By Michelle Frost

Portland is known for its many unique neighborhoods and the distinct features of each including community gardens, public art, informational kiosks, tool libraries, community centers, movies and concerts in the park.  A Neighborhood Association serves its community by encouraging residents to work together to address issues, to plan future improvements, and to celebrate accomplishments in their neighborhood.

SE Uplift Neighborhood Coalition strives to ‘assist citizens and neighborhood associations of Southeast Portland to create communities that are livable, socially diverse, safe and vital.’ They provide an organizational structure and forum to empower citizens to effectively resolve issues of livability and community development.  SE Uplift offers services such as community clean-ups, grants, fiscal sponsorship, insurance, land use & transportation, outreach & communications, and workshops & events. This organization serves twenty neighborhoods, from the Willamette River east to I-205, north to I-84, and south to Milwaukie,

 Leah Fisher Neighborhood Planning Program Manager

Leah Fisher
Neighborhood Planning Program Manager

Leah Fisher is the new Neighborhood Planning Program Manager at SE Uplift, responsible for managing the organization’s urban planning program, which entails working closely with citizens, Neighborhood Associations (and their Land Use/Transportation reps), and community-based organizations, enabling them to understand land use and transportation issues and effectively advocating for their concerns.

Fisher serves as liaison to two Neighborhood Associations, providing them with resources, advice and training.  She is also the contact person for neighbors and all Neighborhood Associations interested in getting involved, or inquiring about Portland’s land use and transportation planning policy and processes.

SE Uplift’s Land Use and Transportation Committee meets monthly to share information and discuss land use and transportation policy and planning that impacts livability in southeast Portland. The meetings are attended by volunteers from each of twenty neighborhood associations and several business associations.

Fisher also tracks local and state land use and transportation processes and trends, working with public agencies whose activities have a direct and indirect impact on neighborhood livability.  “I’m most excited to learn more about LU/T by drawing on the knowledge and expertise of staff and community volunteers who have been involved in these issues for years; supporting neighborhoods through problem solving, strategic planning, and communications,” Fisher says, “and working to engage all citizens and groups – particularly lifting up the voices that have not been heard in some time, or not at all.”

Fisher grew up in a small town in eastern Washington.  “Endicott,” she says, “(you’ve) probably never heard of it.” She knew she wanted to study Urban Planning since high school. “During college, I was in a student exchange program in Rio de Janeiro for six months, studying urbanism and living in a major city with a severe and visible socio-economic division, “ and the impact on its environment – was as fascinating and complex as it was devastating for those living in poverty. I learned a lot about urban planning, culture, and life.”

“After living in southern California and traveling in southeast Asia for three months, my (now) husband and I returned to the Pacific Northwest where I started the Masters of Public Health Program at PSU and got an internship at Metro focusing on community involvement,” Fisher explains.  In her free time, Fisher enjoys being active outside camping, backpacking, swimming, gardening and working on the yard, jogging, taking walks with her dog to the local coffee shop or sitting on the porch with her daughter enjoying the day. “My husband and I purchased an old home in Mt. Tabor six years ago and have been ‘fixing it up’ ever since, moving from one house project to another — that keeps us busy, too.”

When asked about the current issues and what neighborhoods are most concerned about Fisher explained, “Through the lens of community engagement, the current issues for citizens and neighborhood associations include air quality, ‘houselessness,’ and a continuing concern for land use and transportation.”

The City of Portland has been undergoing a Comprehensive Plan Update, which has involved the active participation of southeast residents.  Going forward, there are key land use planning and policy determinations that will shape southeast neighborhoods, including the Mixed Use Zones, Residential and Open Space Zoning Map Update, and the Residential Infill Project .

Regarding transportation, Vision Zero is hosting an event Portland Safe Streets Fair on June 6th and will continue to work to improve safety.  All of these programs play a role in the livability of our communities.  “I look forward to ensuring our constituents’ voices are heard throughout the process,” Fisher tells us, “At SE Uplift, I work to pull together the resources necessary to accomplish the tasks that are currently in our purview while maintaining a series of regular tasks needed by our Neighborhood Associations. Our general mission always stays the same, but our flexibility in advocacy allows us to be useful to our partners, no matter what topics are at the forefront of the public eye.”

SE neighborhoods are holding their elections and community clean-ups throughout May and June.  Summer brings a host of fun neighborhood events like National Night Out and Movies in the Park.  Montavilla Food Co-op is hosting its 6th Annual Pancake Breakfast on Saturday, June 4th at 8 am – 12 pm. Details about these events can be found on the neighborhood Facebook pages, on SE Uplift’s Facebook page ‘SE Uplift’ and on SE Uplift Community Calendar of events on their website.

Organized neighbors can shape the future of our communities.  With tools, support, and opportunities to connect, we can effect positive change.  Interested in attending a neighborhood meeting? Or volunteering with your Neighborhood Association? Contact SE Uplift with any questions you have about getting started.  Call the office at 503.232.0010, or complete the contact form on their website www.seuplift.org/contact, or email inquiries to info@southeastuplift.org.  Want the latest neighborhood news? Sign up online for the SE Uplift monthly email newsletter and stay connected.

Donations are being accepted online for SE Uplift, Thorburn Safety Project, Montavilla Jazz Festival, SE Portland Tool Library, and Feast for Southeast.  Details and more information can be found on their website.