neighborhood).

Government regulation helps create wealth. Changing the zoning on a parcel of property can triple its value, or more. The temptations (and opportunities) can be pretty overwhelming. And in an environment where it costs big bucks to run for office, how do we maintain a level playing field for good decision-making?

It's pretty hard for citizens to know what the hell is going on when any news from the capitol or city hall is nonexistent in our local press.

TKrueg really hits the nail on the head. I don't especially blame the press --government doesn't like an inquisitive press looking over its shoulder any more than any of us would, and so restricts the flow of information-- but I'm consistently amazed at how little of what happens gets any real analysis. Or even exposure. Then again, the riches of a city are engaged citizens, who care about what's going on beyond the sports page, or the antics of Paris Hilton. Whatever faults there may be in Mayor Potter's "visioning" process I give him huge credit for the effort to both energize that citizenry and seriously engage them: "Well, what do we want Portland to be?" He's asking...it's up to us to tell him.

I think the success of Jack's Blog (or Blue Oregon, or the whole "blogosphere") is that it puts a lot more eyes on the street, and however much I may agree or disagree with people here, I appreciate the caring and passion. I think Jack (et al) perform a real public service.

amen

Hey, I like "Good citizens are the riches of a city." It's inscribed on the Skidmore Fountain down by the Saturday Market, which Henry Weinhardt wanted to fill with beer. The quote comes from C.E.S. Woods, one of Portland's earliest civic leaders.

On the other hand, when confronted with questions of a civic nature, I often say WWBD (what would Bud do?) And since the former mayor stops in at a neighborhood tavern (not his own) that I also frequent, I occasionally have a chance to ask him.

Frank,

"Government regulation helps create wealth."

Quite the blanket statement; especially absent its corollary that government regulation can, and regularly does, also destroy wealth. I'd argue that, in this city at least, goernment regulation has "created wealth" for a very few, already wealthy, folks and destroyed wealth for the vast majority. Which ties in to another of your assertions:

"Then again, the riches of a city are engaged citizens, who care about what's going on beyond the sports page, or the antics of Paris Hilton."

Since you're an "engaged citizen", that's a pretty self-affirming statement, I'm sure, but it's also a very elitist statement on its face. What happened to "We are ALL the City." I guess I misunderstood your use of "We".

What, then, are the sports page reading folks who really do "care about what's going on" but don't have the time, money or knowledge to be involved to the degree that qualifies them as "engaged" - The glamorless burden of a city?

These are the people whom the city ignores by their skewed priorities; those whose streets aren't paved, whose neighborhoods are crime-ridden, who don't live on MAX or trolley lines. These are the people who miss out on the benefits of "development", "renewal" and all the other grand schemes that mesmerize our city "leaders" and their respective bureaucracies. These are people who expect basic services and little else from their city government and instead get little service and are basically ignored. These are the people for whom there are few "advocates" like Erik Sten, the "crusader for the homeless" (whose true concern is more about his image with his guilt-laden liberal constituents than the real issues of the homeless). Whether they're "engaged" or not, or even whether they vote or not, they are your (and my) equals and their expectations and rights deserve equal, if not greater attention.

Every taxpayer dollar spent on trams, plans and (no) automobiles is a dollar stolen from them. They don't want "vision"; they want city government to open its eyes and acknowledge through its actions the real, sports-page-reading, Paris Hilton-crazed world that's staring them in the face.

You miss the point.

Ricky,

I think you may have missed the point.

If people want something to be done, if they want government to govern the way they want them to govern, nothing is ever going to change with a disengaged populace. You know the term about the squeaky wheel? That very much applies here.

The notion that paying attention requires too much time, and is best reserved for the retirees, the jobless, the lazy, or those with monetary interests, is false. It has to be or we're done. Again, this goes back to my point that the local media has lost it's way. If civic issues were given the prominence they deserve in TV and print, more people would have more relevant information. That said, many people make NO effort, and the responsibility rests with all of them.

These trends also affect the binds of shared community pride and civic responsibility. Beaverton is pitted against Portland, SE is pitted against SW, Mult Co. pitted against Eastern Oregon. The debates are framed with an adversarial tone, and the result is further gridlock and frustration. Should we be looking at each other with a wary eye, or should we be discussing a shared vision? Maybe Potter hit a home run, not a pop fly, with his vision quest... we'll only know if something comes of it.

TK,

So, by your lights, there ARE no basic responsibilities of municipal governments?

Were not "done", we're just in the boat we're in now. City governments have basic responsibilties that come ahead of responding to the organized, wealthy or loud. They should address these almost on autopilot and before anything else. This is not "Hey. let's all figure out how to run a city, guys - give me your input."". No one needs to re-invent the wheel here. There should be no need on the part of ANY city government to ask what these responsibiliies are. The areas you describe as "pitted against one another" are that way because dollars that should have been used to fund basic services have been diverted into fantasy projects. The media's attention would probably be helpful but shouldn't be necessary. There's no substitute for

...responsibility.

Buddy, you made my point for me.

I don't think so, TK.

The responsibility I'm referring to rests with Portland's city government - which would be superfluous in your view - city bureaus could just ask the "engaged" what to do next.

I can't believe I'm having this inane conversation...

I think it's rather obvious that responsibility rests with both government as well as citizens. It's also pretty obvious that any government will go off the rails if it's not held accountable by citizens... not just the ones who decide to vote. Low voter turnout certainly doesn't help things.

What is there to debate about this?

So sorry to trouble you with inanity, my friend. Of course you are under no obligation to respond.

"It's also pretty obvious that any government will go off the rails if it's not held accountable by citizens... not just the ones who decide to vote."

My original point was that, given the inability of citizens to hold city government accountable on a day-to-day basis, undue unfluence skews toward those who have the time, money and motivation - but not necessarily the common good at heart. Given the "obvious" tendency of government that you mention, my suggestion was some sort of initiative with the goal of reining in the more egregious derailments of the city until basic needs are met.

Regards,
Ricky

Ricky,

I'm curious what "initiative" you envision to "rein in" politicians, outside the "usual" apparently, in your view, futile and failed, democratic processes?

A coup? A dictatorship? (oh yes, of course, benevolent dictators only need apply...)

TK (and, of course, my hubby) are absolutely right on. "The people" do hold the solution here. And yes, they will have to put down the remote, turn off Paris and the latest sports thingy --- and give their whole minds, good ones, really, to their responsibility to vote with knowledge and care and compassion. (BTW, in my reading of this thread you come off as the one with the bias against the "Paris Hilton" followers. You don't seem to believe they have the capacity to BE responsible for making resoned decisions during an election... Someone needs to take that burden off their tired shoulders, for them????)

And, yes, the media has a role here too, but you can't throw much of a party if no one comes. The burden is on all of us, the electorate of this city.

Love it or lose it.

Double (or would it be triple) teamed.

The straw men makes it six.

Of course I advocate a coup, since the democratic process is both futile and failed - what else? And why a benevolent dictator? You know we conservatives would prefer a Saddam-like leader.

I also appreciate your attempt to attack my (your) argument while trying condescendingly to hug those sports page readers and their minds "...their whole minds, good ones, really..." wonderful stuff, really!

The "sports thingy" unfortunately, casts just the tiniest shadow of your true attitude, however unintentionally.

And while your mischaracterization of my suggestion for some basic priorities in city government is colorful ("tired shoulders, etc."), it completely (and intentionally, I'd say) misses my point.

"You don't seem to believe they have the capacity to BE responsible for making resoned decisions during an election..."

On the contrary, If city government only made changes at election time, you'd have my vote. But we all know that's not how it works. At election time, we get all sweetness and light and very little reality. Knowing how it DOES work leads me to believe that some charter revisions which prioritize spending would help.

I know that's not popular with those "free spirits" at City Hall, but come on!

Oh, and "Love it or lose it."????

Careful of lawsuits; that's way too close to a phrase copyrighted by right wingnuts.

And it's as cheap a shot as it is when they use it.

My original point was that, given the inability of citizens to hold city government accountable on a day-to-day basis...

Now there you go again...

Why do you hold "citizens" in such low esteem? Of COURSE they can hold city government accountable...and they DO. And, yeah, not only every day, but in every transaction they have with the City.

These are people who expect basic services and little else from their city government and instead get little service and are basically ignored.

Really? Let's try an experiment.

Walk over to your sink. Turn on the tap. You get water coming out? (I was talking to a former Portlander yesterday, giving me a new address for her account. In Texas. "You can't drink the water out of the tap!" she complained to me.) We have great water.

Go flush your toilet, Rickyragg. Hey, you know what? Your flush went somewhere. And a lot of people are working hard to see it doesn't just go in the river...like it used to.

Put your garbage out on the curb. If you're "engaged" enough, not only will that garbage disappear, but if you bother to separate out the recyclables...well, they're not going in the landfill.

You gonna tell me, Rickyragg, that you can't pull out of your driveway...and drive wherever you want to in this city? Please tell me what address you can't drive to!

Got a pain in your chest? Call 9-1-1...you think no one's gonna show? Or are city folks gonna take your call, and city-trained EMTs are gonna be on your doorstep in time to save your life?

The day-to-day grind gets done. Not always right, not always perfectly. but the tens of thousands of interactions every day --the banal, take-'em-for-granted day-to-day stuff happens.

When the City screws up --and they, we, DO screw up-- it's the anomaly. Those screw ups can be awful. Seriously awful. And, yeah, I'll agree we don't prioritize things right.

But...I've been in meetings with home owners who DON'T want their street "improved." (They like the potholes and gravel that slows drivers down.) I've been in meetings where what I think is a no-brainer, like putting in sidewalks...well, aren't I the little Pol Pot dictator from guvmint telling people what they need to do.

No...our government belongs to ALL of us and it can't be, shouldn't be, captured by the "special interests." But, also, there's a responsibility inherent in the relationship...if you want a democracy, you also have to be engaged and speak up.

And no, Rickyragg, I don't see myself as some "engaged" elitist. I'm married to the idea that our citizens have the power...if you exercise that power. But you gotta exercise...its good for the body politic.

Frank,

You're a hard guy not to like, or disagree with. We don't disagree much, if at all. Your examples all refer to the functions of city government that should work on autopilot. For the most part they do - I've never disputed that. The thrust of my comments, probably less than eloquently put, is that those services should be the best they can be before we spend money on other stuff - and they aren't- your vignette about the gravel road thing notwithstanding. (I live on a gravel road in Portland, by the way, and you're right) I don't consider you an elitist nor have I called you one - I pointed out a comment that sounded elitist to me - and believe me I understand the difference - even if I misunderstood your comment.

I'm only now, in my mid-50's, becoming engaged; but it's in self-defense, not civic mindedness. My naivete about the fairness and priorities of city government in its many manifestations was finally overcome by the reality I tried to describe in my comments. The machine will run you over if you don't protect yourself. That's the perception of a lot of people besides me. And perception, my friend, IS reality.

Keep up the good work, which I have absolutely no doubt you will.

and...

Thank You

PS: ask your wife, nicely, to lay off - she wields a mean rhetoric ;-)

that's ...not to agree with

sorry

PS: ask your wife, nicely, to lay off - she wields a mean rhetoric ;-)

Hey, she covers my back...


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