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My beloved Portland

Though an Oregon native, I’m a newbie to Portland, Oregon. I lived in the ‘Couve (that's Vancouver, WA) for nearly 15 years while I raised my daughter, but returned a year ago to embrace a simpler lifestyle that made me less dependent on my car.

With the move, I also made the switch from homeowner to renter, meaning I’ve spent more energy researching, touring and thinking about Portland’s neighborhoods far more than a single person should. Things like rapidly rising rental prices, walkability, bikeability, regen efforts that are overhauling neighborhoods, access to a quality grocery store, noise pollution, parking availability, proximity to local shops and restaurants, and the lovely subtle details that make a neighborhood feel like home. This newfound lens has made me acutely aware of my privilege to choose my neighborhood, something I didn't always have and something many people never have.

Interestingly enough, about a year ago I also learned about nonprofit called EcoDistricts, a small but scrappy group of entrepreneurs who are helping city makers effectively rethink how we define “livability” in our neighborhoods while empowering them to approach city building differently. Fundamental is to put equity, resilience and sustainablility (people and planet) at the heart of every urban development decision long before the holes are dug and rebar is put into place.

Over this past year, I’ve been fascinated by the intersection of our built environment — the location of a grocery store, the way our streets are built, the ratio of concrete to nature — and hard core outcomes like health, economic opportunity, and our relative dependency on cars that impact not only our quality of life, but our planet.

There’s a notion people in this work share quite often: that a child’s zip code is the single most important determinant of their success in life than any other factor. That statement hits me deep. In other words, our neighborhoods are not equitable — not in the quality of our schools, nor in access to basic services, opportunity, or even resilience to natural disasters — and where we grow up or where we raise our family (by choice or necessity) affects us profoundly.

Our beloved city of Portland is no exception, despite the efforts of countless leaders who are doing great work in this area. We’ve all seen the impact of less than inclusive development that hasn’t considered the very people who live and work in that community.

It’s time we change direction in how our cities are built, one neighborhood at a time. As we reach the end of 2016, I want to ask my colleagues, friends and family across my network to make a commitment for equitable, resilient, sustainable neighborhoods for all by taking these simple steps with me:

Get involved in your neighborhood. Understand how past development has affected vulnerable populations and persons of color in your community and take a stand for future development that is inclusive, equitable and planet friendly.

Make a donation to EcoDistricts. With your contribution, EcoDistricts is delivering education, resources and support to city makers, urban planners, social and environmental justice advocates, and community developers who are on the front lines of this work — empowering them to build the just, sustainable neighborhoods where we all want to live. Give as little as $10 or as much as $10,000, we will invest it wisely. 

Talk to your kids. For those fellow parents out there, engage your kids in thinking about what makes a neighborhood great, and to check our privilege in being able to choose the place we call home. Build a dialogue that not only connects them to their neighborhood but inspires them to be advocates of just, sustainable communities too.

Cheers to the year ahead, from my neighborhood to yours.

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