A Vision for the North Park Blocks

640px-North_Park_Blocks,_Portland,_Oregon_2012Meeting Held with City OfficialsReported by Stanley Penkin

Following the disruptive summer of 2015 in the North Park Blocks (NPB), there has been a good deal of discussion and citizen activism to assure that there is not a repeat occurrence this coming summer, or ever again.

Residents and businesses adjacent to NPB gathered their forces late last summer to engage the city in efforts to promote greater activation of the park and stronger police enforcement of criminal behavior. The Pearl District Neighborhood Association Livability and Safety Committee (LSC) joined the effort and developed an activation work plan to bring more events and activity to the park.

Members of the NPB Consortium and LSC recently met with the  Parks and Recreation Bureau’s top leadership and representatives from the Mayor’s and Commissioner Fritz’ offices to discuss ways to better program the North Park Blocks. There are challenges to holding some events due to fragile grass and tree roots being damaged, but many ideas were discussed including a greater long term vision for the park.

While the major focus of this meeting was on short term solutions, the NPB/LSC group asked the Parks Bureau to take a longer term, holistic view of the park that would coordinate with the upcoming upgrade of the playground, the City’s Green Loop Plan, the anticipated Flanders street bike bridge and the post office site.

The NPB/LSC vision for the North Park Blocks in 2016 and beyond should embody stimulation, movement, beauty and contemplation. The central location, a major connector between China Town, the Pearl and Downtown creating a cultural infusion where residents, students, tourists and all Portlanders come to enjoy communal interaction, commerce and reflection, bustling and brewing with creativity and joy.

Both city staff and NPB/LSC agreed to holding ongoing meetings to continue the conversation with the next meeting anticipated in early April.

Image credit: Wikipedia – North Park Blocks, Portland, Oregon (2012) by Another Believer

City Policy Makes PDX a Destination for “Lifestyle Vagrancy”

City Policy is Making Portland a Destination for “Lifestyle Vagrancy,” Lawlessness, and Crime Increase Police Staffing and Fight Our Panhandling Epidemic With Community Education

Click image to view video
Click image to view video

Public comment to Portland City Council
Delivered October 28th, 2015
Testimony as PDF (80KB)              Click to view video

Thank you for allowing me to speak today. And thank you Mayor Hales for your stated desire to focus on the city instead of re-election. My name is Fritz Jünker. I’ve lived in a condo four blocks from City Hall with my wife since 2007. I am speaking today out of concern for the safety of my family, friends and neighbors. Last Summer, as we all know, a man was stabbed to death by a drifter just steps from here. This terrified our neighborhood. Earlier this Summer, my wife was assaulted by a homeless man a block from our home. She’s now constantly afraid and on guard. Just weeks ago, a visiting friend was spit on and threatened by a panhandler who was displeased with not receiving change. My wife and I, our neighbors, and our friends have had innumerable other experiences with aggressive and criminal behavior from Portland’s increasing unsheltered populations and we have all reached our limit. As quoted recently in the Oregonian “the next New York Times Article about Portland isn’t going to be about how great our food and wine are.”

For the last several years, I’ve watched with great frustration as our city has been allowed to become a destination for “lifestyle vagrancy”, unchecked drug activity, limitless street camping, aggressive panhandling, and other illegal and disruptive behavior that directly affects the safety and quality of life residents Downtown, and city-wide. Sadly, Portland is no longer a place where we can use public spaces without disruption, anxiety or fear. Recent efforts to temporarily displace this activity or label it as the bi-product of an “affordable housing” crisis are short sighted, misleading, and will not resolve the serious public safety issues we face as a city. Only after we restore basic rule of law can we then speak about affordable housing and other solutions not related to immediate public safety.

Every Summer, street kids, drug-users, and other “lifestyle vagrants” flock here in greater numbers to take advantage of the city’s hands-off ideology. They inundate our woefully understaffed Police force with increasingly brazen and illicit behavior, draw drug and gang activity into the region, and extract dollars, services, and compassion from resident populations of the homeless and mentally ill who really need it. This coming Spring, we must send a strong message to those who travel here or choose this lifestyle that Portland is not their anarchic utopia.

Some in this debate want to make those who are fed up with the lawless behavior of these populations to feel heartless. We are not heartless. It’s about behavior, not homelessness. Of course – there are people here in Portland who desperately need social services and deserve compassion. But compassion that is misdirected helps no one. To care for those who are legitimately in need, we must sort out those who abuse our collective kindness.

I speak today on behalf of a growing number of Portlanders who are very frustrated with the state of our city. We implore you to consider the following four solutions:

  1. Properly staff our police force at FBI-recommended levels and pace staffing with population growth.
  2. Drastically increase funding and exposure for the “Smart Change, Not Spare Change” campaign to educate Portlanders about the dangers of supporting panhandling.
  3. Commission a neutral, 3rd party study of the true demographics of Portland’s unsheltered populations.
  4. Draft stronger ordinances to allow better law enforcement response to these issues.

Thank you for your time.

Fritz Jünker, Portland Resident

Hales’ Legacy and Perils of Prosperity

Excerpt from Can Mayor Hales Jump the Shark and Lead Portland to the Promised Land? by Dr. Bruce Stephenson

Charlie Hales
Charlie Hales

… Cutthroat real estate speculation brought the country to the edge of economic collapse in both the Great Depression and the Great Recession. A skilled technocrat, Hales is the one person who can ensure that a new comprehensive plan will direct development for a future population (expected to grow by 200,000 in the next twenty years) on lines that will procure sustainability, equity and profit. There is a unique moral dimension at play in Portland, and Hales’ ability to navigate the perils of prosperity will play to a much larger audience than the city’s 660,000 residents.

This summer the Mayor attended the Vatican summit on climate change. Portland is a prototype of the Promised Land Pope Francis envisions, a city where carbon is in remission and nature is ascendant. Portland remains a work in progress, and reaching the Promised Land requires a leader who must convince citizens not to worship the Golden Calf. Has a Portland Mayor ever had a greater exit?

Dr. Bruce Stephenson is Rollins College Environmental Studies professor, his research and teaching reveal how history informs the intersection of regional planning, sustainability, and urbanism.  See his study of the North Park Blocks here.

Image credit: Charlie Hales in 2011 By Steve Morgan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0


Parks ARE For Everyone – But Lack Safety And Order

A North Park Block neighbor sent the following email to Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz:

Thank you for the work you do for the city.

I write because I heard about the Sept 1st task force meeting called by Mayor Hales regarding  the conditions in the North Park Blocks. You stayed for only 20 minutes, but before you departed early you declared, “The parks are for everyone,” to a group of people brainstorming responsible responses to public sex, used hypodermic needles, menacing, off-leash dog attacks and other illegal and scary acts being committed with increasing frequency in Portland parks.

Attendees inferred that you are not too concerned whether homeless people and housed-but-antisocial people comply with the law.  They interpreted your comment as, at best, acquiescence to the status quo or, at worst, siding with perpetrators over victims.

The parks ARE for everyone.

  • “Everyone” should include children who should not see people f***ing in the North Park Blocks.
  • “Everyone” should include dog owners who don’t want to choose between watching their beloved pet bleed out or getting bitten themselves.
  • “Everyone” should include people playing Frisbee who do not want to make a diving catch onto a needle.
  • “Everyone” should include residents, shoppers, workers and tourists who do not want to be menaced and sometimes assaulted by aggressive and / or mentally ill people.

I hope you and other leaders develop some empathy for the non-homeless and support those who are working to improve downtown livability for all.  Until the city acts to slow, stop and reverse the downward spiral that we witness every day, then most “everyone” will avoid parks that we have abandoned to lawlessness.  We don’t need another commissioned study or another artistic logo or another ten-year plan.  We know what works for the long term.  In the short term, please enforce the law.