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Civics

Historically, Portland has enjoyed strong, engaged neighborhood associations. However, due to some fumbles in government, as well as the impact of the pandemic, it seems they have not been as active or effective in recent years. The upcoming change in form of city government will, hopefully, have a positive impact on engagement of neighborhoods with the city.

Voting

The U.S. state of Oregon established vote-by-mail as the standard mechanism for voting with Ballot Measure 60, a citizen's initiative, in 1998. The measure made Oregon the first state in the United States to conduct its elections exclusively by mail. The measure passed on November 3, 1998, by a margin of 69.4% to 30.6%. Political scientists say Oregon's vote by mail system contributes to its highest-in-the-nation rate of voter turnout, at 61.5% of eligible voters.
- Via Wikipedia

And it's easy. Your ballot is mailed to you, you complete, sign, and return it in a large, specially marked envelope. You can still vote in person if you like, but voting by mail is much easier.

Register to vote

Getting involved

There are lots of ways to get involved in the community, here are a few:

  • Neighborhood associations. Find yours at PortlandMaps.com, click your location, and then the neighborhood that appears in the info to the right.
  • Hands on Portland. Calendar for volunteer opportunities.
  • NECN. Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods.
  • Adopt One Block. An excellent program that assigns volunteers to keep a single, local block cleared of trash. Dead simple. I'm a volunteer, so don't leave your gum on the sidewalk, please.
  • City Club of Portland. Nonprofit, nonpartisan civic organization dedicated to community service, civic education, and leadership development. City Club also pushed hard for the change in city government which will take effect in 2024.
  • Rose City Reform. Commentary and in-depth analysis of Portland’s effort to reform City Hall.
  • Quiet Clean PDX - an effort to ban gas-powered leaf blowers which, let's admit, are stinky and loud AF.
  • We Keep Trees Standing – an effort to keep trees standing and plant more trees.
  • PDXReporter - a one stop shop for reporting stuff like potholes, clogged drains, junk in the road, etc. 
Report 'em easily with PDX Reporter

Reporting busted stuff

To help keep the city clean, you can make citizen reports at PDX Reporter. Yes, you'll need a login, but once you mint one, you can report on everything from debris in the road to plugged storm drains. In my experience, the city does a pretty good job of following up on these concerns. It's a one stop shop for reporting problems. Sadly, the domain FixShxtPortland.us was not chosen for this site.

Dysfunction

I first visited Portland in 2013 for the World Domination Summit (WDS), a wonderful solo entrepreneurs conference held downtown. The city was bright and bustling, and I rented a bike for the week and rode it everywhere. The sketch factor was pretty low. I returned several more times with the same impression.

However, the pandemic brought long simmering problems of homelessness, drug abuse, and crime, to a head. In some respects, the city is much worse for wear than it was even five years ago. Now, contrary to what your Fox News-obsessed, non-passport having Aunt Margery believes, the city is not "on fire", and it's not a war zone. But the signs of dysfunction are unmistakable. There's lots of blame to go around, perhaps starting with siloed government agencies, a Police Department with a history of sketchy/illegal activity (currently under a consent decree from the US Justice Department) and numerous other factors you can read about if you want to go down that rabbit hole. I believe there is also a cultural problem. The city is far too tolerant of bad/illegal behavior. This quote sums it up better than anything I can say.

"We've made it easy, free and without fear of penalty to do the wrong thing — and expensive and hard to access to do the right thing," Moscow said. "...I've said that I could dump 20 bags of trash in Pioneer Square and drive off without fear of penalty, and I actually believe that to be true based upon the Metro statistics for over 2,000 illegal dumps and a grand total of one fine."

Read full article

Why are there so many homeless people / people using hard drugs in public?

Short answer: lack of planning and coordination by government agencies. The rise of the incredibly dangerous and addictive drug fentanyl. The aforementioned culture of extreme tolerance. Lack of affordable housing options. Lack of available drug treatment.

Further reading

Hope

Via Rose City Reform:

In 2022, Portland voters said yes to a new form of government, a new district system, and a new way of electing officials.

For almost 120 years, the City of Roses has used what’s called the “commission form of government”, a Progressive Era relic that puts individual city commissioners in charge of city bureaus. Despite being almost universally rejected as bad city governance, the system has survived eight reform attempts in Portland.

More at Rose City Reform

I don't expect that changing a form of government will solve all the city's problems, but the new structure should provide a much better chance at success. I highly recommend subscribing to Rose City Reform's emails, and to get informed about candidates for city and county office. Who we elect can and will have a major influence on the direction of the city. 

Other resources