(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
Last week in Portland, we were tasked with the beautification of the new property of an environmental justice organization – that is, cleaning up the litter that had collected on the previously unused land, and waging war on the murderous thorny brush that surrounded the building. Shannon suggested that we dig up the roots of the brambles, or else our prickly foes would continue to return.
It is important to tackle problems by their roots. This seems like a fairly obvious statement, but it is one that I sometimes struggle with in my work with Metro. It can be hard to see whether my reports written in the confines of a fluorescent-lit cubicle will benefit Oregon’s surrounding environment. My friend, returned from a summer teaching children in Uganda, told me that my program didn’t qualify as service, only an internship. After all, my summer has been, for the most part, spent in an air-conditioned office, removed from the places and people I am hoping to benefit.
Though environmental planning works several layers deeper than direct, on-the-ground service, it creates the systematic framework by which large-scale change can occur. Smart planning translates into sustainable, compact development translates into a healthier surrounding environment and community. Policy work may never be described as instant gratification, but without tackling the roots, we’ll never clear all the thorns. I’ve taped some photos of PNW natural beauty on my wall to remind myself of what I am working for.
With only two weeks left in the program, I’ve started to reflect on my Portland summer. This quirky, caffeine-addicted city is leaving a much larger impact on me than I am on it. I’ve become infinitely more aware of my personal environmental footprint, from my choice of food to conscientiousness toward recycling: something that is apparent, but easy to forget in day-to-day living. I hope to carry this awareness with me beyond Portland’s city limits, and also beyond myself, in pursuing a career digging out the systematic roots of environmental issues. I am also able to confirm that the West Coast is truly the best coast.
“That is well said, but we must cultivate our garden.” -Voltaire