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The City of Portland, Oregon

Community & Civic Life

Promote the common good

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1120 SW 5th Ave, Suite 114, Portland, OR 97204

Karin Hansen

What is my Portland moment?

Words by Karin Hansen

I am a lifelong Portlander.  Since I have known nothing else, I have come to learn how newcomers define My Portland.  I am beginning to see those things that make Our Portland.  The following story helped me see Our Portland a little more clearly.

There are Portlanders on every street and around every corner, who are passionate, knowledgeable and willing to assist and/or advise local government in building a better Portland.  When Portland government listens to, allows for and makes it easy for community to help solve our community problems, we spend our money better, and we get better results.  This is the story of the moment I learned that lesson. 

When my husband was running for Mayor of Portland, we attended many fundraising and friend-raising house parties.  There was one in particular that stands out.  It is a little story with a big impact.

Tom and I were at a rather large gathering at a house in the Irvington neighborhood on a sunny, weekend afternoon.  These events were always interesting and educational, because the conversations were often about things I had never considered.  I saw each house party as an opportunity for learning.  It was here on this day, that a piece of Portland's deserved identity became clear to me.

During these meetings, Tom did a lot of talking about his ideas and positions, but he also did a lot of listening, because Portlanders have a lot to say.  We learned about what made people passionate about our city.  We learned how so many in their own ways were contributing time, effort, and resources to make Portland a better place for us all to live, work and play.

One woman told us that she volunteered with a group who advised utility companies on proper tree pruning techniques.  She told us about the history of Portland utility companies maintaining their power lines in neighborhoods with a lot of mature trees lining the streets, like Irvington.  With the power lines as their only priority, the line workers cut out the middle limbs of old, large trees that interfered with their power lines that ran from utility pole to utility pole, from house to house.  Little did they know that in their effort to do good for their employer, they were wreaking havoc on the trees and setting up homeowners for disaster and insurance nightmares.

 The woman taught me when the center of a tree is removed in this way, it creates a pooling space for water and parasites to accumulate and this, in turn, damages the integrity of the tree.  Over time, it makes the tree more vulnerable to rot and disease and compromises the tree's core.  This act weakens the uppers large bows and will often eventually kill the tree.  During ice or wind storms or simply time, dead, diseased or weakened limbs can fall on automobiles, houses, even people beneath.

This woman who taught me all of this, had made it her community mission to aide the power companies to make more thoughtful, careful and safe pruning decisions.  She and her crew worked in tandem with the power companies to develop better methods to trim the trees and protect the power lines.

Well, I had never heard such a thing.  I had never noticed a problem.  I had never considered that there might be one. 

It was at this moment that I thought to myself, "Well, there is something for everyone, isn't there?!"

To this day, when I drive down Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., and I get to that area abutting LaurelhurstPark.  I often scan the giant trees lining the road.  My eyes move from street level up.  I notice many with a cut-out circle through the top branches with strung wires running through like thread through the eye of a needle.  I see the evidence of what she said shouldn't be done, and I shake my head, and wish she had gotten there earlier.  I drive through tree-lined neighborhoods and hear the saws taking down another dying heritage tree.  I see younger, large trees majestically growing in full leafy shapes as Mother Nature had intended while safely integrated with the power lines, and I think this is what that woman did for Our Portland. 

Now, this is a long way of telling you what this lesson--this Portland Moment--reinforced for me.

Portland is a city proud of the engagement of its Portlanders.  People make jokes about the Portland Way--how much time people spend on process and how it can drag out even the simplest of tasks.   Nearly every elected official has his or her Portland Moment when they have tried to rush a project by skipping the step that includes community.  Then they must either abort or begin again, when they learn the hard way that they neglected to include, listen or ask the community in an authentic way about their concerns and ideas regarding the particular issue.

And, the flip side is when Portland does it right--when Portland includes community in its decision making.  It often takes a little longer, but things work out a whole lot better.  Our community is full of resident experts who are out there working on and making better what some might call the little things that often go unnoticed.  But they are only little, because those caring Portlanders have taken them on before they have become big.

This is Our Portland.  This is my Portland moment.