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An Education in 175,250 Steps

I took 175,250 steps in the last three weeks walking Fairview. After work or on weekends, I’d fill up the red wagon – one bag of fliers in English, one bag in Spanish – and a water bottle and my phone and head out. Using an aerial sewer map I got from the city, I’d hit a slice of neighborhood or take on the whole thing, depending on how much time I had. Sometimes, I’d go out for an hour. Sometimes I’d go out for six.

My plan was simple: Hit as many houses in as many neighborhoods as I could. I wanted to see every corner of Fairview, and I did. I hit the pretty, prosperous neighborhoods – the Lakes and Fairview Village – and also the city’s largest apartment complex and three of its mobile home parks. I walked almost every corner of the heart of the city along with a handful of subdivisions and apartment complexes that have no affiliation with some larger neighborhood. They’re just a patch in this quilt that stretches for 3.5 square miles.

All told, I visited about 2,000 homes. I didn’t knock, because it’s not safe. I left my fliers on doorsteps. I went alone so I could pay attention to the places and have conversations if I bumped into people. Which I did – on porches, in driveways, and out in the street – and struck up many conversations. Jim and James, Jordan and Barb, Hugo and Tariq, Rasheeda and Frank and Dennis and Bob and Charles and so many more. I’m grateful for what you shared.

This experience changed the way I see Fairview. It’s bigger and better than I thought, and more diverse in all the ways that word can mean. Fairview is a middle class suburban city, but the range of living conditions that constitute middle class is quite wide. There is a big difference between living in a trailer with a rotting front ramp to living in a McMansion with a driveway gate. There are also people who aren’t in the middle class at all. There is also real poverty here.

Some of the political issues roiling Portland and America play out in Fairview. I think I knew this, but not in the intimate way you get from bounding up someone’s steps to drop fliers and can smell their cooking or their weed or their laundry drying. Or walking your neighbors’ streets and hearing the rattle of the freight train or the whoosh of the highway traffic or the songs of the marsh birds that they hear every day. I visited their parks, talked with their kids, and set their dogs barking. Good guardians all, just doing their jobs.

Here are some observations from my Fairview circuit:

The inequality of America is here at home. Some Fairview neighborhoods get sidewalks and street lights and parks. Others don’t. The folks who have it worst are those who live in our mobile parks, which are mainly sited in industrial land between I-84 and Sandy Boulevard, where there are no yards and no parks and no green space at all. I watched kids kick a soccer ball in the middle of a poorly-paved street in a downpour in the Cherry Blossom Mobile Home Park because this was the only place they can play.

The deep partisan divide is here, too. Fairview is a purple place. I saw Trump flags and lawn signs, and on one front door, a taped photo of President Trump as he was released after COVID treatment from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. I also saw Biden signs. The two sides clashed, humorously, between across-the-street neighbors in Quail Hollow. Trump and Blue Lives Matter flags that hang in one window are met with a hand-written retort posted across the street: Dump Trump! Interestingly, most political signs I saw were not about candidates but about values. I spotted a bunch of “In Our America” signs – the ones that look like the flag and start “In Our America, All People Are Equal, Love Wins, Black Lives Matter…” I saw a Spanish language version, too, which was a first for me. Also popular are the flags that declare: “In This House, We Believe: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Right Are Human Rights, No Human Is Illegal, Science Is Real, Love Is Love, Kindness Is Everything.”

Black Lives Matter – even in the suburbs. I saw lots of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Hand-painted signs posted in windows, “BLM” written in sidewalk chalk, an oversized flag draped on a garage door on Bridge Street. Even if signs were posted in out-of-the-way places – country-road windows or dead-end cul-de-sacs – it didn’t seem to matter. People want to declare that they recognize racism is real, and that black people suffer. There was one “All Lives Matter” display that I saw – an elaborate series of signs posted around one Historic Fairview home. But if you’re counting signs, support for people of color is strong here. That, of course, is a good thing. In the last U.S. Census, one in four Fairview residents reported being a racial or ethnic minority. In this next Census count, that number will surely rise.

Portland matters to Fairview – and residents don’t like where’s it going. You can’t talk to folks in Fairview without them talking about Portland. They used to live there. Or they still work there. Or they live here because they can get there quick. Most people say they don’t like what’s happening in Portland, with graffiti, crime, and houseless folks multiplying – and worry it’s coming here. Several people reported an increase in home or car break-ins in recent years in their neighborhoods. I have no idea whether crime is increasing, and whether any of it can be pinned on Portland. But I’ll find out; I meet this week with Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese. There is no easy-to-find crime data on our city – so impressions and anecdotes (and social media posts) rule. I’ll work to get the facts and make them publicly available.

I saw so much difference in my walks around town. I also saw, and heard, a lot that unites us.

People live in Fairview to be close to nature. They want to be by a lake, or a pond, or a park. People want to be close to Portland but want to live apart from the crowds in a quieter, slower place. They want to dig in their garden, and walk someplace pretty, and feed the birds and the squirrels. They want their kids to get along. They want to know their neighbors.

The experience not only changed how I saw Fairview, but how I will plan to represent the city.

I care a lot more than I used to about sidewalks and other street improvements along with traffic calming measures because a lot of people don’t feel safe walking here. We need these improvements most in neglected places like Historic Fairview and our county-run roads, which are in rough shape. I also care more about public safety because residents I spoke with do. We need to look at crime statistics, make the best use of our county sheriff’s office patrols, and educate people with real data and effective prevention measures.

Most importantly, I know that my support for protecting, improving, and expanding our parks, trials and open space is right on target. That “Cadillac number” that Public Works Director Allan Berry talks about – our 30 acres of green space per 1,000 residents – is our unique value. Parks and trails and open space is what makes Fairview special, and I’ll work to protect and expand these assets. We’re all here for the nature.

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