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Why we need more than “partnerships” to change our world

June 26 2013

“Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

From Collective Impact models to Social Network Analysis, the word “partnership” has taken the main stage in promoting collaboration to solve our increasingly interconnected environmental, social and economic challenges.

Yet when Shane Endicott, founder of Our United Village and The ReBuilding Center, provided closing comments at June 18th’s Intertwine Conservation Education Summit, he reminded us that “partnerships” alone aren’t going to change our world.

Even within a coalition like The Intertwine Alliance – which exemplifies “partnership” by bringing private, public and nonprofit groups together – we can enter agreements with each other that represent varying goals, degrees of give-and-take, levels of authority and understanding of responsibilities. The word can even be used superficially; take that last-minute grant application where “partners” are solicited to demonstrate an ability to co-labor or align efforts with mission-related organizations.

But given the complex challenges we face today, solutions will require more than memorandums of understanding. If partnerships are truly to change our world, we need to think of them not as strategic alliances, but actual relationships. It is our relationships that make all the difference: kinship, connection, association – a higher level of commitment.

Take a moment to think about your relationships – with family, friends, and colleagues. The ones that work do so not because they are seamless or easy. They work because you've made a commitment to make them work. You may have vested interests, shared values or some inextricable force of nature that keeps you coming back for more. 

Consider the task force originally assembled when the No Oregon Child Left Inside Act passed in 2009. Although appointed members were required to serve for just ten months, to this day many continue to play a vital role in promoting and implementing our task force’s product, The Oregon Environmental Literacy Plan. We no longer have a requirement to work together, nor MOUs or letters of commitment. We keep showing up because, I like to think, we care not only about the work but about each other.  

At last week’s Conservation Education Summit, themed “partnership,” more than 90 attendees agreed on another scope of work  –  specifically, that our coalition needs to:

  • strengthen the network of 450+ conservation education providers across The Intertwine;
  • decrease competition for funds;
  • increase collaboration with a diversity of partners, and
  • focus on asset-based approaches to improve life in our communities.

But as we move to address these challenges, layers of complexity will unfold, revealing our varying goals, give-and-take, differing perspectives. To succeed, the most essential ingredient we’ll need will be finding the assets we have to share with our “partners,” and then following through, rain or shine.

Partnerships won’t change our world if all we do is sign an MOU’s dotted line. They will, however, make a difference if we commit to giving of ourselves. Identify your assets. Build relationships. Change the world.

A lasting relationship. LEFT: A young Charlie Hales at a Friends of Trees celebration. RIGHT: The future Mayor of Portland in 2001, planting a European Hornbeam -- the 144,000 tree planted for FoT''s Seed the Future campaign.


 Traci Price is a seasoned environmental educator, committed to ensuring all people have the opportunity to experience and steward our natural world. Traci spearheaded the No Oregon Child Left Inside (NOCLI) Act, coordinates statewide implementation of the Oregon Environmental Literacy Plan with The Gray Family Foundation, and serves as chair of The Intertwine's Conservation Education Leadership Council.

Money grows on trees

Don’t chop down a tree plan to spite its roots

June 13 2013

On June 2nd, The Oregonian Editorial Board published an op-ed titled "Portland's Cadillac Tree Plan." The editorial argues that the City’s newly adopted tree code is too expensive to implement, requires too much staff to administer, unduly restricts private property rights, and hey, since Portland already has a healthy and growing 29% citywide tree canopy, what's the big deal? The op-ed recommends instead that Portland City Council scrap the 2011 plan for one "that protects trees adequately without compromising private property rights unnecessarily -- and requires no additional hires."

Right-o. I completely agree. Let's roll up our sleeves and go back to the drawing board. After all, as the editorial implies, this is just another example of sneaky bureaucrats somehow squeaking through a program that nobody needs, wants, or likes.

Forget that the new code was adopted after 1000 hours of stakeholder invovlement, forging consensus between developers and environmentalists with 250 community meetings and 2 sets of open houses. Forget the plan’s unanimous approval by Portland's Urban Forestry Commission, City Council, and the Planning and Sustainability Commission.

Now, on to costs -- because we all know money doesn’t grow on trees. As the editorial points out, those same bureaucrats propose to fund this tree code by siphoning away $800,000 in primarily developers' money the first year, plus $600,000 each subsequent year. And to do what exactly? Add a measly 100 acres of new tree canopy per year?Portland Tree Asset Management report - turning canopy into a bondable asset.

Let's do some simple math. Portland's 2007 Urban Forest Canopy Assessment calculated the value of Portland's 24,811 acres of citywide tree canopy at over $4.9 billion -- making each acre of tree canopy worth over $197,000. That 100 acres a year from the new Portland tree code will increase the City’s assets by $20 million annually for a program that costs $600,000 annually to administer.

So obviously, implementing the tree code would just be a huge waste of money. And don't even get me started on the trampling of property rights -- those socialists down at City Hall thinking that we need their permission to cut our trees. Talk about Big Brother! And hey, while you’re downtown protesting this infringement, don't forget to follow up on that noise complaint for your neighbor's late night parties. And maybe get the City to do something about their tall weeds, and that inoperable vehicle up on blocks? (It's ruining the neighborhood, and violates City code.)

But the main point here, folks, is that the existing tree code is doing just fine. As the editorial says, Portland gained almost 2,400 acres of tree canopy between the years 2000 to 2010. So why consolidate and simplify the existing regulations, which are scattered like fall leaves across eight different titles of the Portland City Code? Why craft a code that will provide a more equitable distribution of tree canopy throughout the City? Why protect the City's existing tree canopy in light of the 132,000 new households expected in Portland by the year 2035? I say if the tree code ain't broke, don't fix it.

With that, Intertwiners, I hope I’ve made my point -- laid on thick with my East Coast sarcasm -- that the Oregonian Editorial Board's recommendation of scrapping Portland's new tree code is misguided. And here’s why, delivered straight:

  1. The new code has been extremely well-vetted, receiving broad support from developers to environmentalists;
  2. Two thirds of new program costs will be paid for by the development community that backed it;
  3. The code will result in a more equitable distribution of tree canopy, adding community value that goes beyond cost;
  4. It balances private property rights with a common environmental good; and lastly,
  5. It simplifies things, by consolidating eight titles into one.

As is the case with any new code, there will be some necessary tweaks after implementation, but this can and should be addressed through periodic review and evaluation. Let's not chop down a healthy tree plan before it has a chance to take root.

Tree-poor and tree-rich in Portland.

Left: SE 122nd and Division Street. Right: NE Glisan and Cesar Chavez Boulevard.


122 Division Inline image 2

Todd Prager lives in Lake Oswego and serves on the Lake Oswego Planning Commission. He is an ISA Certified Arborist and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He works with tree codes in Portland and throughout the region with his own consulting firm, Todd Prager & Associates.



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