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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Eastside Village, PDX: It’s not a PLACE. It’s a PLAN for aging-in-place.

eastsidevillage-logo

 

 Modeled after Beacon Hill Village in Boston, Eastside Village, PDX is not a building or a real estate development or a retirement community. Rather, it is a group of like-minded people who live within the same geographic area who have come together to develop the resources they will need to age comfortably in their own homes.  There are currently over 90 of these Villages in existence—including Villages in Bend, Ashland and Seattle—with over 100 more in development across the country.

The primary purpose of Eastside Village, PDX will be to assist older adults and people with disabilities to live at home safely, affordably, happily and healthily for as long as they choose by creating a coordinated network of volunteer and reduced cost services that supports village members to “do as much for as little cost for as long as possible.”  Village membership will be open to anyone age 18 or older so that people with disabilities who aren’t yet seniors may benefit from its services and support.

The EastsideVillage, PDX service delivery area will include all or part of 13 Portland neighborhoods, and its working boundaries will be:

  • Powell Blvd on the south;
  • the WillametteRiver on the west;
  • I-84/Banfield or Halsey (east of I-205) on the north;
  • 122nd on the east (except between Stark and Division where the boundary extends out to 130th to include all of the MillPark neighborhood).

The EastsideVillage planning group hopes to file for 501c3 status by Fall 2013 and launch the Village by the Fall of 2014. Their fiscal sponsor for this project is a local nonprofit organization Health Advocacy Solutions, who will be assisting them with grant applications and processing their tax-deductible donations until they get their own 501c3.

The Eastside Village, PDX project is also enthusiastically supported by the leadership of AARP Oregon, who understand that, “The development of a supportive, interdependent community in which older adults are able to live at home safely, affordably, happily and healthily for as long as they choose  is essential for Portland’s aging population and AARP is proud to be a supporter of the village development efforts in Portland neighborhoods.”

One of the key steps to Village formation is to survey potential members and volunteers living throughout the Village’s service area in order to learn (1) what aging-in-place programs & services they would want from the Village; (2) what programs & services they are currently receiving; (3) what they are paying for the services they are currently receiving: (4) what they would be willing to volunteer their help with.

The Eastside Village programs & services committee is currently designing a comprehensive needs assessment survey (both print and online forms) to collect this information and plans to devote the month of May 2013 to surveying (launching on 5/1).

In addition to checking out the Eastside Village website (www.eastsidevillage.org), one of the best ways to learn about the Village and get involved is to attend a “Village 101” informational presentation.   Upcoming presentations are planned for:

Thursday, January 17 at 7pm: Southeast Uplift Fireside Room, 3534 SE Main Street

Wednesday, Wednesday, January 30 at 7pm: Southeast Uplift Fireside Room, 3534 SE Main Street

Sunday, February 3 at 2pm: Belmont Library Community Room, 1038 S.E. César E. Chávez

Wednesday, February 13 at 7pm: Southeast Uplift Fireside Room, 3534 SE Main Street

Sunday, February 24 at 2pm: Belmont Library Community Room, 1038 S.E. César E. Chávez

Monday, March 11 at 7pm: Southeast Uplift Fireside Room, 3534 SE Main Street

Space is limited, so please RSVP to info@eastsidevillage.org or call 503-489-8496 to reserve your place.

The EastsideVillage planning group meets approximately every 3-4 weeks and is open to anyone who wants to help build Eastside Village, PDX.  To get involved, please email Chana Andler, Coordinating Team Chair, at info@eastsidevillage.org

Trying to Figure Out the Size and Boundaries for a Portland Village: What’s “Just Right”?

Last night was the first parlor meeting for the Village PDX  project.   Seven smart, interesting, inquisitive folks showed up and we had a wonderful discussion with lots of insightful comments and questions.   So a great way to kick-off the first of 5 parlor meetings happening over the next 3 weeks.  The parlor meetings on 4/15 and 4/19 are already full, but if you’re interested in attending either the Sunday 4/22 at 3pm or Thursday 5/3 at 7pm parlor meetings, there’s still some space. Just email us at info@villagepdx.org to RSVP and get directions.

One of the questions that comes up the most wherever we talk about the village project is some variation on “How big will the village be?” and “Will there be more than one village in Portland?” and “How do you decide where the village boundaries should be?”

We know from talking to the founders of some of the existing villages on the East Coast that they have been expanding their villages’ boundaries to include surrounding neighborhoods/ townships.  But I don’t know how to apply that information to thinking about villages here in Portland.

Next Monday, we will be talking to one of the founders of the NEST village in Seattle, which just opened earlier this year. So that got me thinking, maybe they have something on the NEST website about how they decided about their boundaries that would help me explain “village size/boundaries” better?   Here’s what I found:

Q: What neighborhoods are included in NEST?

A: The boundaries are the ship canal north to NE 110th, and I-5 to Lake Washington.  This includes the Bryant, Hawthorne Hills, Inverness, Laurelhurst, Maple Leaf, Matthews Beach, Meadowbrook, Ravenna, Roosevelt, Sandpoint, University District, View Ridge, Wedgwood, and Windermere neighborhoods. [14 total]

Q: Why not include all of Seattle?

A: The richness of the village concept is that it is rooted in a given geographic area and engages residents of all ages to volunteer in their neighborhood.  If the area is too large, the power of building neighborly connections is lost.  We hope that NEST can inspire other areas of Seattle to develop their own village and we could work collaboratively to build a supportive network.  Currently, there is discussion at the Phinney Neighborhood Center (NW Seattle) and on Bainbridge Island about starting such villages.

via NEST faq.

So, the long and the short of it seems to be: “The richness of the village concept is that it is rooted in a given geographic area and engages residents of all ages to volunteer in their neighborhood.  If the area is too large, the power of building neighborly connections is lost. ”  On the other hand, as we have learned from our talks with some of the village founders, if the geographic area is too small, there  may not be enough interested residents to join the village and keep it going.  Which makes this all sound more than a little like Goldilock’s search for the “just right” sized bed.

I know there are approximately12,000 residents aged 65-plus in the section of Seattle that will be served by the NEST village.  So population may be one way to look at it.  I also know that existing resources for seniors available in the area factor in.  Maybe printing out  a map of Seattle so I can see how much of the city the NEST village will encompass would help?

If you have suggestions about how to think about this–or explain it better—please let me know!