Why Did You Draw the Line THERE? The Problems with Village Boundaries

Our planning group recently sent out an email announcing the Eastside Village, PDX project and inviting people to come to a “Village 101” informational presentation to learn more about it.  One of the pieces of information included in the email was the boundaries of the area that will be served by Eastside Village, PDX.

Since the announcement went to everyone on our email list regardless of where they live, we knew that some of the people receiving it would be outside the Eastside Village boundaries.   But what we didn’t anticipate was the number of emails we would get from people living only slightly outside the boundaries wanting to know why we “drew the line” where we did.

Each of the emails pointed out that there were seniors living outside our boundaries who would benefit from Eastside Village services & support.  Each of the emails asked why we couldn’t just extend the boundaries a bit more.  And several of them pointed out how under-served their area is compared to some of the neighborhoods which are included in the Eastside Village service area.

We did our best to send back a thoughtful response to everyone who wrote.  We didn’t mention how emotionally difficult it is to set boundaries, knowing as you do that this will result in people who are inside the lines and people who are not, and that this is not a commentary on how much those on the outside  need the services or how deserving they are of having a Village in their neighborhood.  It’s about manageability—what the Village can reasonably address—-and about where the Village’s  founders happen to live.   Because whether you want to or not, in a city the size of Portland, you have to draw the lines somewhere.  The Portland metro area is too big to be served by a single village.  It would be unmanageable and ineffective.

It didn’t help, of course, that we would like to be able to help everyone and that we understand both how well considered and how relatively arbitrary the boundaries really are.  I suppose we could have said, “These are only ‘working boundaries’ so maybe we’ll decide to include your neighborhood further down the road.”  It’s not like that’s impossible.  A number of Villages across the country have expanded their boundaries to include more neighborhoods than they originally started with.  Of course, in most of those cases they started out too small and needed to expand in order to survive, which is not the case with Eastside Village, which is starting with a very large service area.  But it might happen….

What we did say instead was the following:

1. The village boundaries were set by vote of the entire planning group, after studying census numbers and considering “natural” and neighborhood boundaries.

2.  In the process of studying villages nationwide, we learned that about 10-12K seniors in an area is the right size for a urban village. So we chose an area that has that number of senior residents.

3. Grassroots villages are formed and run by people who live inside the Village’s boundaries. So, as you would expect, virtually all our planning group members live in one of the neighborhoods covered by Eastside Village, PDX and that helped determine where our boundaries fell.  For example, two of our planning group members live in the Mill Park neighborhood.  So that helped determine our Eastern boundary.  If they had lived in different neighborhoods, we would probably have settled on slightly different boundaries (while still shooting to achieve the 10-12K seniors number)

4. The street that is our south boundary is also the southern boundary for three of the neighborhoods that are part of Eastside Village, PDX.  So it is a natural ending point.  If we had extended to the next major boulevard south as you asked, we would have been able to include all of your neighborhood, but would have bisected two other neighborhoods—–who then might reasonably have asked us to extend even farther south so that all of their neighborhood would be included.

5.  In terms of need, there is as much argument to be made about the problems of cutting off a village at our eastern boundary as there is at our southern boundary, since there are many, many seniors in need living further east.  But you have to draw the boundaries somewhere.  Trying to put all of Portland’s east side into one village would be unmanageable and, in the long run, counter-productive.

6. We hope Eastside Village, PDX will be the FIRST village on Portland’s east side, but not the ONLY one. Some of us are very willing to help start a “sister” village to the south which would include your neighborhood.  But  in order to get that going  you need to find a few residents of your neighborhood (and surrounding neighborhoods) to host Village 101 informational parlor meetings.  Through those parlor meetings, you will attract a core group of people to make up your village’s founding team/planning group.  So find those people to host and we will be glad to come down, make a Village 101 presentation, and help get the ball rolling.

I don’t think what we said was unreasonable or unsympathetic.  I very much fear it wasn’t what any of the people who wrote wanted to hear.  It would have been easier if we just extended the boundaries.  It would have been easier if they didn’t have to build a planning group and mobilize their neighborhoods into action.  But since that’s precisely what every neighborhood has to do to build a Village in the first place, it’s a pretty good indicator of whether or not their area can develop and sustain a Village in the long run.

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