By Mischa S. Webley, NECN Staff Writer
Mariah grew up in Eugene, Oregon and spent several years in California, Texas, and elsewhere before landing back in Oregon five years ago with her husband and two kids. Since laying down roots in Portland, she has cultivated what her husband jokingly calls a “volunteer problem” as an active member of the Alameda Neighborhood Association and, now, as the chair of NECN’s board. In that position, she is leveraging her passion for local politics and community organizing to broaden NECN’s reach and position it for the future.
How did you get involved with NECN?
NECN does [a lot of] advocacy and that’s a real passion of mine, and I thought through NECN I might be able to make a bigger impact. [It] was attractive to me to see an effective organization that’s advocating not just for individual neighbors or concerns but for more comprehensive issues around density and thoughtful planning, not just on a neighborhood level but a city level, too.
What opportunities do you see with NECN?
We have a really engaged board with a lot of talent and that’s something I’d like to draw on. Also, one of the things I love to see is leadership through our communities. It’s our job to reach out and connect people and also look for that broader audience so we’re not just [a group of] people who all look alike but that we really represent our community better.
I think that’s where NECN has been a leader in terms of engaging local nonprofits and groups of neighbors on advocacy and also around livability issues such as housing and the affordability crisis here. So going forward I see NECN as a kind of convener.
What’s one of the strengths of the neighborhood system?
The first is we can provide a voice for grassroots folks. It’s a more accessible way to talk to city hall than almost any other. It’s a system with fewer filters and I like that. It also makes it messy. You get grievances you deal with but it’s that small stuff that comes up that matters to people and just wouldn’t make it through the city process otherwise.
But also one of the places where the neighborhood system is succeeding is around environmental and livability issues that are bigger than our neighborhoods and sometimes even our city.
In terms of place-based representation, I think it’s really valuable that way. There would be no other avenue for a neighbor aside from just their individual opinion to bring that concern forward and say ‘this is what it means for me,’ and to talk as 60,000 people instead of 1 or 2 neighbors.
What does the future look like?
I’m hopeful for the future of our city and our neighborhood and our neighborhood coalitions. I think there’s value in it and we need to continue to demonstrate it. We’ve built something that can be pretty great here, especially when it’s accessed by more and more people. Portland’s going to go through cycles of downturn and there will be even more value in having organizations so strong in neighborhood when there are those hard times.