It’s been a challenging year – one for the ages, for sure. Many Portlanders have suffered and lost loved ones to the pandemic. People have also lost their jobs and are uncertain when they can return to work – or feed themselves and families. Beloved businesses have closed while households are on the edge of being evicted. We’ve seen months of social justice protests, sometimes met with violence and destruction of property. Meanwhile, the political climate raised the communal temperature for months, increasing the stress throughout the city.
So why should we be thankful? First, we’re thankful for you, the community. As we collectively went into lockdown back in March, you joined us as we learned a whole new way of working together, figuring how to Skype for meetings and Zoom your public testimony. In some ways, the virtual environment has opened up our spaces to more people, who can now attend meetings from the comfort of their home (where they might be watching their kids), without having to come downtown and pay for parking. We’re grateful to have expanded our reach to connect more easily with more people and organizations.
But whether this new paradigm is a challenge or an opportunity (or both), BPS is moving forward on initiatives to address climate change, racial justice, housing access, sustainable consumption, equitable development and more because of you, our partners and fellow participants in the collective process of change.
Thanks to an unprecedented grass roots effort led by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, this past year we were able to transition the Portland Clean Energy Fund from ballot initiative to high-functioning program that will distribute its first $6-8 million in grants to frontline and low-income communities early next year. As well, Portland’s youth were key contributors to the City’s Climate Emergency Declaration, which identified actions to accelerate our commitment to climate justice. Over the summer, a coalition of housing and smart growth advocates helped us bring the Residential Infill Project to City Council for adoption, dramatically expanding access to housing for more Portlanders in our residential neighborhoods. And deep engagement by the Smart City PDX team with low-income and BIPOC communities resulted in groundbreaking policies that address face recognition technology and expand access to computers and other technology to close the digital divide.
This past year, City Council reimagined how to provide housing opportunities in our residential neighborhoods with a discrete but impactful package that allows faith-based organizations and other nonprofits to build affordable housing on their surplus land. As well, we launched an equitable waste hauler program to provide a pathway for employment and entrepreneurship to people of color. And we’re bringing a package of code changes to Council next month that would expand the definition of shelter and group living to allow more types of shelter in the city to meet the needs of houseless Portlanders.
None of these efforts would have been possible without deep and continued involvement of the community in our public processes.
From our fellow agencies and local jurisdictions to the universities and schools, from our partners at the state level to our neighborhood associations to the keepers of our businesses small and large, from culturally specific and community organizations to the nonprofits and associations, from the lovers of the land, the rivers and the air to the elders and their children, we thank you for your time, energy, and commitment to the work we will continue to do together.
Moving forward with you, we can face the City’s most difficult challenges, creating a more just and equitable economic recovery, addressing the climate crisis and unhealthy air, and stabilizing communities to counteract displacement. On the horizon for the bureau and our partners in 2021 (aside from a vanquished virus, we hope!), we’ll be working closely with Portland’s frontline communities, including Black and Indigenous, communities of color, and youth, as well as our traditional partners, our neighborhood leaders and community activists, businesses and sustainability leaders. And we’ll remain committed to ensuring that BPS is an anti-racist organization and that our work with you reflects that.
Portland, we thank you for collaborating with us and for challenging us to create better outcomes for all, especially and intentionally, our BIPOC communities. We could not and cannot do it without you.