When we moved to Oak Grove, we moved to a unique area in Oregon. The Oak Grove – Jennnings Lodge – North Clackamas community is the largest, most urban non-incorporated area in the state. If we were to form a city, it would contain a population of 36,000, spread over a relatively wide space.
A local citizen committee has been exploring the possibility of incorporating the area, or of annexing one or more sections to existing cities. Last night the committee held a community meeting. Kris and I attended.
I was surprised at the number of people present. When I was on the city of Canby’s budget committee, we rarely had more than five people attend our sessions. Last night, about 150 citizens met to discuss the area’s future. After half an hour of mind-numbing (and pointless) government-speak, we broke into small groups to decide what we want from the future.
In some respects, what we want depends on our age, and on how long we’ve lived here. The older people, especially long-time residents, are opposed to incorporation, and especially to annexation. Younger people, and new residents, are more eager to create a new city. (This delineation isn’t strictly correct; I favor the status quo.)
Among those in my small group were three older men, all long-time residents. To hear them talk, there’s a push to incorporate the Oak Grove – Jennings Lodge area once every twenty years or so. There are also frequent incursions from METRO and other government agencies attempting to exercise greater control over the area. It seems that a large, populous unincorporated area is enticing for some entities; they see it as a potential power base.
These three men — and others at the table — provided a bit of perspective on the entire neighborhood. I asked about a hypothetical bridge from Oak Grove Boulevard to Lake Oswego, and they laughed and shook their heads. It’s a topic that’s been discussed ad nauseam for decades. I asked why the schools in the area are part of the Oregon City school district. They laughed and shook their heads. They explained that River Road used to be 99E before the advent of the Superhighway. They talked about the origin of the area’s redwoods (about which I was already aware, but I humored them by nodding, listening, and asking questions).
Judging from the mood of the room, it seems unlikely that the push to incorporate will succeed. Informal polling indicated that most of the small groups were opposed to creating a new city by about a two-to-one margin. (There were some small groups that broke evenly, however.)
The opposition argument can be summarized thusly: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There is no reason to change, so why do it? If the area is threatened by some outside force — by METRO or by government legislation — then more people would be in favor of incorporation.
I don’t understand why citizens want to sacrifice the uniqueness of the areas in which they live. In Canby, there seemed to be a relentless drive to become more like Wilsonville or Tualatin, to become a bedroom community for Portland, complete with all the strip malls and expanded housing this entails. In the past decade, we watched the town shed its identity as a farming community to become a characterless cookie-cutter suburb.
Oak Grove and the surrounding communities are unique. We already have the strip malls and expanded housing that Canby so desperately desires, but we’re an unincorporated area. This gives us some freedoms that city dwellers do not have. This uniqueness is important, and ought to be celebrated rather than discarded.
(Rumor has it that more on this subject will appear later today at Clackblog. Also: if you’re from the Oak Grove area and looking for some history on this subject, please read The Story of a Neighborhood That Fought METRO. Also, writing this reminds me that I’ve never finished my lengthy “History of Oak Grove” entry. Maybe I’ll post what I’ve got and finish it later…)