Community Conversation with Mark Lakeman
About this Episode
November 15, 2019
Sarah sits down with Mark Lakeman of City Repair Project at the first in a series of live community conversations. Together they discuss our frayed civic fabric and how we can come together to address the problems we face.
Our next community conversation will be on Monday, December 9th with Ciara Pressler. Sarah and Ciara will be discussing ways we can make Portland more affordable and accessible to creatives and entrepreneurs. Visit sarah2020.com/december9 for more information and to RSVP.
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Announcer: [00:05] Welcome to a special edition of our Portland with Sarah Iannarone. This episode was recorded on Monday, November 11 at a community conversation featuring architect and placemaking expert, Mark Lakeman. Sarah and Mark discussed civil society, the commons, and ways we can rethink and remake our city for a healthier democracy and a more inclusive future. And now, here's Sarah.
Sarah: [00:32] Thank you all for being here. I have the honor of being a publicly financed candidate. I was the first candidate to qualify for the new Open and Accountable Elections program. Most of the time when you're running for office, you have to work very hard every single day to raise as much money as possible. And I have immense gratitude for being able to participate in this publicly financed election, which means that we can sit down and have honest conversations regardless of how much money any of us bring to the table or how much money we think an event may generate. It may generate no money at all. But what it is going to do is give us an opportunity to have an engaged time around not necessarily the finer tuned policy things, you know, a lot of people want to say, Sarah, what's your strategy to get us to zero emissions by 2030 but this is the broad brush strokes conversations. These are opportunities for us to pull out of the fine details of policy that bog us down day to day and start thinking about who do we want to be as Portlanders? What is the story that we've told ourselves about ourselves in the past and what is the story that we're going to craft for a more sustainable, equitable future? And so I thought it was important to invite as our first guest for these community conversations my friend and at this point, longtime mentor Mark Lakeman because he's really who you have to blame for me being in politics in the first place. If it weren't for Mark, I probably wouldn't be as engaged as I am today. My neighbors and I called PBOT, which stands for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, over 14 years ago now, and I said, "Could I please have a crosswalk crossing 72nd from the street where I and all of my neighbors live over to Mt. Scott Park and Community Center, where all the children in our neighborhood would walk to go swimming and play at the playground. And PBOT's answer to me was no way. And I see one of my neighbors here who is engaged in that conversation. Why? Because it's not a safe crossing. And so if we give you a crosswalk there, then we'll be liable if someone's hit there. Right? And at that moment I started to understand that not, everything that's happening in government is happening particularly logically. There are a lot of little rules in place and there are a lot of times when we're trying to say yes and maybe the rules are telling us no, and my neighbor Megan, who is here was with me in that endeavor and we thought, you know, we need to take matters into our own hands. And so we essentially occupied an unclaimed piece of PBOT land that had been left behind from the street car era and we turned it into a pocket park in our neighborhood to try to create some positive vibes in a place that was known as felony flats. And sometimes people would call it Methlehem there. But we knew that it was so much more than that and we knew that it was a place where neighbors could come together and plant trees and even grow food and build community over cups of coffee and the occasional muffin. And so we went to Mark for help because Mark had a such a long history of placemaking in Portland and he had a great deal of understanding through his work and with his architectural firm, Communitecture, but also his longtime work with the City Repair Project of helping neighbors who didn't quite know how to come together to get things done, to plant the seeds of a project, help you execute it, and see how things would go along the way. And so I thought as the person who kind of got us into this mess in the first place with me as a candidate for Portland mayor and hoping that we're going to upend some systems, I wanted to have the first conversation with you. I was hoping that what Mark and I would be able to do through this would be unpack a little bit of what we've learned the last few decades of placemaking. Portland is changing even as it grows. But there are some things that are going to remain constant for us. So what are those values that we want to keep with us along the way, but what are the lessons that we can apply from sustained practices and understanding new ways of doing things and what are the innovations and new considerations that we need to be having. So in that vein, that's kind of what the tone of this conversation is going to be. But I thought we would start out with a little icebreaker — I have some former students in the room and they know that this is totally my jam — but what we can do is I want you to pick someone to maybe pair up with that you haven't met before or talked with before. And we're going to do a quick moment of sharing. So we're going to take one minute and I want you to share with that person something that you're really concerned about that's happening in Portland right now. And then I want you to share something that you're really excited about that's happening in Portland right now. And I'm going to time you. So, buddy up.
Sarah: [05:02] Well, to get started, thank you for about your understanding of the commons, the relationship between the comments and placemaking and maybe how your understanding has evolved.
Mark: [05:13] Yeah. Well, I just have a lot of different thoughts crowding to the front here. Thinking about the Metro 2040 plan and the aspiration to grow madly before we were even growing madly, we have to reset all of those expectations. You know, the determination to coordinate, to have a system that coordinates, transportation and acquires and sets aside and protects open space and protects farm and forest land. You know, a lot of aspirations were set with an incomplete awareness. And at the grassroots level, this is something that you can talk with people about and they'll actually understand what you're talking about. But Metro only lately has been learning about the importance of placemaking, I would say, and municipal leadership across the country as a whole. But even here, it's still true that our neighborhoods were developed without gathering places. They were developed as expressions of development impetus. A priority to create house as product, to house working class people but not provide a mechanism for them to interact and communicate much less to make decisions. You know, I want to spiral out and nerd out a little bit about this because we are in Portland where the religion is supposed to be artists as I still hold it. Cause I'm a kid in this town. I grew up as a kid in this town. And I still believe that, you know, our common faith is that we own this place and that we have a right to participate in all things. Supposedly it's written into our plan. But as a kid growing up in Portland, at a certain point, you know, hopefully you start, it's, it's made conscious for you or you just discover it. There's not a freaking public square in any neighborhood in the city that we live in, all 96 neighborhoods. And, and yet we all ancestrally speaking, come from cultures of participation and placemaking. And, you know, it's kind of a cruel jest that we have to save money to fly across the ocean to visit places, um, where people actually are resident, deeply rooted, place-based people who have a voice right where they live. They can come outside of their door and have a say right where they live with their problems that are threatening their children. They can engage them that day. But we get in a car or we jump on a bus, we get on our bike and we transit to the work zone to make money to pay for the home zone. Anyway, I'm going on a rant here, but we have a right to participate and not just to weigh in at city hall or cast a vote, but by god, I think it's a birth right to be able to do things right where you live, to solve your own problems right where you live, because that's where you freaking live. So I'm going on about it because, to connect us back to Metro, open space doesn't just add up numerically. You can't just say, yeah, we've got a bunch of acres on the perimeter of the city, therefore we have so many acres per person per capita. It doesn't work that way. If you don't talk to your neighbors because there's nowhere to talk. I like this quote from a conservative in Northwest Portland years ago, "By god, what good is freedom of assembly without a place to assemble?" Like this person really got it at a workshop where people were doing some placemaking. Unless we create place, somehow retrofit our communities, we can just keep adding people and adding people and when we already have endemic problems in that context, if we don't create a way, a commons, for people to be able to interact and make decisions and problem solve creatively with each other, then our problems will just compound as we as we've seen.
Mark: [09:13] So I think it's in, it's incumbent on us for the sake of our experience now and also everyone who lives forward, to retrofit where we live with cultures of participation that have ownership of place and the power to directly connect with each other and drive the processes of change internally. And I, when I'm, when I'm saying there is also, I'm also saying that everyone's looking for a way to confront gentrification. I would like to submit to you tonight that gentrification is happening in the absence of that kind of creative dynamism. It's like invasive Ivy will always take over the landscape and the absence of the guilds of plants that are supposed to have been there the whole time. And the same is true of human ecology, I would say. So you know, Portland is a placemaking culture. We lead the Western hemisphere in this sense, I would say, beginning with the advent of our great public spaces, which are legion, which are legendary now, and the ways that we're retrofitting communities at every scale, but especially the way that most of the local placemaking is actually a direct initiative of the people who live right there and receiving support from various NGOs. They're able to get up and running and realize that they have the skillsets and the talents right where they live to do these things. From the beginning we've always thought, for people to be able to come outside and see the spaces between their homes as a way of actually bringing each other together. That's always just been a catalyst. You might know that we help to paint the streets or we build these little features on corners. I want it to be put on my gravestone that I helped create the first little free library, actually. That's my badge of honor. But it was all designed to be replicated as a way for engaging youth and re-purposing reclaimed materials, but really to revitalize public space. But all that was a catalyst for helping people practice their freaking power, you know, to have a moment with other people in their community where they could actually be able to hear each other speak and learn who lives around them. And like, it's not enough. Painting the street is not enough. I don't even care about the paint on the street, you know, I don't really care about recycled materials as much. I mean, I get passionate about it, I don't care about it compared to getting kids off the couch, getting Portlanders to talk and, and using that as a means to get on to the larger, more interesting systemic challenges we have. To address social isolation, feel our power, and get onto the bigger things. And I think only that will actually confront gentrification in a permanent way.
Sarah: [12:00] And so let's talk a little bit about that because I think, you know, when you look at the privilege in this room, especially in the people who can even talk about claiming space and people who've been excluded from claiming space, I wanted to share something from a book I've been reading. The title is Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility and Democracy, and this was actually something that a community in Seattle came together after Trump's election in 2020. And they were so frustrated and scared by what they were worried would be happening in the wake of that, which we're all seeing now. Those fears were not unfounded, right? But they actually created almost like a civic church where they can come together and think about what would it mean for us to use this as an opportunity to invest in healthy democracy and thinking about ways that we can carve a path forward. And there's a section in here that talks about the difference between people who have insider and outsider dreams. And I wanted to share it because they think one of the things that struggling with is how do new people here, whether they're a tech programmer from California or maybe a refugee from a country with conflict, or maybe there's someone who's been living here their whole life and they're experiencing homelessness and they feel like an outsider in our place too, how do we engage in these activities so that they feel inclusive and so that people feel like they're insiders here in Portland in many ways, regardless of their background, their history, their racial identity, their religion, as we move forward in some of these things. And then I'm going to read this, then we can talk about it a little bit because I think we need to get better at some of the things we're trying to do, and this is from Eric Liu again.
Sarah: [13:40] He writes, "When we talk about the American dream, we ought to be more precise. There are in fact two variants of the dream, one for the insider and one for the outsider. The insider is somebody already in the circle already a member of the society who holds some relative social standing and has a desire maybe for more. He dreams of preserving and extending the status he currently holds. He prizes security. He has loss-sensitive and risk-averse. He sees things in a zero sum way and believes that an influx of newcomers threaten to dilute his relative power and standing. The outsider stands on the other side of the circle. She dreams of entering it, of obtaining the recognition and respect that comes with being included. She hungers for equal standing and because of that hunger and the promise of great gains, she is willing to take risks and to challenge the status quo. She sees things in a positive sum way and believes that her arrival and her presence will make the whole stronger. Now you might think I'm stacking the deck and it's true that one way to see the difference and the relationship between the insider and the outsider dreams is to say that immigration restrictionist and white supremacists and male chauvinists and anti Muslim and antisemitic scapegoaters dream the insider dream, while immigrants and people of color and women and religious minorities dream the outsider dream. But that is too easy. For one thing, think about those immigrants I mentioned earlier who came to the US legally, often through arduous processes in dangerous circumstances, they see themselves as having earned insider status the hard way, the proper way. It would be foolish morally and politically to dismiss their point of view. And let's bring this home. It's not just Trumpist right wingers who dreamed the insider dream. It's liberal Portlanders, people in neighborhoods from East Moreland to East Portland, people who have progressive beliefs but resent the flood of newcomers who are upsetting the equilibrium of relationships and customs and relative clout. It's also people of color who resent gentrification of what had been their neighborhoods and who resist displacement and the loss of place and identity. On the other side. Meanwhile, the outsider dream is not praiseworthy or wise. Trump himself came to power selling an outsider dream against establishment insiders of both parties and his assault on the norms of democracy and the rule of law has been marked by the sense of righteous grievance that powers every outsider movement. The question is this, and I will put this as our question for this next part of our discussion. On what basis are you an insider? On what basis are you a Portlander? Is it something that you carry with you? Is it something inherited? Is it proven? Is it some fidelity to universal values or proven contribution? Here in Portland, I believe this is our question that we need to decide and it's one reason I made the hashtag for this campaign, #OurPortland, because I think a lot of the work that we have to do right now is about making room, but having this conversation both of what inclusivity and equity mean, but also the responsibilities that we will all bear and bringing that to fruition.
Sarah: [17:24] So no small task. I want to tap in again to your wisdom and understanding from organizing communities for so long and think about what lessons can we bring from what we've learned to this work that we have ahead.
Mark: [17:42] I just, I'm really thankful to be asked such a question and to be able to explore it. And I really hope that the people, anyone who feels motivated to contribute will speak up, because it's going to take our collective intelligence to actually figure out a way forward, how to be an inclusive and equitable society when so many divisions and structures enforce inequality in structural ways. I can say this for sure, our work has been propelled by a certain kind of faith and by that I mean a progressive faith in people's kind of inherent goodness or by the idea that there is a program like a, there's a program of village parts and pieces and functions that people crave or that they try to in the, in the vacuum of that program that they try to in some way compensate for and create alternative models. Like in the absence of community space, people will make place where they can within the environments where they can be creative. So we've been propelled by a certain faith in the inherent goodness of people and had to learn the hard way that not everybody is wired or some people might be too damaged or it's going to take a few folks a longer time, but also not, you know, to learn that sometimes our assumptions are projections. This is a process. You know, the answer is a process of basically leading into the context with our best guesses and all of our resources, our humility and our determination to learn our way into it and through it. Here's an example. When we started off, we said, okay, we're living in this giant colonial infrastructure of isolation. We know that people are isolated by design. This is true of everyone, and even for the affluent who live on the west side, living in such isolation, that they oftentimes are missing even basic pedestrian infrastructure. So we assumed by creating a form of activism that would support the initiative of others, that we would hear from all the others. And over and over again, it turns out that it's mostly working class people who are used to being in conditions where they actually relate to others, whether it's to pass someone something or to need to communicate directly with others. Our experience of being in this kind of context, has affected us in ways beyond our understanding. I think to learn that is a bit of a revelation. Like I don't even know the ways that I stop myself or that I hurt myself or that I hurt other people.
Mark: [20:52] We've learned along the way that a lot of our assumptions were not accurate. Like we thought, by being as accessible as possible, we would hear from people of desperate need or we would hear from more diverse communities of lower income. Like we're being as accessible as possible. We've got a fax and a phone and an email. My God, why are we not hearing from everyone? And of course people are beset by their own challenges. They also have their own cultural priorities. Why should they necessarily care about our form of placemaking? So there's a lot of things we had to learn about our own assumptions.
Sarah: [21:27] By 'us' you're saying the City Repair Project?
Mark: [21:29] Yeah. Particularly activists that do that commenced placemaking and City Repair's part of that. But it's a pretty big culture now in Portland.
Mark: [21:37] So you set yourself up, but people may not even know that you're there. Lately our more aggressive initiative (that we were just discussing this weekend in our retreat and approving) is much more aggressive. And I think this is part of the answer to your question. We're getting more aggressive and we're gathering people of common cause, the leaders who stand squarely within the communities that we most desire to support. And we are supporting those leaders who are coming together as kind of a core team and people that look like me are not in that core team, but I'm there to support that core team. There's a lot to say about why you can imagine why that would be. I'm playing a calibrated role in support and I think that is actually really key.
Mark: [22:28] A key part of the answer to your question is people showing up to support others and have it be somewhat about reparations, a bit about reparations I suppose. But, I think in my own case about redemption, if I want transformation that will save the society that I feel like I'm a part of. If I'm looking for personal benefit, I also have to be looking for systemic transformation as well in the case, in the context we're in. I'm playing a more specific role that doesn't center me, it centers other people. I think that's a really big part of it.
Sarah: [23:05] I'm going to ask you one more question and then I'm going to open it up for questions to the audience (Because it is being taped for the podcast. If you could write your questions on the paper and then we'll collect them at the ends of the rows just because I'll have to read them to get them into the mic because we're wearing little mix here. We can't hear you in the podcast. Hi podcast listeners.) One of the things I think about too is use of space. Now I know that as we look at these ways that we have committed to constraining sprawl, we haven't always had equitable access 'to' or equitable decision making power 'over' the use of space. And once upon a time in Portland, land was relatively cheap here, right? It may not seem that way for some of us, but for a major American West coast city on the land which we've colonized, it was a pretty affordable place to live.
Sarah: [23:59] And now as we watch our land prices rise, the competition for space increases. I know that something that you and I have shared is this notion that there are some places that belong to all of us. The streets are one of them. They're quite a gem. I love occupying them whenever possible, especially since I don't tend to fill one up with the automobile (very often) Where do you see other places for us to exercise this impulse to either those of us who can put, I can put my body in space pretty easily and claim it. Like what are some places where you think we can start to eek out or claw back our claim to this place so that we can begin to engage in community building or even play or the conversations that we need to have. Are you thinking about that? What are you thinking about with regard to even just how we're going to look at Portland as a landscape for some of this? Because it's going to be getting increasingly compact.
Mark: [24:59] Yeah. So years ago, I gave a presentation earlier in the day to a kind of business group downtown in the masonic lodge for lunch. And I had to spend a lot of time kind of creating the context to make a point. Later that night I was at a conference of youth graffiti artists (interestingly) over on the East side. And it took me only seconds to make the point, to get a loud affirmation about the point. And I was talking about access to place. I think a lot of people who feel like they have enough because (you know, wealth and status is upheld in our society as kind of the goal) So people who've managed to achieve that might feel like they have enough. I've been talking with them about the need to actually connect with other people and solve problems in a community for people who feel like they can just pay for things...they're not even necessarily engaged up to...they don't even touching the edge of those issues.
Mark: [26:02] But for people who live in that spectrum, they grasp it much more quickly. But at the same time the crowds response was also like 'We can gather anywhere. We can, we can hang upside down from trees.) They don't need a place that says Place. Bench. for them to sit. They can hang out like behind a dumpster, in a dumpster, on a dumpster, hanging from a fire escape. For them anywhere is potentially a place because they bring their imagination.
Mark: [26:31] Here's one of the coolest things I've ever seen about reclaiming place. I got on a plane in Cleveland, Ohio and you can just tell, I mean for me, I look around cause I'm so happy, I'm going home, I get on the plane. Portlanders talk more on the plane. They look at you walking down the aisle, they're talking to each other.
Mark: [26:52] And I finally became really conscious of this when I got to my seat on this plane and there was this couple, I was going to sit between them. I don't know if they even knew each other, but they were talking to each other. And as I sat down, this woman picks up my seatbelt before I sit down and she's like, "Here, let me get easier for you." I sat down cause I was holding things. And then she laid the seatbelt across my lap. Then the guy on the other side of me, he's like, "Would you like some gum?" [laughter] and I'm like, "No thanks. I don't chew gum." And so we're sitting there talking and striking up a conversation. I swear to you, people going home to Portland are more conversational than when you're flying between other cities. It's really true. Then this happened. I'm sitting there talking with this couple and then suddenly a plate of cookies is passed from behind me and it has a little sign that says Welcome Home.
Mark: [27:44] And they did not look like they came out of a box. So we took the cookies and pass them on and then another plate came and and I just thought American Airlines is gonna have a hard time stopping this for sure. [laughter] But I could literally go on and on about the ways that Portlanders, increasingly feel, like through their love of place, they initiate and they do things. You know, you're seeing it. There's little things about art. You've all probably seen those little plastic horses hitched up to some ring on the site where people are just being ridiculous. Portlanders have created an ordinance that enables us to all put little free libraries and interactive kiosks out in the right of way for free or automatically permitted and ensured by the city just because we did it.
Mark: [28:35] That's now free and legal all across the city in every residential zone. So we've got policy that we've created. Like 6 little ol' ladies came along and said, "Hey, city council shouldn't even be able to grow food and the right of way in raised planters for free?" And they're like, "Hell yes." and now you can all do that. So we've got these champions out there doing it. They don't just feel like they have the power to do it. They have the power to make sure everyone can do it. That's the city we live in. So I think the ability for us to not sit back and wait for someone else to legislate our change or fund our change but directly initiate the change that we can manifest right where we live is a thing that is hotter in Portland than anywhere else in the Western hemisphere, I think. If we just continue to be that culture, I think that there's a lot more that is possible.
Sarah: [29:27] Yeah. You and I have had a chance to see it because we both work with people internationally who come here just to study that particular aspect of Portland. We get a lot of attention. I have an anecdote, very similar just from on my way here. I was up at Nossa Familia right up the street and I was putting my bike on the staple rack and I was looking down, because there's all these stickers on the staple rack and one said "This is not New York" and I thought, "Oh well who's that snarky person? Right." Then someone coming up to the crosswalk next to me, pulls me aside and pulls on the edge of my coat. And I was like, wait. And they said, "Look at that sunset." And I like looked at it and I had been looking at it as I biked up. They said, I just needed someone to share that with. Right. And I thought, you're right. This is not New York. [laughter] So it's that notion that - it is that - and making sure that as many people feel like they have access to not just that opportunity, but that gregariousness, that freedom, right? It really is about liberty and freedom and owning your voice and owning access to the space that I think is such a marvelous gift that if we can continue to grow that and have everyone involved in that, we're going to be succeeding. It really is simple. This notion of unleashing our community power and unleashing the power of our people here. I know it sounds Pollyannaish, but I built my whole campaign around having faith in the power of community, right? What would that mean to be a city that has faith in the power of community to solve our most pressing challenges? It's kind of at the core of everything I do.
Sarah: [30:58] Did we get a chance to get some questions? Oh, wonderful. This is going to be really great. Our first question is kind of bringing us right back down to Earth from this utopian mindset where we can think big and dream big about our city, which I think is very important. But there are 4 questions on this card and I think it's pretty practical. You know, for someone like me who brings this sense, that faith in the power of community. They say, 'How will you address the housing crisis? Affordability? Availability and gentrification? What about police accountability? How will we stop murdering homeless people? What about equitable corporate tax policy? What about citizen access to government?' And what I have to say on that is that one of the things that I found, one of our biggest challenges is for us to be able to come together in cooperative problem solving around some of these.
Sarah: [31:54] And I'll give you a concrete example and you know about it, as someone who was a co-founder of Dignity Village back in the day. We have had the hardest time coming together and having government trust us, the people, enough to deploy some solutions at the community scale (I believe) that allows us autonomy over the decisions that we're going to be making together. The last few winters I've been volunteering at the Nazarene church at 92nd and Powell, the pastor there is a wonderfully kind-hearted and compassionate person who kept his rec room, his space like this, open throughout the winter, almost continuously for a warming shelter. And it was staffed largely by volunteers from the community who would sign up week after week to bring the food, to sleep overnight. The staffing from the county was minimal and what we were able to do was to cooperate on making sure that there was one additional warming shelter open, at least in that neighborhood.
Sarah: [32:56] And so as that became a more entrenched for people who are experiencing homelessness, what that pastor, (Oh, and Tim's here too. You were there with us for the opening of a AGAPE village). So what they tried to do (as that became something that would be an option for that space - to be inclusive and welcoming) was people who are architects and designers came together to help pull a tiny house village online. And we had students at Catlin Gable High School building out transformers so that we could hook up solar, power, and hot water. So there could be showers and laundry. But ultimately what came to bear was that the city wanted to charge this project to connect into the grid, to connect into the system (a pretty sizable amount of money) rather than looking at that as a model which we should be funding.
Sarah: [33:44] And saying you're operating with a very low carbon footprint. You're operating, you could have composting toilets and solar and this is the model for resilience and sustainability to which we should be aspiring. So we're charging them to come online when we should be giving them money to actually come online. It's this disconnect whereby we're making it harder for individual communities to come together and solve their problems. I don't want to oversimplify because I know that our housing situation is vast, but I do think that the folks who are experiencing homelessness (I'm looking at my neighbor who helped us run the warming shelter at Mt. Scott Community Center). One of the challenges that we hear is access to basic hygiene. We have community centers that have showers that are closed for several hours every night that can be staffed pretty minimally so that folks could go through there.
Sarah: [34:31] And I'm thinking about the fact, if we have an earthquake, 70,000 of us are going to be homeless. So what is the plan then? So we need community safety hubs. And what are the spaces that we can start reclaiming as community safety hubs? And you keep working up. What are the spaces that we could be claiming reclaiming for things like community land trusts and cohousing? While the city has six golf courses that are running in the red. Like we just need to keep scaling... I'm not joking, it's in my Green New Deal. We own that space as Portlanders. Right? This is what I'm talking about. If we truly believe in these models and these mechanisms, then we're going to need to be able to scale them. That's why I'm starting to think about 'What does it mean for us to build the capacity across our coalitions?'
Sarah: [35:16] How can we take the people who are the climate activists? How can we take the people who are the transportation activists who will say, 'We understand that if you build roads through here, it's going to add a lot to the price tag.' Tilikum Crossing Bridge is not just car free - it was cheap because it was car free. And we need to have this conversation about 'What are the spaces that we can start to commit to?' and I've even proposed a public bank so that as we're investing as a community in these things we are then lending ourselves the money. The proceeds of that longterm thinking are not accruing to wall street banks. This is about transformative thinking about our future, but based in this community mindset that when We come together and We start to invest in ourselves and the prosperity accrues here, the resilience is based here and that we're strong together. When you want to bring that down to police accountability, I think the last thing that we need to do is have these overarching detached systems that are toothless and guided from outside as opposed to having individuals in Portland with real community oversight and I encourage you all to attend.
Sarah: [36:24] There are two meetings coming up and I don't have the dates but I'm sure we'll be publishing them on our website and look around for them. I believe there's one in November and one in December where there are going to be community hearings about the oversight of the police contract. Now most Portlanders are not aware that we do not have very much control over our police at all under the current police contract. And so we need to use that community organizing power to go and bring that power to actually try to renegotiate that toward a more favorable outcome for the people of Portland. Even if that doesn't come about, then we're going to have to continue to innovate 'community oversight interfaces' at every level that we possibly can. (Just like, whether we're hanging from trees, right? The rhetorical equivalent of hanging from trees of the police union contract.) Finding whatever space we can around that so that the community has real oversight there. When it comes to access to government and the word here 'citizen' but I want to go beyond that because I want to talk about 'residents' and even if you work or play here. There are so many people who maybe don't fit that criteria of 'citizen' and it takes us back to the question 'insider or outsider'. I propose something that I'm calling a Municipal ID Card and at first I got a little bit of pushback because people were like "What are you, the Man?" Like you're trying to track our behavior and whatever. But what I've learned is that places that can have a way to give people, here's a piece of paper that says 'You're a Portlander.' We're gonna make sure that that gets you on TriMet for free. We're going to make sure that if you need to, that gives you access to our community centers and our libraries even if you don't have a home address, right? There are street roots vendors who can give me the $5 in matching funds, but who don't have a verifiable address for us to go through the system (To get them verified as a legitimate Portland resident for the purposes of our program, unless they're already connected with someplace that will sponsor them for an address.) It's little things like that. Right? And making sure that then the information on that, how you move about the city belongs to you and doesn't belong to some outside data company. What does it mean for you to have control over that? For you to sign off of how government is using that information. It's taking it right from this mycelial 'right in the dirt' mindset all the way up to big data.
Sarah: [38:48] But that every interface point, it's about our discretion of how we're going to engage with that system because we've had a deliberative process in a healthy way framed through the lens, which can be unwavering, which is we need to be addressing climate change and we need to make sure that we're doing it equitably and inclusively. And those are not up for debate. Those are going to be what we're going to do.
Sarah: [39:14] "How do you plan to influence other communities outside of Portland? Say we reach zero emissions. Will you try to influence other cities to do the same?"
Sarah: [39:24] Actually, it's kinda funny because Mark and I have both been engaged in this work for some time where my job for the last 10 years has been engaging with civic leaders. And whether that's a community leader or an elected official or a CEO or maybe a professor from around the world who come to Portland because they've heard there's something special going on here and they want to know what it is and learn how to do it. So I've had to learn how to distill down the Portland story, warts and all, right? Cause I'm not the chamber of commerce. It's not my job to sell Portland to the world. My job is to speak frankly and engage which frankly, I'm with people from around the world and I've actually introduced many of them to Mark for his placemaking acumen. But I think that we're already a model whether we like it or not, people from around the world look to us for leadership. Any time that we're deploying a sub-optimal policy solution that's getting replicated, like if we have sharrows all over the street, Guam comes, they look at that as bicycle infrastructure. Now Guam has sharrows. I would take full responsibility for that, right? Like Guam does not have protected bike lanes. Why? Because they came here and they saw sharrows and sharrows were good enough. And for those of you who don't know, those are triangles painted on the street and we call them protected protection for cyclists. So I think it's this notion that we're already a model and what we have to do is take that responsibility seriously and say that we know where model. We know that we're built on a large history of structural inequality. We're undertaking the task of dismantling that and trying to rebuild in a more equitable, more inclusive, more representative way, whether it's from housing access and opportunity to the structure of the government and the way that we'll make sure that people are represented. But taking that responsibility seriously so that we are modeling the very best urban policy and the very best urban practices that we can. Do you want to weigh in on the international one because you do a lot of that work too.
Mark: [41:25] Well, I just think that's the most amazing question to ask you because it really has been her role to promote Portland for the last decade. This is really important to me as somebody who has lived here almost my whole life. I just want to say I need someone who understands the dimensions and sub-cultures and the geography, community density and activity better than I do. I think that your role in the city for the last decade particularly, but also as a mother where you're invested within so many more dimensions in the present and future of the city. Not just talking about schools, but obviously safety on many different levels and opportunity is very significant. But you've been connecting people from all over the world to various different points and people a spectacular array of people across the city for so long that you know, the stories of people all over the place and you've been exporting while also creating cultural exchange and sharing. So I think that you're equipped at the most hyper-local level to the most global scale, perhaps more than maybe anyone else in the whole damn city. And I think that it's an incredible position for you to be in.
Sarah: [42:56] Yeah. There may be more Japanese folks who know about Senate Bill 100 than actual Portlanders at this point, because I always start there with Senate Bill 100 and constrained land use. So here's a good question for us to chop up, Mark, because I think we both might have a take on this. How do we scale up the eco village concept for renters, new home buyers and low income folks? You're a person who's been involved in a lot of eco villages, what successes have you had? What challenges have you faced? And then maybe I'll riff off of that a little bit.
Mark: [43:25] God, I can go on about this one for weeks. Well, okay. When people say the word something like eco village or co-housing, I think for the last couple of decades, the reference has been that a certain group of people that are kind of getting on in years go off outside of town and they go to the edge of sprawl and they kind of contribute to sprawl while looking to create a sense of community. And that's not what we're doing here. This experience that I have in working with Portlanders has been to...There's a number of different kinds of models we're creating and each kind of area is a form of retrofit or infill. Some people have seen kind of the infield co-housing communities going on in the city and there's relatively different degrees of access to those depending on scales of units and whether they sit on land trust land. It's a lot of different, amazing, very exciting different parts and pieces that models that are already being deployed out there, that I wish everyone knew about. There are things that certain creative developers are doing on a big scale that, that we've been involved with. It's really been an amazing education for me. But there's also lots of initiatives that people are undertaking, at the individual lot scale to create as affordable housing as they personally can for other people, while also trying to augment their income, perhaps fixed income, there's that kind of kind of model. But on my particular block, we've basically, you know, we've created so much housing just within my house and the other out-buildings that we have on the site and retrofitted garage, but we really re-villaged the entire block by opening up gateways and putting in pathways and putting in community infrastructure, gathering places and productive spaces on the inside of the block.
Mark: [45:19] And it's all very conscious. Like we're like, okay, so we get that we're in the grid and we're all supposed to be isolated. Let's re-village this damn thing. Let's re-village the whole damn neighborhood, inspire all the other damn neighborhoods do the damn same thing. That's my favorite model because it's the one that just unleashes creativity and sharing and where people really are caring about each other and there isn't really so much a price tag to it and people are really leading with their values and needs. I love that! But I really love the village models having to do with homelessness. And from the beginning of that initiative, you know, beginning with dignity, in 1999 really, that was always personal. It was always about caring about people on a personal level. As soon as you met them. And what I saw with Vera Katz and the council back then was this transformative effect.
Mark: [46:08] Like when they finally learned people's names and they weren't just sort of people on the street, but they were real people and the leadership was meeting the leadership, everything softened, everything changed and everything opened up as it became personal. So for me, the eco village idea there, you could call it like a an urban insurgency if you wish, that's definitely threatening to certain powers that be, but it's also a self rescue program. It's unleashing human capital and it's answering the question affirmatively, you know, should people be involved in solving their own problems or not? Hell yes they should. But for those of us who care about ecological sustainability, this is actually, you know, for those of us who are like, you know, urbanist nerds, anthropological like social sociology nerds like to regenerate the fabric of human culture in the physical, social, infrastructural way with every single one of these villages and see over and over again that they're always unique expressions and that they cost like a 25th of housing someone in a typical government shelter and they're human capital driven and they're restorative and they repair people and they have the lowest conceivable ecological footprint while they have the highest rates of community participation.
Mark: [47:27] And the Portland police have measured these villages and found that like for a decade they have the lowest crime rate in the entire city, even though they're filled with people who have records. Like that's what makes me excited about it. If you're actually having people live in essential human habitat where they're more communicative and they're more dynamic and creative than we are, those of us who are housed in neighborhoods where we don't talk to each other and we feel alone and isolated, it's essential human habitat and we get to see people thrive in it. And that's an eco village that's co-housing, but it's the most buy-in for the people of any other model that you can find anywhere. So, there's so exciting.
Sarah: [48:10] And I actually want to say that we can re-legalize the act of coming together to solve problems. I think that's one of the big challenges, right? It's very hard to find space. It's very hard to make this legal, to do this. It's very hard to look at the policies that are in place that govern these things. So I think it's not wishful thinking that we can make this happen. But, and this leads us into our next question, and someone's asking me to like, 'Can you talk about the specifics of your housing plan and the dollar signs and everything like that?' and I just want to let you know that the way that our policies are going to be coming out is we released our Green New Deal first. Our Rethinking Public Safety plan is coming out after that. And so we'll look for some community feedback from you on that when that comes out.
Sarah: [48:49] And then the next one after that will be housing. But we're releasing them slowly so that we have time for the community to go through them, talk about them, give us feedback so we can make revisions. So that's the order that they'll be coming out. So the specifics of my Housing plan will be coming out around, probably, the second week of December. Rethinking Public Safety should be out this week. We talk about placemaking, one of the biggest barriers that I've found, both the asset and a challenge over time, depending on which point in time we're at, is the relationship to neighbors and neighborhoods and neighborhood associations, especially when neighborhood associations may be more focused on protecting single family housing, which doesn't necessarily support transit or diversity. So how do we involve 'neighbors' (And I'm going to use air quotes around neighbors because I do think there's 'neighbors' and then there's neighbors) while being progressive? And I want to say that I'm intentionally, right? I am a member of a neighborhood association and I've been enamored of that neighborhood association. They helped me and they've also made my life miserable at times. So what does that mean for us to think about what representation looks like in our city and how will we engage? And I've had people send me draft proposals that suggest that if we didn't have neighborhood associations at all, but that if we had a truly representative form of government, they would be unnecessary. And so I think the question is going.
Sarah: [50:00] It'd be for us moving forward is how do we want to engage at the street level, at the district level, in a particular geography, around a particular set of conditions and circumstances and identities to shape common futures or not? Should there be guidelines in place with regard to how we interact with each other? Should we have neighborhood associations or not? If so, how should they look? We have a commissioner now who has taken on this quite daunting task and it has been challenging I think when you take on the entrenched institutions that are actually the basis of how we do government here, largely, and they're built on very exclusionary frameworks, then we're not built for inclusion through those systems. And again, I don't necessarily have the answer to how that's going to look, but I think as a community what we need to do is establish the core values by which we will build the new structures to lead us in the future.
Sarah: [50:55] And again, is this operating effectively, is this operating efficiently, is this operating equitably? And are we using those lenses of really having intense climate action? And making sure that equity and inclusion are at the foreground of all that we do as we move forward. So that's when at a certain point people say to me, Sarah, what about housing policy? Visa VI neighborhood associations? Well, if a neighborhood association's mandate is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing equity and inclusion, but they want to say "We want to maintain single family housing here", well show me how you're going to do that with single family housing there. How will you meet the climate action goals? How will you meet the goals for equity and inclusion while maintaining single family housing? I do not think it's possible. I wrap my brain around it and I do not. I think that we're going to need a lot of multifamily housing all over the city so that we can meet our climate action equity goals. But if a community wants to come to me with a plan, by all means, but do you see what I'm saying? This is where, when we do values based decision making as opposed to equivocating down here, then we might actually start to chip away at some of these things. And I'm getting the symbol that says "Wrap up Sarah, wrap up" because they know that Mark and I both are in the club of people who will go on all day. But yeah, and I just want to say thank you very much for coming and indulging, if nothing else, my impulse for us to have a healthier democracy because I think the more that we can get in the habit of coming together like this, it is so much more comfortable than a neighborhood association in many ways. I know it was a little bit one way this time, but hopefully we'll be able to broaden these civic engagements around real, meaningful discussions, thinking about solutions to move forward in the future. And from that I think, it's you.
Gregory: [52:51] Well, thank you everybody for coming. Before we wrap up can we give a round of applause. I have one question from Mark. Did she earn your vote?
Mark: [53:11] She earned my vote back in 2005, we were in an elevator going up to the eighth floor, the department of transportation, and Sarah had a presentation ready, for the repurposing of some public space, a triangle in her neighborhood, now the Arlita Triangle. And I wanted to caution her, because what she was proposing had never been done before, and I had been dealing with this bureaucracy for awhile and they didn't like to do things they hadn't done before. And I just said, "Sarah, you know, this might take awhile". And we walked in there and I watched her give this presentation and, I was so impressed and I was so floored. The way that you connected everyone, and the role that they played to your initiative, and the role that they play with respect to the goals they serve in their own Department and their own Bureau, and then larger regional goals and benchmarks and how you connected that, you articulated, you related, everyone understood how everyone could win. And they basically capitulated before my eyes and you walked out of there with them all excited about meeting you next week to get everything going. And I was breathless. I was amazed. So, your power to articulate and then help everyone feel connected and then persuade people and build consensus... that was the most extraordinary moment I've seen, I've witnessed in City Repair.
Mark: [54:46] So yeah, totally. The answers is resoundingly yes.
Mark: [54:51] I think we need a radical soul with deepest integrity and who understands the moment that we're in. And Sarah I believe is that person.
Sarah: [55:00] Thank you.
Gregory: [55:07] And with that, thank you so much for coming. Make sure to sign up. We'll be doing this again in December.
Sarah: [55:11] Yup. And we're going to be at The Riveter, in Southeast Portland. It's where Washington High School used to be. and it's going to be with Ciara Pressler. She's the founder of Pregame. She advises emerging small businesses, especially minority women, business owners and entrepreneurs and creatives. And we're going to be talking about, ways that we can keep Portland affordable and accessible for artists, creative entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Gregory: [55:36] Thanks everybody.
Announcer: [55:41] You've been listening to a community conversation with Sarah Iannarone and Mark Lakeman, recorded on November 11th. Thanks for listening to Our Portland. If you have a question for Sarah, record a voice memo on your phone and email it to [email protected] or use the #OurPortland hashtag and send us a message on social media. If you appreciate a campaign with straight talk on issues that matter, consider signing up to be a monthly supporter of $5, $10 or even $35 between now and election day in May, 2020. find out more at sarah2020.com. This has been a production of Friends of Sarah for Portland.