As reported in the Metro Connection December e-newsletter
Oregon State University Extension staff will play a major role in creating a research-based guide that is intended to help urban communities across the nation address poverty, hunger, social justice issues and homelessness.
Patrick Proden, OSU O&E regional administrator for the Metro Region, and Stacey Sowders, 4-H Outreach Coordinator and Multnomah County leader for OSU Extension, will leverage their contribution to the Rural Community Issues Guide by extending their research to urban areas.
Population shifts to urban centers
When the Cooperative Extension Service was created, less than 20 percent of the nation’s population lived in urban environments. Now that number exceeds 80 percent, with a resulting increase in complex social and environmental issues such as:
- Distressed environment
- Degraded water quality
- Poor air quality
- Aging infrastructure
- Limited food access
- Unaffordable housing
- Diverse demographics*
*100 different languages are spoken in one school district in Portland, Oregon
Working in partnership with universities in Alaska, Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, OSU is leading the research-based effort in the Portland metro area. To gather community information, several methods will be employed: concern gathering sessions, surveys, even knocking on doors for face-to-face conversations. The most pressing and wicked challenges will be identified. As issues are named and framed, a guide will be developed to create additional deliberation and dialogue in communities throughout the states involved.
Conducting thorough research, though challenging, is essential to gathering accurate information. Walking through neighborhoods to talk with residents, reaching out to new partners, tapping traditional allies like the Oregon Food Bank, and working closely with arts and humanities organizations and local nonprofits will be utilized to reach a more varied audience.
OSU Extension staff will lead discussions to help communities define their problems and figure out what they need to address them. “People know what their burning issues are, but they don’t always know where to go to get the issues addressed,” said Proden. “The planned forums will help communities convene, identify leaders to hear concerns and work to make progress on the issues.” Naming and framing issues in this manner encourages citizen participation and breaks down barriers, turning personal vision into action.
To dig deep into a community’s challenges, questions asked by moderators during concern gathering sessions include: What concerns you about this issue? Given those concerns, what would you do about it? If that worked to ease your concern, what are the downsides or trade-offs you might then have to accept?
Opportunities for OSU Extension
Not only will the research effort help communities come together to identify common goals, OSU Extension also will identify service gaps where it makes sense to have Extension step in and offer the resources of OSU.
While conducting community discussions in September 2016 for the rural guide in Corbett, Oregon, a small town east of Portland where OSU Extension’s work is primarily centered on 4-H, residents indicated they wanted support for urban agriculture focused on markets, small businesses and mediation. With Extension’s considerable expertise in community agriculture, such as Master Gardeners, and personal development offerings such as financial literacy classes, Extension is poised to help the community address their community vitality priorities.
The Kettering Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching social issues and making democracy accessible to all people, will publish the urban communities issue guide. The Kettering Foundation believes democracy requires a community, or a society of citizens, that can work together. The foundation researches the way citizens face persistent problems in their communities. These problems, such as poverty, violence, and gaps in educational achievement, require citizens, communities, and institutions to work together to address them (source: Kettering Foundation website).
“People are disconnected from civic engagement and discourse,” said Proden, “which makes our efforts to engage all communities paramount. It’s all about having conversations which lead to action. At the same time we introduce democracy to people who may never before have had an opportunity to participate.
“Extension has an important role to play by helping build a transformative movement, with the goal of shaping new people-centered and community-centered policies based on the principles of equity and justice.” To learn more about the project, view Urban Communities Re-Imagined, presented by Patrick Proden and Dr. Angela Allan, University of Wisconsin-Extension.