Living up to Our Vision for Portland

It took me two years of volunteering on the visionPDX committee to understand what underlies Portland’s progressivism: hypocrisy.

The visionPDX report delivered September 19 to the City Council summarizes the wishes of thousands of Portlanders as follows: “We view our diversity as a vital community asset, whether they are differences of race, ethnicity, gender, belief system, political ideology, ability, socio-economic status, educational status, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, place of origin, age or geography. We facilitate the inclusion of all Portlanders in our democratic processes and in community decision-making.”

Contrast that with the sentiments I heard expressed by one member at a recent visionPDX committee meeting: The people have spoken. We are a lefty-liberal city. And if people from California or wherever don’t like it, well, they can just go back to Orange County — including all you “free-market” folks.

Some say the comment was meant merely as a joke. Perhaps. But it’s outrageous that a vision committee member would be brazen enough to single out people to, as it were, love it or leave it, given the inclusive statement they took pains to produce.

The visionPDX project is a publicly funded, community-driven process. Most volunteers didn’t join that process to build a city in which individuals with ideas unlike the majority feel a sense of futility when engaging in civic life. A vision for Portland’s future isn’t meant to be a tool for some to justify an exclusionary approach to civic engagement. Some leaders and community activists may feel entitled to choose who gets to participate, who is invited to the conversation, and who wins or loses. But how is that progressive, inclusive or visionary? Is that the kind of city we want?

Make no mistake, free-market folks, even folks from California, aren’t opposed to sustainability or any of the other values put forward in Portland’s vision statement. But the strategies they might employ to realize the stated goals may differ. And I find it hard to believe that in a city full of “progressives” claiming to want a diverse and inclusive community that individuals with different ideas would be isolated from public conversations.

The measure of a great city is less the number of its green programs and more how it embraces freedom and diversity and collaborates to achieve great things for its citizens. A great community is one courageous enough to welcome diversity of thought, to be tolerant of those who are different and to include all people in civic life. Diversity brings great ideas — from rooftop gardens to small businesses that line our neighborhood streets.

My challenge to the progressives of Portland is to make the visionPDX statement real.

Bina Patel, a Portland consultant on issues related to poverty, serves as a volunteer for the visionPDX committee and its executive committee.