Monday, February 25, 2013

Volunteer Activism, the Parks Plan and the Bridge in the News

Out now for a month or so, the new online weekly Salem Is has featured terrific longer-form stories about Salem.

If you're not reading it, get started!  It straddles a nice line between magazines, daily journalism, and blogging, and adds perspectives that aren't much voiced right now.

New Journal Salem Is - Story of Volunteer Activism
Today's story, written by Beth Casper, is about volunteer activism. She writes about institutional and personal struggles with the Salem Saturday Market's now stalled "zero waste zone" project, as well as the challenges that Barbara Palermo faced with urban chickens and transportation advocate Curt Fisher with Kidical Mass and Bike and Walk Salem. In all three cases getting volunteers and creating an ongoing and sustainable enterprise was difficult or impossible.  Even more, the drain on personal energy proved too costly and was unsustainable.

Curt Fisher in Beth Casper's Story on Volunteer Activism
Casper writes about Fisher's frustration:
[H]e hoped that some of the riders who joined Kidical Mass would help him organize future rides.

“I was thinking people would step up in ways I didn’t even know,” he said. “It just didn’t happen that way.” ...

[And for the hearings on Bike and Walk Salem] the surge of support that Fisher hoped would overwhelm the council didn’t materialize. Folks he thought would show up at the meeting never appeared.

At the same time, a Kidical Mass ride in August failed to draw any riders.

That’s when he “hit a wall.

“This town deserves what it gets,” he thought.
This difficulty in staffing and sustaining ventures is entrenched somehow in Salem! It was apparent in 2011 across a number of projects, for example. It's not clear what to do.

Volunteer energy in Salem also gets drawn off in fighting stupid things like the costly and oversized bridge and tolled highway project we call the "Third Bridge." In having to say "No" instead of working on projects that embody "Yes." It is difficult to be creative and constructive when so much energy has to be spent foiling and denying and critiquing - and when, as Palermo found, ferocious energies are unleashed and ultimately misdirected towards small things that shouldn't matter so much.  The uphill climb is too steep too often.

Check out Casper's piece!

On the topic of volunteering, Mark Wigg has a piece in Salem Weekly about the draft Parks Master Plan.

Mark Wigg on Parks Master Plan in Salem Weekly
In addition to encouraging volunteering, Wigg mentions parks as transportation corridors:
The city’s surveys show that the most popular activity in parks is the use of trails. A full 62% of those surveyed said that they used paths and trails, and 59% said more trails are needed.
In a separate email Wigg mentioned several more trail possibilities that should be included in the plan:
The plan overlooked many trail opportunities. While not a complete list, the follow trails should be added to the trail plan:
  1. Gravel road along the eastside of the Willamette Slough, it is already being used and a new grade separated connections could be created under the railroad trestle behind Woodry’s furniture. Extend the path to Riverfront Park on the riverside of the slough.
  2. Abandoned railroad on the west side of the Willamette River. Portions of this abandoned railroad are in the city.
  3. The BPA corridor and lands west of the power lines that are owned by Salem Health. Salem Health is willing to give these lands to the city. The lands are outside the city but are a critical link between Highway 22 and the residential developments in West Salem.
  4. Construct a multiuse path that connects the Union St bridge path directly to Glen Creek Road.
  5. Buy r/w and construct a path along the proposed alignment of Marine Drive out to River Bend Drive. Allow connections to adjacent properties such as the apartment complexes. It may be years before money for a street is available and the right of way could be used as a trail until that time.
  6. Mill Creek Industrial Park has a plan for a trail through the 100 acres of wetlands that will be constructed.
  7. Hillcrest Youth Facility owns land along Reed Lane that could be a trail and natural area.
As we saw, the plan does not prioritize much in the way of trail connectivity.

Finally, OBRA Director, BTA Board Member, and West Salem Neighborhood Association co-chair Kenji Sugahara had a piece in Sunday's paper criticizing the cost and oversized bridge proposal.

OBRA Director Kenji Sugahara on Third Bridge
No 3rd Bridge has additional commentary.

Update, May 11th, 2014

Dick Hughes has some interesting reflections on volunteerism:

He writes:
The Mid-Valley is an urban area, yet it retains smalltown values. Those include an appreciation of, and commitment to, public education.

Despite that, a chasm exists between the needs in education and the people who could fill those needs.

That baffles me. Why do the school district, mentor groups and other programs keep saying they need many volunteers, when at the same time there are many people unsuccessfully trying to volunteer?

I think it’s because schools and other organizations don’t recognize the impediments that are in place. They don’t make it simple for people to volunteer. Too often they rely on generic requests instead of being very, very specific. [italics added]
There's certainly some truth to the procedural matters Hughes highlights. Too often volunteering is difficult. But he may also be repeating uncritically the myth of high volunteerism here. It is quite possible that it is not true "there are many people unsuccessfully trying to volunteer." He cites no evidence to support the claim that there are many people trying to volunteer.

Not conclusive, but interesting in light of the pattern detailed here.


Walker said...

So much of the issue with Salem is from the curse of commuter culture. Salem has a huge number of folks who would great folks in a community who are just ... Absent, because they live in Salem and work in Portland.

I sometimes wonder abot those folks, and whether they wave at all the people driving down from Portland to Salem every day, the folks who want nothing from Salem except for free parking, and who offer nothing to Salem, even as they also deny their home community their contributions.

I've lived in a lot of places and seen a lot of different issues; no community is paradise on earth. But the problem with commuter culture, with the way I-5 consumes all the energy that should be building community, is really a hard one. Not only does it suck away time and energy, but I suspect it also sucks away a lot of money in the sense that people have to spend so much hustling up and down I-5 that they don't support arts and culture nearly as much as they would otherwise.

Car culture (boy, there's an oxymoron) is really a problem. Of course it's also what's behind the insane drive to squander the better part of a billion dollars on a gigantic, totally out of scale auto sprawl project -- the business as usual mindset of car culture is that people in cars matter, everyone else is just a hazard to be avoided or barricaded out of the way.

Anonymous said...

Walker, I'm one of those absentee commuters. I vanpool to Portland daily for my job because it was that or become unemployed due to a state agency layoff. Yes, I could have made the choice to find work in Salem but I feel I don't have that luxury at the moment. (Maybe I would end up unemployed and sleeping on a relative's couch in a third Oregon city, which isn't a win for Salem either.) I agree with you about the commuter problem, I certainly know plenty of people with no investment in Salem who I've thought should go move to stripmalllandia somewhere and leave us alone, but do realize that not all the people who live in Salem and work in Portland are mindless zombies. If you know someone working in Salem who is driving here from Portland who would like to exchange jobs with me, hook me up! If only it were that easy.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

You're right, Walker. Car and commute culture is a culprit!

Data that Michael Rose turned up last year, and was cited again this month by Queenie Wong:

"About 31,420 Salem-area residents reported that their primary job was in the Portland area, according to the 2010 Census. That compares to 24,328 Portland-area residents whose primary job was in Salem."

In the earlier Rose piece, even the Mayor talked about people with long commutes having less time for civic engagement.

I've been more bothered by those who live in Portland and work in Salem: Their kids are attending Portland schools and they have much less reason to invest in the broader civic culture of Salem than those work in Portland but whose kids might go to school here.

Another big factor is that of all the state institutions Salem zealously pursued and guarded, higher ed wasn't one of them. Willamette is great, but a State University with 10x the staff and students would make a huge, huge difference in the culture of Salem.

Finally, there seems to be a self-selecting pattern: Porch people, those who look for traditional neighborhoods with front porches and who value street life and community, may look to live elsewhere. Back patio people, those who prefer the more private pleasures of the back yard and living/dining rooms, will find much of Salem very congenial. This may be part of "the big sort."

@Anon: I'm sure Walker knows that in the 31,420 who work in Portland, there's a substantial number who are constrained and may not have much of a choice because of the economy and whatnot. I think Walker's point is that there is some number of people in the 31,420 and the 24,328 who live in Portland while working in Salem, who might have more of a choice.

But it's also about the nature of jobs. Salem needs more jobs and more family-wage jobs. Commuter culture is not just a product of wayward transportation choices. As you suggest, Anon, there are powerful economic forces that shape, constrain, and sometimes really elongate transportation choices. As you say, "if only it were that easy."

Sarah Evans said...

Thanks for the shout-out for Salem Is. We're glad to have you as a reader!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

In a blog post about "Free Art Friday," SJ reporter Cara Pallone adds more on the Salem "bubble":

"So we waited. And waited. And waited for an hour or longer. Not one single person stopped at the tree to pluck the painting from its bough. They chatted on their cell phones, cruised by on bikes and looked this way or that, but they didn't stop.

I wondered how people could be so incurious (it's a word, I looked it up)....

[After a person picked up one of the pieces] the woman put it back on the ground before quickly leaving the scene of the art.

I was shocked.

But it happened again. Two women walked up to the egg, nudged it with the toes of their shoes, hesitated and then finally picked it up. I didn't run up to them this time, but waited until they came closer. I told them I worked for the paper and asked why they hesitated to pick up the egg.

One of the women answered: "It's a creepy world out there."

And even though she had read the tag attached to the egg, she held it out to me and said, "Here, you want it back?"

For Ramey and the rest of the group, Free Art Friday is not about waiting to see who collects the goods. That's not the point. They know someone will eventually come across the items and be surprised and gracious and excited. So our social experiment didn't seem to bother them much.

I, on the other hand, was appalled. Are we as a society that distrustful, scared, unobservant, incurious and detached that we can't stop and pick up a wooden egg on the sidewalk? Why is it so hard for us to accept a gift, no strings attached?

Anonymous said...

Apparently there's a press release out trumpeting Salem's volunteerism. There's a disconnect somewhere, and it would be interesting to learn more about that. From the SJ:

'Salem is among the top seven cities in the country for volunteerism when compared to cities of similar size, according to a report from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Overall Oregonians placed seventh in the country for volunteer hours per resident and 11th for volunteering per capita.

Oregonians between the ages of 16 and 30, otherwise known as Millennials, had the highest rate with nearly one in three volunteering. That’s the third highest rate in the country for that age group.

Generation X, residents in their 30s and 40s, also hit a high mark with nearly 40 percent volunteering, placing seventh in the country.

"It's heartening to see these jumps in volunteerism among our young people, our next generation of community leaders," said Mike Fieldman, co-chairman of Oregon Volunteers Commission for Voluntary Action and Service.'

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

That is interesting. I wonder if folks are volunteering time on one-offs and moving from project to project, in part responding to novelty, or if there's a subset of projects that do retain volunteers over a longer term.

Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

In a piece this evening about the resignation of the Marion County CASA Director:

"CASA of Marion County struggles with a lack of funding and volunteers, Valencia said, similar to a lot of nonprofits. Currently, the program has 65 volunteers, but it needs closer to 300."

So more evidence for a disconnect.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with clip from Dick Hughes column:

"Why do the school district, mentor groups and other programs keep saying they need many volunteers, when at the same time there are many people unsuccessfully trying to volunteer?"

In light of the CASA observation this is even stronger - and interestingly, they just had a bunch of the board resign. From a March 6th piece:

"CASA of Marion County is scrambling to find new board members after three of its five members stepped down in less than a month.

The loss is on top of ongoing financial struggles and a search to replace the board's executive director, who resigned in January. CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, pairs trained volunteers with children in foster care who need advocates in court.

I think there are cultural and systemic problems with volunteerism here that are not adequately recognized.

Anonymous said...

At LoveSalem, Walker shares the sad news that the Food Coop is closing. Volunteering may be an ingredient in this as well.