Urban Rural Connection Project
Communities across Oregon are facing a host of challenges that impact their ability to thrive. Whether it is under sourced educational systems, limited housing options, diminished economies, and/or limited access to complete and affordable health care, urban and rural communities are suffering under a wide range of systemic problems. While every community in Oregon has challenges and opportunities, changing demographics demonstrated through growing urban centers and declining rural populations amplify differences in communities. A perceived “urban/rural” divide of values, resources and opportunities persists and feels like it continues to grow. ALF Oregon launched the Urban Rural Connection Project (the “Project”) in August 2017 to document and explore this division, seeking connections between communities. The project, consisting of two phases, is also an opportunity to engage Senior Fellows to work together across classes and with other experienced leaders to be in service to Oregon.
The Project began with six meetings, called Regional Dialogues, in six regions in Oregon (Salem/Willamette Valley Area, Coastal Region, Southern Oregon, Central Oregon, Eastern Oregon, Portland Metro Area) over six months between January and June 2018. With assistance from the project manager, thirteen Senior Fellows planned, led and facilitated each of the Regional Dialogues. Serving in a volunteer capacity, this cohort consisted of Senior Fellows representing classes ranging from 1 to 32 and urban, rural, and suburban perspectives. They were diverse in their ethnicity, life perspectives, and professions, consisting of working and retired professionals from the non-profit, corporate, and public sectors, including elected officers.
They worked with the project manager to attract Senior Fellows and other experienced leaders that represented different cultures, identities, professions, perspectives, genders, and geographies to each Regional Dialogue. Between 30-45 attendees, called “Regional Participants,” joined each Dialogue. The Dialogues were a place for these leaders to work in collaboration to identify the differences that exist in Oregon between urban, suburban, and rural communities as well as key bridging opportunities. Cohort members identified limitations of centering the dialogue with leaders, many who held the power and privileges that come with leadership. However, since ALF Oregon’s mission “is to join and strengthen leaders in order to better serve the public good,” the Cohort recognized that doing this analysis with leaders aligned with the organization’s mission and strengths.
Each Dialogue asked the Regional Participants to explore their own and other participants’ realities by defining and describing the urban/rural divide in their own words and by naming the biggest challenges in their own community. Participants also shared their personal stories, hopes for Oregon, and stories of successful tactics implemented to address community issues.
The full report will be available in May.
Urban Rural Connection Project Cohort for Phase I
From left to right, back row: Tom Fuller, Class 1, Project Manager, Shiels Obletz Johnsen; Danny Santos, Class 7, Retired Willamette Law Associate Dean & Governors' Policy Advisor & Legal Counsel and that evening’s Guest Speaker; Steve Schulz, Class 32, Executive Director, Cycle Oregon; Kelly Poe, Class 30, Director of Community Based Services, Malheur Education Service District; Jake Gibbs, Class 28, President & CEO, Starker Forests; County Commissioner Simon Hare, Class 28, County Commissioner, Josephine County; Cliff Jones, Facilitation Trainer.
Left to right, front row: Connie Saldana, Class 19, Planner, Rogue Valley Council of Governments ; Senator Margaret Carter, Class 2, President, Margaret Carter & Associates; Valeria Hysong, Class 29, Inmate Work Program Coordinator, Department of Corrections; Senator Susan Castillo, Class 16, Vice President, West Region, Project Lead the Way; Kristin Steele, Class 32, Fundraising Consultant, Swaim Strategies; Vicki Nakashima, Class 13, Volunteer, nonprofits, City of Portland, higher education, golf; Charles "Chuck" Hudson, Class 25, Intergovernmental Affairs Director, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins, Class 27, County Commissioner, Coos County; Mariana Lindsay, Urban Rural Connection Project Coordinator (now, part-time Project Liaison).
Urban Rural Connection Project, Phase 2
Upon completion of the Regional Dialogues, the Cohort was tasked with identifying 2-3 issues, or “Priority Issues,” that volunteer cohorts, “Priority Issue Committees,” could make meaningful contributions toward, advancing solutions for the Project’s second phase.
Oregon boasts a population of over 4 million people living across nearly a hundred thousand square miles. The thirteen diverse members of the Cohort traveled across the six regions in six months and facilitated dialogues with some two hundred leaders. This numerical review gives a critical understanding of the intentional, but imperfect method of identifying the Project’s three Priority Issues. The Cohort was clear that an exhaustive analysis of Oregon’s priorities was impossible given the diversity of perspectives and the limited sample size of the leaders they met during their travels. The Project was ambitious in its desire to better understand and unite Oregonians. The Cohort gathered as many perspectives as possible, looking for these dialogues to serve as a shared tool to demystify the urban-rural divide and to better understand how to support Oregonians across the state.
During each Regional Dialogue, the Cohort led as facilitators and note takers giving Cohort members the opportunity to contemplate the issues being identified as well as if the issues were more regionally specific or were being experienced across regions. The Dialogues were also recorded for later analysis, which will be discussed in the full report to be released in May.
Immediately following each Regional Dialogue, the Cohort met for 2-3 hours to reflect on and process the issues shared during the Dialogue. This practice created the opportunity to focus on each region as opposed to waiting until the Project’s completion to contemplate and identify the issues and themes that arose, how they were similar and different to previous Dialogues.
Prior to the Cohort’s final meeting to discuss themes and challenges they heard across Oregon and to select the Priority Issues for the Project’s second phase, the Cohort members individually developed priorities based on their individual notes and experiences. They used the following questions to select the priorities they heard statewide:
During the two-day retreat, the Seeds for Change Consensus Decision Making Model was used to create consensus among the Cohort. The Cohort identified three Priority Issues, described below, that were critical to multiple regions across Oregon and that aligned with the mission and resources of ALF Oregon. With each Priority Issue, the intention is to let each Committee determine how and where they focus their efforts. The full report and the products of the Committees could potentially serve as a resource for future ALF Oregon volunteer projects.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Oregon has a blatant history of racism including orchestrating the violent oppression of communities of color in the state constitution, policies and actions. Discrimination came up in each Dialogue as something experienced as a part of life for many. The Cohort felt that the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in leadership, policymaking, and business impact all levels of decision-making and policies. Changing demographics and the growing understanding of the prevalence of painful experiences directed at non-white populations because they were non-white people implore a sense of urgency to the issue.
The Cohort selected Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as a Priority Issue because they wanted the next phase of the Urban Rural Connection Project to tap into ALF Oregon’s strengths of convening and training leaders to contribute to advancing our state to one of diverse leadership, inclusive spaces and decisions rooted in equitable processes and outcomes.
Broadband Connection: Access to High-Speed, Reliable Internet
Lack of access to broadband impacts economic growth, educational opportunities, healthcare access, communities' ability to connect with one another as well as to connect with opportunities outside of their region. Throughout the Cohort’s travels they heard about communities and individuals struggling because of lacking infrastructure and services, directly and indirectly impacted by lack of fast, reliable Internet speeds.
This is not just an issue of geography, but economic privilege and institutions determining access to services. There is meaningful political and financial support behind broadband infrastructure expansion at the local, state and federal level. The Cohort believed that a Priority Issue Committee’s focus and connections could further identify the culprits (cost, speed, accessibility) to help with broadband expansion where needed. Whether across the state, in a specific region, or even how, the Cohort left those decisions unprescribed for the Priority Issue Committee to determine. The notion is that expanded Internet service will one day be offered across Oregon, but can our leadership speed the process in some way.
Land Use Planning: Decisions Made Without All Voices
Each region was affected by how land is utilized and who made the utilization decisions. As a state reliant on and known for its natural resource abundance, communities are significantly affected by management decisions regulating natural resource extraction industries and public land reserved for conservation and recreational purposes. State land use laws are recognized by some to promote development in town and city centers preserving undeveloped land for agriculture, conservation, and recreation. Others identify these same laws as constraints on the creation of housing for middle-income households and economic development. Rural economies can be more directly impacted by these decisions, since population density is less and therefore those communities utilize land as a greater percentage of their economic infrastructure. However, many policy decisions happen in urban centers at the state and federal level, so there is tension across regions that communities most affected are not at the decision-making tables. Many individuals feel unheard, ignored, or both.
The Cohort recognized the magnitude of this issue and attempted to reflect on many of its complexities but did not want the scope of the problems to prevent ALF Oregon’s engagement on the issue. The Cohort recognized the divisiveness of this issue and how central it is to the divide between urban and rural communities. The Cohort saw this as an issue to wade into further, seek more explanations, and perhaps find examples of how urban policymakers and rural communities have productively connected around this issue to serve as a model for future decision-making.
The second phase of the Urban Rural Connection Project will tap Senior Fellows, Regional Dialogue participants and other experienced leaders to come together to work towards solutions on one of three Priority Issue committees. Each committee will be tasked with diving deeper into its issue and developing community based solutions that can be implemented over a timeframe from May – December 2019.
The goal is not to solve these problems but advance solutions. Think of each committee as an injection of time, expertise, and leadership into one challenge facing Oregon communities everyday. Committees may choose to focus on one community, a region, or across Oregon.
Our intentions at the completion of the Project is to:
Better understand how the divide is defined, how it impacts communities, and how we might re-focus the broader dialogue to what connects us, instead of what divides us.
Synthesize the Project’s findings for distribution to Senior Fellows, Regional Participants, partners, funders and the larger civic leadership community. The urban-rural divide is exasperated by a lack of understanding of the barriers and opportunities in diverse geographic communities. By sharing the Project’s findings, we aim to foster greater collaboration and understanding across geographic divides.
Historically, each ALF Class (about 20 Fellows) has taken on a Project to address a problem facing Oregon. Since 1985, Oregon's urban-rural divide has been a part of every class and feels like it has continued not to shrink, but to grow. By creating three Priority Issue Committees, ALF Oregon looks to widen Fellows' ALF identity past the affinity to their individual Class into an identity rooted in the collective power of the 700+ Senior Fellow network along with the Regional Participants who joined the Regional Dialogues to work towards solutions for each of the Priority Issues. Envision with us, expanded ALF Projects with committed expertise, time, and leadership.
Questions? Please contact Kelley Whitmore, firstname.lastname@example.org or 503.636-2288
A very hearty thank you to Meyer Memorial Trust, Ford Family Foundation and the Oregon Community Foundation (especially: Max Williams, Class 30 and Kathleen Cornett, Class 9) for granting the funding and support to make this work possible.