By David Krogh
Every part of the City of Portland is included within a neighborhood, and all of these have Neighborhood Associations (NAs) which residents and businesses can be involved with.
At latest count, there were ninety-four recognized neighborhood associations and seven neighborhood coalitions within the City.
Because NAs are in the news today due to actions proposed that may change their status, a short look at they do is in order.
All residents in the City, whether homeowners or residents, business owners and operators, are automatically members of their NAs for their respective area.
Many people don’t pay much attention to their NA unless something of concern is occurring within their locale or if there is a neighborhood or business event of interest to them.
Most NAs meet monthly at locations within the area, usually at a school, church, or commercial business that has meeting space. Meetings and events are advertised usually at the neighborhood website or in newsletters distributed within the area.
Officially, current City Code 3.96 authorizes and defines NAs, neighborhood coalitions and business associations describing minimum standards and functions for each.
For NAs, the primary functions identified are encouragement of public involvement; providing recommendations to City agencies on topics that affect them: livability, safety, and economic viability regarding land use matters, housing, transportation, social and recreational services, etc.; to provide budget comments as relate to neighborhood improvements; undertake projects and activities in support of the neighborhood, and cooperate with other NAs and the Office of Community and Civic Life (OCCL) in regards to operation of district coalitions.
By complying with these standards, neighborhoods would be recognized by the City and provided with support benefits.
It should be noted that the OCCL is in the process of rewriting City Code 3.96 and eliminating the authorization and functions language.
Having served ten years on my own NA board, here are some real examples of what neighborhood associations do.
There is a working board of generally ten people who are responsible for attending monthly meetings and heading up committees and ongoing tasks.
Next, neighborhood volunteers serve on committees or help with tasks.
Normal tasks include: review permit and other referrals from the City for comment or action (such as liquor licenses, land use actions, etc.); annual cleanups, picnics or national night out events; fundraisers, meetings with businesses regarding good neighbor plans or issues involving neighborhood impacts; participation in training provided by district coalitions; prepare and distribute neighborhood newsletters, and more.
During my participation, the City stopped doing individual neighborhood plans so our NA went ahead and prepared our own plan, which the City subsequently acknowledged.
This association advocated for the City to design a pocket park for a portion of the neighborhood that was park deficient. The City agreed and had the park design made even though it took years for the park to actually be developed.
NAs are only as good as City Hall, coalitions, and the neighbors allow them to be.
Our neighborhood association had lots of volunteers as long as major activities were in progress, but attendance dropped substantially during lolls.
At times like that, it has happened that groups with special interests have “taken over” neighborhood boards by simply showing up en masse at board election meetings.
NAs are an essential rung in the ladder of citizen involvement and can be successful (or not) depending upon what the City allows and provides for. They provide a useful function as a watchdog for City actions that are questionable or problematic.
For many residents, the NA is an easier avenue for access to City policy-making than to contact a City Hall phone tree.
After all, as the Knight Foundation Blog states: “strong Neighborhood Associations are key to successful community engagement.”
The next question is: who is there to advocate for the neighborhood if there were no Neighborhood Associations?