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Though I have often turned a critical eye on this process, pointing out that the limited amount of time and large number of meetings have strained the nature of collaboration, it is important to point out that the planning group is making successful progress. The MTCY&NPG is accomplishing everything it has set out to do: committees have formed to delve into research on the various facets of the project, architects have signed contracts for the design process (though we are awaiting final budgets), PPR has opened up conversations with employees outside of the planning group, the greater Portland community has been kept apprised of the headway, and we are meeting our established deadlines.
For all intents and purposes, there is no reason to think that this partnership won’t continue along a successful path. Read the rest of this entry »
The interactive Internet, coined “Web 2.0” largely as a marketing term by businesses and media pundits in the mid-2000s, takes the passive medium of the Internet (passive for the majority of users without IT departments, servers, graphic designers, etc.) and turns it on its head. Wikis, blogs, instant messaging, and mail lists are just a few of the tools that are empowering users of all abilities to have two-way conversations with audiences across the globe.
Tim O’Reilly, one of the first to evangelize the concept of Web 2.0, reflected at the start of the trend that the key lesson of the technology is that “users add value” (2005). Ian Davis, in his Internet Alchemy blog, asserts, “Web 2.0 is an attitude not a technology” that enables participation not only on open software, but also in an open society (Lin, 2007).
When the Internet expanded to the broad public in the mid-nineties, many predicted that it would give everyone the ability to express their opinion, knowledge and interest to the world. While this was possible for some users, running a website and keeping it updated requires hard work and technological knowledge (Quiggin, 2006).
Organizations able to hire IT staff, marketing managers, and professional designers were able to capitalize on the Internet and help usher in the Information Age. For the most part, though, the amateur user wanting to interact globally was pushed aside.
In the last couple of years, however, technology has advanced to the stage that websites can be made and updated instantly, with little technological know-how required. Easy interfaces and everywhere accessibility has given the power of the world-wide-web to the layman. Any user with the basic knowledge of how to write an email has access to millions of potential readers and viewers.
Portland residents are highly informed on issues concerning the environment, and the issue of sustainability was top of mind when the planning group formed. Portland’s awards and accolades from the media exemplify this: “#1 Greenest City in America” – Popular Science (February 2008), “No. 1 Environmental Awareness” – CNN/Travel+Leisure (October 2007), “#1 Portland: A Role Model for the Nation” – SustainLane.com’s 2006 list of America’s most sustainable big cities (Travel Portland, n.d.).
Although sustainability can, and has, been used simply as a buzzword to excite the public and ensure them that “all is well”, the circumstances surrounding the update of the Mt. Tabor Master Plan provided an excellent opportunity to weave important sustainability principles throughout the process and across the city.
Places are laboratories of diversity and complexity, mixing social functions and natural processes. A place has a human history and a geologic past: it is a part of an ecosystem with a variety of microsystems, it is a landscape with a particular flora and fauna. Its inhabitants are part of a social, economic, and political order: they import or export energy materials, water, and wastes, they are linked by innumerable bonds to other places. A place cannot be understood from the vantage point of a single discipline or specialization. It can be understood only on its terms as a complex mosaic of phenomena and problems (Orr, 1992, p. 129).
Over forty individuals make up the Mt. Tabor Central Yard and Nursery Planning Group. Though responsibilities and expertise vary among each member, three distinct interests are represented: PPR management, employees and union members of the yard and nursery, and the community.
Author’s note: When I wrote this chapter, the budget of $465,000 for the Mt. Tabor Master Plan Update was in jeopardy of being axed. Shortly after finishing my project, the full budget was approved (I will make note of this in my final chapter)
A key reason this process has a significant chance at succeeding within the limited timeframe is because of the substantial funding it received from City Council. When the resolution was presented to Council in September 2007, PPR requested a budget of $465,000 to complete the work. A third of the budget was pledged from the bureau itself, and with its unanimous approval, Council resolved to fund the rest.
The amount would cover every line item on the budget, from the salaries of the project managers and the contract with the facilitators, to the production of the architectural RFP and funding for the community events. With the immense amount of work to be done in a limited amount of time, the money would afford us the opportunity to meet unimaginable deadlines.
The deadline issued by the City for an updated Mt. Tabor Master Plan was January 2009. From the onset, reaction to the timetable was of collective disbelief. Rumblings from many communication members concluded, before the process even began, that it would be impossible and an effort should be made to get more time.
PPR noted that this would be an ambitious project on a short timeline, but political realities necessitated that the planning group move quickly. As part of an overall funding strategy for Park facilities, PPR plans to include the master plan update to their 2010 bond package. It is in the bureau’s best interest to proceed under the current commissioner, Dan Saltzman, who has invested in the project. Future council changes are unknown, and with upcoming elections, swings of support could change by the new year. Noting this reality, the planning group proceeded rapidly to obtain a solid commitment for continued funding from the current council by the end of year.
I experienced a lot of anxiety when I first considered researching the Mt. Tabor planning group in order to gain insight into effective public participation. My introduction into ethnographic research through the Leadership in Ecology, Culture and Learning program (LECL) at Portland State University had me intimately question the role of the researcher. Conversations with my peers, both in seminar and outside of the classroom, revolved around how we, as researchers, could take ourselves out of the research being conducted? Or, would we take ourselves out of the research?
Learning about participatory-action research as a tool both muddled and cleared my confusion. It muddled it because it throws the researcher straight into the research, creating as many, or more, observable moments than would otherwise materialize organically. It clears it, though, because it acknowledges, and almost celebrates, that the researcher is inherently biased and that their action should be part of the research.
The idea that the researcher can be part of the research set my mind at ease, and I began to see the benefits of being intimately involved with the process while I was studying it. I would have insight into personalities, conversations, and background that an outsider wouldn’t have. Relationships with participants had been established and members would be approachable if I needed further information. Furthermore, I would have the ability to relay my research back to the group, adding to the collective wisdom and completing the circle of reciprocity.