Nimby Nation

Neighborhoods are PDX’s secret superpower.

By Amanda Waldroupe March 16, 2012 Published in the January 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

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THE OLD SAW that all politics is local is an understatement here. In Portland’s unique political culture, neighborhood associations enjoy a hefty say, particularly on what gets built where. This microfederalism makes for epic battles—from nascent neighborhood groups’ seminal fight against the 1970s Mount Hood Freeway to the Northwest District Association’s role in stopping sainted Steve Jobs from building a modernist Apple store in the quaint mishmash of NW 23rd Avenue in 2006.

Last fall, a multimillion-dollar telecom found out what happens when hyperempowered Portland residents go on the warpath. Clearwire wanted to build a wireless Internet pole in Northeast’s Irvington neighborhood. Irvington’s 51-year-old Community Association said oh-no-you-don’t.

The Irvingtonians condemned the pole as a potential eyesore in a neighborhood that just last year became a National Historic District (yes, all of it). “They couldn’t even tell us how high the pole would be,” notes William Archer, the association president. He and his fellow activists enlisted an arborist, who concluded that construction would damage the neighborhood’s sumptuous oak trees. In letters, public meetings, and an association vote, the neighbors worried about the pole and its radiation—about cancer, headaches, anxiety, and other health problems.

No surprise, the project stalled. Irvington then quickly moved to the next battle. The new historic status sent city fees for renovations soaring, since ensuring compliance with new regulations requires more bureaucratic labor. But the Community Association argues that, soon, porches and roofs won’t get repaired or replaced due to the cost hikes. “The fees are outrageous,” he says.

Anyone care to bet who will prevail on this one?

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