A Better Understanding
Executive Director Glenn Lamb reflects on natural spaces within city limits and creating a more inclusive and understanding environment.
When I first started working in parks and conservation, I thought it was a fairly simple job: protect the most important places and ensure they are well distributed. Of course, 30 years of conservation work has taught me that, like the web of life itself, everything is linked to everything else.
One recent insight came from our work in Southeast Portland. The neighborhood defined by SE 82nd Avenue, SE Division Street, I-205, and SE Powell Boulevard does not have a single park or natural area. These are also some of the city’s busiest roads. It is not surprising that childhood asthma rates in this area are 28 percent higher than anywhere else in Multnomah County.*
Local residents rallied behind the idea of planting more trees and creating the area’s first park. Nature helps clean the air and water and provides many benefits to people, including better health.
Yet as soon as the idea of more green space in the district became public, local residents grew concerned. They feared that as the area became a better place to live, property values would rise, and they would be displaced. Local organizers weighed costs and benefits: Do we want to live without parks and nature, and be able to retain our businesses and homes, or do we want parks and nature and better health at the risk of losing our businesses and homes?
This is a choice people should not be faced with. But this is where conservation work becomes more complex. Multiple state and local policy changes can help reduce displacement, and non-profit and for-profit enterprises can help to overcome these forces. Ultimately, it will take more Portlanders getting involved and working together to ensure that the city’s more vulnerable residents can enjoy the benefits of parks and green space.
In the years ahead, we will aim to better understand the broader implications of our work and collaborate with community partners to ensure that conservation doesn’t create or reinforce inequities across our service area. We are all connected. Being meaningfully connected entails slowing down, listening, and embracing a more inclusive approach.
Being connected also means elevating underrepresented voices within the world of conservation and challenging our perceptions of where that world begins and ends. That’s why in the next several issues of Fieldbook we’ll be using our muse to share more perspectives—some from within the Land Trust and others beyond. I’ll still be here, working, learning, and musing. Feel free to give me a ring!
– Glenn Lamb, Executive Director
*Multnomah County Health Department, 2011