Locally Famous: Less is More

By Nancy Tannler


Living in Europe and America during Reuben Deumling’s formative years has given him  a broad perspective on life’s possibilities.

A productive member of the community, even without every trapping of modern technology, he has taken the word sustainability to heart. Sunnyside is fortunate to have this forward-thinking young man as one of the behind the scenes leaders of their Neighborhood Association.

Deumling and his wife, Dianna and their daughter Isabelle, manage to survive without a car, cell phone or television set – not an easy feat considering the pace of today’s society.

Yet he is not adversely affected by these choices and told The Southeast Examiner that there are many other people doing the same – more people than we may think.

A fifth generation Oregonian on his mother’s side, as a young boy, Deumling’s family moved from Multnomah to a small farming community close to Cologne, Germany where his father was from.

His father was hired by a large private forestry owner in Germany who was concerned because his forests were dying from what came to be known as “Acid Rain” from coal-fired power plants.

As a German who spoke English, his father found himself explaining what was going on in German forests to visitors from around the world, but to a large extent from the US.

After six years the family returned to Salem. Deumling  went to Reed College for a couple of years then Willamette University in Salem receiving a BA in Environmental Science a and BA Economics. Later he attended UC Berkeley, MA Energy & Resources and in 2008 a PhD, Energy & Resources.

In 2006 he joined the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association (SNA) and he’s one of those citizens who senses the importance of their civic duty.

“The neighborhood association forum is a place I thrive in; it has meaning for me,” he said.  It is the first line of defense for neighbors who are experiencing problems and need a course of action. It is also a place to pow- wow with others and discuss ideas to make the neighborhood a better, safer more livable place.

“I am amazed at how many of the people living in Sunnyside understand the language of the City Charter,” Deumling said.

The recent PGE vs SNA is a case in point.

PGE wanted to tear down three houses that sit behind their power station at SE 32nd and Belmont to build a sub-station. At first PGE wasn’t even willing to listen to the requests of the SNA who suggested building the substation underground.

The SNA was very organized and hundreds of people attended a series of meetings with PGE. Eventually, PGE  ran out of options and had to listen to the people. The substations are now halfway underground.

“This is one of the wonderful encapsulations of the power, of a neighborhood association – they out-smarted PGE. Like David and Goliath,” Deumling said.

Neighborhood associations don’t win every battle nor are they able to take on every private citizen’s request for help.

“We listen to everyone who comes to our meetings and decide as a group who we can help,” he said.

Another Land Use battle that ended up being settled with a Good Neighbor Agreement was the Mars Hill Church at SE 32nd and Taylor. Their open condemnation of gays and lesbians in their promotional literature put them immediately on the defense with neighbors.

“There were some staged protests and hateful twitter messaging by neighbors, but the SNA was able to resolve their theoretical differences peacefully and obtain a Good Neighbor Agreement,” Deumling said.

An important issue being  addressed here in Portland is expanding alternative transportation and one of Deumling’s causes. He was in Germany a few years ago visiting family and he said their pedestrian, bike and train systems are way ahead of ours.

“It’s easy to get around there because the whole infrastructure includes bikes, trains and walking as well as cars, air and water.”

The reason they are able to create such wonderful systems of transportation is due to the fuel tax.

The internal system of transportation in most European cities has provided fast, frequent and reliable links between all of the major attractions, neighborhoods and city centers. They have lived without the heavy reliance on cars and consequently have some great systems in place and very livable cities.

“Having the discussion about taxing gas is not one most people want to have,” Deumling said, “it’s an unpopular subject.” It has been proven in other countries  that taxing  gas and funding alternative transportation systems has been for the good of the people, making them richer and not poorer.

“Big projects, like roadway improvements, have to be well-executed,” Deumling said, “which doesn’t always happen with the taxpayer’s dollars.”

Reuben Deumling and his daughter
Reuben Deumling and his daughter

People don’t see hoped-for results so all taxation becomes bad.

Being an avid bicyclist gives Deumling a lot of confidence about riding. He believes cycling is a safe mode of transportation. When his family needs a car, they  use one of the many car-borrowing options or take the bus. Recently, they went to the coast on The Wave that goes from Portland to the coast for a reasonable rate.

As resources dwindle and the population increases,  the importance of “environmental existentialism” takes on new meaning.

“We all have to live together,” Deumling says, and he does his best to walk the talk by treading lightly and taking part in the action of his community.

Locally Famous: Less is More

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