Vote YES for Portland’s Parks
an op-ed by John Eder
As a Portland resident, former legislator and one time chair of the Governor’s Creative Economy Council, I was appalled when my city moved to sell a public park in the heart of the thriving downtown arts district. The city of Portland’s own Parks Commission said that, “this action establishes the most dangerous of precedents: allowing the City to sell valuable public space for private development with minimal justification. This means that any public space could be a future candidate.” That’s why I’m voting “Yes” to protect Portland Parks on June 10.
In 2008, the city eliminated the entire Portland Parks Department. Only five personnel care for all our parks. The city is neglecting our parks and then calling the neglected parks failed. It’s shameful. If they could sell off such a valuable, high-profile park for private development, they could sell others.
Concerned citizens formed Protect Portland Parks to put forth a referendum to protect sixty parks from being sold by a simple majority vote of the council. A “yes” vote on June 10th will protect parks by giving Portland voters a say via referendum as to whether or not a park gets sold.
While the sale of Congress Square park was unanimously opposed by the surrounding neighborhood associations and the city’s own Parks Commission, officials ignored citizen input and pushed through the controversial sale. The question at hand now is whether or not we are a city that wants to sell our public parks to private developers without giving citizens the right to vote on it. Congress Square is not “saved” by this referendum. A “yes” vote on June 10th simply gives the voters the right to decide its fate. A “yes” vote would ensure that unless at least eight councilors vote to to sell a park, it goes to a public vote to let the citizens of Portland decide. It shouldn’t be easy to sell our public parks.
The Chamber of Commerce, which is behind opposing the Parks Initiative, is often on the wrong side of the citizens when it comes to preserving the unique character of our city. The Chamber favored urban renewal that razed historic neighborhoods in Portland, took part of Lincoln Park for the Franklin Arterial and brought us the vapid redesign of Spring Street — blunders we now have to spend money to fix. In 1987, they were against preserving the working waterfront. In 1999, they opposed the establishment of the land banks. In 2008, the same year the Parks Department was eliminated, they also favored the elimination of the Historic Preservation Department and an urban designer, because “too many aesthetics were being considered” in building design.
The Chamber is using the same old chesnut: if you don’t give away the farm, they warn, all the development will dry up. We don’t need to give away our public parks to out-of-state developers to develop our city thoughtfully and with vision.
Portland is at a turning point. There are cranes in the air everywhere you look. There is intense development pressure, and we must make sure that we are making smart decisions that allow us to grow while protecting what makes Portland unique. A YES vote is not a vote against development, there is development going on unabated all over the city. A YES vote is a vote for understanding that Portland’s good reputation is largely built on a bold vision of public parks and open spaces. A YES vote June 10th is a vote for giving the citizens of Portland a say over the future of all our parks to create a more thoughtful and rigorous process before any of our public parks can be sold.