Since taking a seat at the table of one of the City’s most prominent commissions, Maggie Tallmadge has infused a fresh, youthful perspective on city-wide revitalization that centers equity, pushes the boundaries of urban planning and envisions a futuristic Portland that is accessible to everyone.
The Youth Commissioner shares her thoughts on the City’s top priorities and why advancing equity is more important than ever.
What are Portland’s biggest challenges right now?
A lack of affordable housing, displacement and gentrification. For every policy or project we act on, equity should be at the center of our priorities and planning. We should be asking ourselves: will this meet the needs of our most vulnerable communities? Does it provide tangible benefits for low-income households and communities of color? If our planning exercises and decision-making doesn’t start with addressing those questions first, then how we can expect to produce better outcomes?
What led you to civic service?
I started attending City Council meetings to testify on issues that are important to me. I wanted to know how policies were effecting the communities I advocate for. I wanted our voices and perspectives heard. Those efforts helped me make connections and build a network. I later applied to serve on the PSC because it became clear that I needed to be involved in exploring how to improve Portland’s urban form while addressing barriers like the housing crisis, gentrification, and economic and racial disparities often experienced by communities of color.
Did you face any obstacles as a youth member of the PSC?
Yes – plenty! As a young person, I have pretty strong convictions about land use, inequalities and restorative justice. Serving on the PSC has helped me form a more holistic perspective and understand how policies interact and inform each other. Being the youngest person on the PSC has also helped me test my own boundaries of when it was best to listen and rely on my elders and experts in the room, or when it was appropriate to push back on a policy or proposal that didn’t have equity at the forefront. It’s been a great learning experience.
Why do you feel it is important for younger generations to be involved in local decision-making?
We have the most energy right now. For me, it has opened so many doors and has helped me understand and value different perspectives. It’s important for my peers to realize that we are bearing the brunt of historical and current planning policies, and the benefits for our generation have been slim. We need to be involved in planning for our future – as cliché as that sounds.
You have helped shape signature planning packages like the 2035 Comprehensive Plan that will greatly define the city’s future. 20 years from now, when that plan is actualized, how do you envision Portland?
Given we were developing a 20-year plan to facilitate smart growth for the city – I’d say our timeline was too fast and we weren’t able to tackle everything on the PSC’s wish list. It’s a really solid plan, but I wonder how different the demographics and environment will be in 20 years. I would have loved to spend more time addressing how the 2035 Comprehensive Plan should include a strategy for wealth building for low-income communities. Or how restorative justice could be used to inform how we implement and achieve our future land use goals.
If you had one piece of advice for young people interested in civic service, what would it be?
Find your interest or niche and seek out connections. Build a network of co-workers, colleagues, mentors, and field experts that are committed to supporting your contributions to civic service. Young voices need greater support from leaders who value our viewpoints, and that usually starts with offering a seat at the table and showing us how public policy really works.
Maggie graduated from Wesley College in 2012 with degrees in Peace and Justice Studies and Women and Gender Studies with a concentration in Indigenous Rights and Environmental Justice. She’s currently the Environmental Justice Manager with the Coalition of Communities of Color and plans to continue focusing her advocacy work on anti-displacement, affordable housing, and anti-gentrification.