Drawing on the themes and scholarly approaches of the Environmental Studies Program, students and faculty wove together a powerful keynote event for the Environmental Studies Symposium. The Symposium’s title this year, “Environmental Engagement in Tough Times,” illustrates the central goal of the symposium – fostering genuine, productive engagement during a time of significant conflict. The keynote examined a local topic that is often a focal point of conflict, “Growth in Portland: Whose Livability?,” while providing a framework for thoughtful interaction and engagement with the ideas of both panelists and participants.
Driven by students in a course entitled Environmental Engagement in Spring of 2017, the structure of the keynote was directed away from the single-speaker format of previous years and toward a central multi-member panel discussion alongside a wider conversation incorporating the ideas of audience members. Students presented a set of poster boards where audience members left their questions about the talk, facilitated discussions within the audience for participants to connect the ideas of the panel discussion to their ideas about places they’ve been and changes they’ve seen, and structured the event to bring these ideas back to the panel members.
The topic of the keynote, growth in Portland, sparked a variety of responses from the panel and the many local attendees with different stances on Portland’s comprehensive 20-year development plan. Environmental studies faculty and students worked together to identify this topic and invite speakers who could speak to a variety of perspectives. As Chief Planner of the Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability, panelist Joe Zehnder was able to provide some of the background behind Portland’s balance of in-fill development with preservation of existing neighborhoods. He explained that Portland is projected to grow by about 30% by 2035 and that therefore many of the decisions are based on addressing the underlying challenges of a growing city.
Panelists presented contrasting views of the causes of problems driven either by this growth or Portland’s planning. Kristiana Nelson, Vice President of the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association, cited increasing housing development as a primary driver of prices and argued that current homeowners’ voices are being undervalued. Maggie Tallmadge, Environmental Justice Manager of Coalition of Communities of Color, emphasized how the influence of zoning exacerbates existing inequalities and locks in previous incentives. Madeline Kovacs, Program Coordinator of Portland for Everyone, focused on the importance of increasing housing density to make more it more affordable and accessible for residents.
Oregon Humanities partnered with Lewis & Clark College in hosting this keynote discussion, with executive director Adam Davis providing additional structure for the event. He brought panelists together before the event, and during the keynote he hosted the panel discussion, voicing some of the contrasts and ideas he observed during the discussion. Students invited the audience to discuss how these issues resonate with both Portland and other cities they’ve experienced, and some later wrote about finding value in this discussion process. In an Environmental Symposium Reflection, Alannah Balfour ’19 noted that it introduced a more nuanced framework for urban housing and that the smaller group discussions helped to ground the conversation.
This keynote event demonstrated the Environmental Studies Program’s emphasis on engagement: involving a diverse array of groups, providing a civil structure for discussion, encouraging additional thoughtful communal discussions in the future. Some of the students who helped organize the Symposium considered the many elements tied together in this single event. In “Growing Pains: Issues of Equity in Portland,” Nicole Godbout ’20 looked back on what worked in the keynote and looked ahead to what lessons could be used to further develop projects for the Symposium’s work to continue throughout the year. This continuing commitment to engagement works toward bridging the scholarship at Lewis & Clark with larger communities around us.