What does Black Lives Matter mean for Metro?

Do you hear the sound of glass breaking? Those are paradigms being shattered!

As someone who has worked tirelessly to promote climate-smart communities, healthier transportation systems and affordable housing by breaking the paradigm of overreliance on drive-alone auto trips, and the freeway-industrial complex that supports it, this is very exciting to me. 

But this is NOT the moment for that paradigm.

This moment is about how policing impacts America’s BIPOC communities, and its contributions to institutional racism. I’m smart enough to realize that I’m not the right leader for that conversation, and I’m listening carefully (and gratefully) to the leadership of groups like PAALF, Unite Oregon and Urban League of Portland

I’ve also looked at what role Metro may have on this specific topic, and believe it is minimal to none. Metro’s park rangers have limited enforcement authority (they write citations) and don’t carry lethal weapons. And Metro contracts with local police departments only minimally. But if elected, I’ll take a careful look at those and other security functions at Metro, with an eye towards ensuring that we’re focusing on community safety and problem solving, and hearing from impacted communities how best to address these injustices. And just this week, I submitted testimony to TriMet’s board echoing OPAL – Environmental Justice Oregon’s to look at defunding transit police.

But if we zoom out, this moment is just a piece of addressing widespread systemic, institutional racism in our communities. And Metro definitely does have a role in that greater fight. As Urban League President Nkenge Harmon Johnson pointed out at a recent event, the policy recommendations of Portland Urban League’s 2015 “State of Black Oregon” report are just as meaningful today in 2020! I’ve also reviewed the PAALF “People’s Plan”. I was struck by how many of their recommendations directly overlapped with Metro’s primary goals, and how urgent it is that our regional government proactively review these policies with lens towards racial justice:

    • Stable housing

      • An adequate housing supply

      • Subsidized affordable housing (including transportation affordability as part of overall household affordability)

      • Stabilize renters including preservation of “naturally occurring” affordable housing

      • Policies and programs to prevent displacement

      • Enforce Fair Housing standards

      • Programs to help people maintain/sustain housing they already own

    • Workforce preparation and participation

      • A diverse Metro workforce

      • Continuing support for Metro’s C2P2 program (Construction Career Pathways Project)

    • Healthy, vibrant and economically viable neighborhoods

      • Healthy air quality

      • Access to safe recreation, including parks and open spaces

      • Land use planning to put community needs in walking distance for most folks

      • Equitable investment in neighborhoods

      • Use race-informed health impact assessments when planning investments

    • Increase civic engagement, especially in displaced neighborhoods

      • Investments to build capacity for participation by BIPOC communities

      • Meet communities where they are at, in their spaces

      • Offer childcare at hearings and open houses

      • Consider providing a stipend for folks serving on advisory committees

      • Hybridize in-person and online participation in meetings in the post-Covid world

      • Create a public campaign finance system for Metro to enable more diverse fields of candidates

    • Provide access via good land use planning and affordable transportation to:

      • Jobs

      • Education

      • Recreation

      • Daily needs like healthy food

      • Transit Justice – provide better access, especially from areas that people have been displaced to

      • Examine racial equity in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure

I’ve spent a decade working on revamping Portland’s policy documents to prioritize BIPOC communities, but I’ve also witnessed the implementation of those policies stall to a large degree. I’m ready to focus on that implementation at Metro – and prioritize results for frontline communities who have waited for far too long for Oregon to live up to its progressive reputation and values.

Construction of what is now the Rose Quarter Freeway (you can see Harriet Tubman Middle School in the photo!) circa 1962.

Circling back to something I know a little more about – there are few vestiges of American cities reflecting a racist paradigm of urban planning than the freeways built through Black neighborhoods in cities across the country. The largest Black neighborhood in the state of Oregon was bisected by construction of I-5, eliminating decades of Black wealth and destroying invaluable civic fabric and community ties.

Today, the racist legacy of freeway construction continues in how these structures operate. In many cases the residents near freeways are lower income, and have a greater concentration of BIPOC people than other parts of the city. These residents suffer the air and noise pollution of the freeway, with stark impacts to their health, while the drivers passing by who enjoy the opportunities created by the freeway are often whiter and wealthier.

Students from the Harriet Tubman Middle School Environmental Justice Club, testifying at a JPACT hearing last fall, in opposition to freeway expansions across the region.

That’s why I’m so committed to applying the concept of “Just Transition” or “Green New Deal” to our region’s transportation investments and policies. We must center these voices as we, as a region, deal with the threat posed by the climate emergency. We must explicitly center economic opportunity for the communities that have been marginalized by our current racist economy and planning processes. Our investments in public transit, biking and walking must be guided by the needs and demands of BIPOC communities.

Finally, this great NPR interview with a Black climate scientist reminds us that:

  • Climate change is more severely impact BIPOC communities, and
  • Racism is sapping the human potential that we need to address climate change!

I’m continuing to listen and learn in this exciting time, and I am looking forward to fighting white supremacy to make Metro’s policies, plans and actions anti-racist.

With humility,

Chris

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