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We are disabled by the built environment
August 2, 2014 9:21 AM   Subscribe

City resources are lavished on gentrification and bicycle infrastructure, but few are invested in our public transit system and structures that support working class people (whom are disproportionately people with disabilities and QTPOC). Fares have gone up, incentives to park and ride have phased out, and there are endless stories of transit cops harassing riders. Bus routes run infrequently enough to be standing room only in my part of town.
While Portland, Oregon prides itself on its progressive bicycle policies Rory Judah Blank's experiences show it's far less progressive when it comes to helping people with disabilities.
posted by MartinWisse (102 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I requested a reasonable accommodation my landlord said, flat-out, “No,” and the law says he’s right to.

Does anyone know what law the writer is referring to here? I'm thinking this must have to do with a local ordinance (or the lack of a local ordinance), since I'm familiar with relatively similar housing accommodations (such as landlords in SF being required to allow tenants to keep service animals) being regulated at the local level. I'm also wondering if there is any regulatory body (environmental health? HUD? I honestly don't know) who he can appeal to about this, because it's bizarre. But I don't know much about the subject, so if anyone else knows more, please share?

Under the new rules, those of us with physical disabilities who don’t use wheelchairs must pay the same as able-bodied people: $200+ per month for someone like me who works downtown.

This is also bizarre and I'm aghast that there isn't at the least some kind of appeals process for non-wheelchair-users to get parking relief. It's not as though using a wheelchair is some bright line anyway, lots of people use them as needed and not necessarily constantly, so I'm not even understanding what the line between the placard-holding group that's "still metering exempt" and placard-holding group that's "no longer metering-exempt" is even supposed to be? Does anyone understand the thinking behind these new rules -- why are wheelchair users still exempt from metering but other people with parking placards aren't?

(And how much wheelchair use is required for a person to qualify as a wheelchair user anyway? Health and mobility are so variable, I can't really understand how you'd quantify it in a really bright line way. Which is why placards go to people with physical disabilities who may or may not currently be wheelchair users, I thought? I mean, I'd thought that you got a placard based on having mobility that's limited somehow in the first place, so it seems strange to me that now there would be a subgroup within that placard-holding group who is defined as using a specific mobility device -- why would there need to be a "specific-mobility-device" subgroup within the already defined "limited-mobility-so-needs-a-placard" group?).

This is also crying out for a grant or charitable program in the meantime, to pay a monthly parking stipend for people with placards but who are now subject to metering. Does anyone know how other orgs are responding?
posted by rue72 at 10:07 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


Ugh. This is where she lost me...

City resources are lavished on gentrification and bicycle infrastructure, but few are invested in our public transit system and structures that support working class people (whom are disproportionately people with disabilities and QTPOC).

PDX has more public transit options than any city I've ever seen especially given it's size. A 30 day pass for a disabled person is $26 and covers all of their public transit options, which are abundant.
posted by docpops at 10:16 AM on August 2 [6 favorites]


Not only that, but the city does not fund trimet. The city can dump all the money it likes into its gentrification and cultural appropriation fund because it can't pay for a bus line.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:20 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


@docpops:

This may be true, but if buses are crowded and infrequent, accessible housing is hard to find, and the built environment is hard to get around, it doesn't do disabled people any favors.

I recently visited Portland, and biked and bused everywhere, it was great. But I did not have to experience the city from a disabled person's perspective, which I can only imagine makes things far more challenging.
posted by 4midori at 10:22 AM on August 2 [6 favorites]


buses are crowded and infrequent

I lived in Portland for ten years. If the buses in Portland count as "crowded and infrequent", I shudder to think how one might describe the buses in literally any other place in the country. The public transit system in Portland is miles ahead of any other place I've lived.

Many of the other criticisms ring true - gentrification in North Portland has been an issue as long as I've been alive - but I also nearly dismissed the entire piece based on that criticism.
posted by dialetheia at 10:25 AM on August 2 [6 favorites]


There is a concern here in Chicago that the bike lane expansion is a diversionary tactic meant to placate people into forgetting how much of our major infrastructure is crumbling.

As for bus lines being crowded and infrequent, I'd imagine like other places, some bus lines are OK are others are bad. In Chicago the buses that go to my neighborhood like the #66 and #9 are pretty good, but in other parts of the city some buses I would say are absolutely critical links in infrastructure, such as the #15 bus that connects the EL to Hyde Park, absolutely don't come enough and when they do you often can't even get on them.
posted by melissam at 10:29 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


How crowded and infrequent a transit system is depends entirely on where and when you access it. In my city, students routinely get left at their stops because the giant, double-decker buses to the university are standing-room only, while the little buses that service the old, rich white part of town are always completely empty.

One's experience as a tourist or user of a lightly-used route is meaningless to the everyday lived reality of a disabled person on an underserviced route.
posted by klanawa at 10:30 AM on August 2 [28 favorites]


But of course it can be both true that Portland has great public transport compared to other US cities and is still crappy for many people.

In the same way, the usefulness of public transport can also depend a lot of the routes you need to take and the times you need to take them on.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:31 AM on August 2 [8 favorites]


I lived in Portland for ten years. If the buses in Portland count as "crowded and infrequent", I shudder to think how one might describe the buses in literally any other place in the country. The public transit system in Portland is miles ahead of any other place I've lived.

You should probably note that they mention living in Oakland prior to moving to Portland and relying on public transit there. They have some sense of scale in terms of public transit. (That said, I think the Bay Area is known for being disability-friendly.)
posted by hoyland at 10:32 AM on August 2


I’d ride my bike to work (I have a sweet red step-through with a sparkly gold helmet), but our lease requires storing bikes in the basement, and that’s too physically difficult for me. When I requested a reasonable accommodation my landlord said, flat-out, “No,” and the law says he’s right to.

This is flat-out wrong. The Fair Housing Council Of Oregon website has this PDF which outlines exactly what a tenant should do when requesting a reasonable accommodation, and it outlines exactly when such a request can be denied. It also outlines what a tenant should do when such a request has been denied. There is nothing about the request to store a bicycle someplace on a property that is not the basement which fits the guidelines outlined in this document.
posted by hippybear at 10:41 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Ugh. This is where she lost me...

City resources are lavished on gentrification and bicycle infrastructure, but few are invested in our public transit system and structures that support working class people (whom are disproportionately people with disabilities and QTPOC).


I thought you were going to say she lost you because of the incorrect use of "whom" - which is what jumped out in the FPP.

If Portland is bad, she should see LA.
posted by VikingSword at 10:45 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


I won't litigate the TriMet thing except to say that I rode the buses in their neighborhood daily, so it's not a route thing. I did check that before commenting.

My real problem with the public transit aspect of this piece is that they present it as if adding bike infrastructure is a direct trade-off with public transit investment, but that isn't true at all - TriMet is funded by federal grants and payroll taxes, not by the city.
posted by dialetheia at 10:47 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


If Portland is bad, she should see LA.

Or most other major cities. Or small towns. Or the bottom of the ocean. Or the surface of the moon. Or the depths or darkest space.

If anyone was unclear on the fact that a thing in one place can be worse in another place, I hope that helps in clarifying.
posted by griphus at 10:53 AM on August 2 [19 favorites]


Being that Portland is currently the Town That Can Do No Wrong in planning circles, with pundits falling over themselves in praising it, I enjoy reading conterpoints. However, this seems less an indictment of Portland than about how it generally sucks to be marginalized.

Regarding the transit/bike lane thing I'm a planner myself and I find that people's understanding of how systems are funded and how they perform relative to other places is fantastically poor - people rate something based on their expectations rather than the absolute functionality of the system. I hear people complain about a bus being 'unecceptably crowded' when there are no seats left. Similarly, the standards which governments have are cultural and relative despite the insistence that they are put in place to meet minimum safety standards. I lived in Barcelona for a while and I can say that it was an awesome transit system - but at times the trains and buses were so packed that you were compressed by the crush of people; capacity which was safe and yet which would never fly where I live.

Generally I find that talking to people with specific and relatively rare or unique conditions and trying to work with them to meet their specific needs is the way to go in these situations. Spending public money to increase curb cuts is a good long-term goal, but it's expensive. Good government and good social support would spend smart money with stopgap social programs to find the best solution for individuals with these specific needs, including subsidizing parking. But, good luck with that.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:58 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


There is a concern here in Chicago that the bike lane expansion is a diversionary tactic meant to placate people into forgetting how much of our major infrastructure is crumbling.

Of course it is, paint is really fucking cheap. Cycling infrastracture is rarely meaningful or well thought out, most cities just slap some paint down on the routes people already use and put up a few signs and call it a day. There are no real standards for these things, because the engineers at the transportation agencies can't/refuse to fit their car-centric design models to anything but speeding hunks of metal. I haven't ridden in Portland, but most bike lanes in the bay area are death traps sandwiched between high speed traffic and the door zone, and if you ever do take the lane for your own safety all the drivers get aggro because "gosh we gave you a bike lane and here you are in MY LANE again".

I was amazed recently when I read in the paper here in SF that the bike coalition fought long and hard for like 1% of the existing transit budget - enough for the city to make claims that they had "quadrupled" the bike-lane miles and added "world class" facilities. This is much easier than fixing the disastrous track record of Muni or committing to projects that would make a real difference (upgrading the central core of BART, a bike lane across the bay bridge...).

Imagine how crowded the bus lines would be if all the people cycling were on them. It's a cheap band aid.
posted by bradbane at 11:03 AM on August 2 [6 favorites]


However, this seems less an indictment of Portland than about how it generally sucks to be marginalized.

Those aren't exclusive things, though... If Portland historically has been extremely willing to let the burden fall on black communities when building hospitals and commuter infrastructure, as the article would seem to claim, that's both a depiction of how it sucks to be marginalized and also an indictment of Portland. The same goes if the city is burdening disabled citizens in the manners described.
posted by XMLicious at 11:09 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]


and if you ever do take the lane for your own safety all the drivers get aggro because "gosh we gave you a bike lane and here you are in MY LANE again"

Yes this bothers me. I ride ~20km round trip to work every day all year round, and have had much experience with this as the bike lanes pop up in my city. I explain to people that this is why I don't always enjoy bike lanes; it segregates, and yet bicycles are supposed to follow the rules of the road as if they were a car. I simply cannot behave like a car, however, and not be subjected to abuse. If I take the lane I get yelled at (and which I try to ignore). If I white line on the inside or between a turn and through lane, I often get the same. I'm a very confident, good bike handler. I can't imagine what it's like for someone with lesser confidence or skills.

I sit on a regional bike/pedestrian advisory board and have been pushing for policy statements that recognize bikes as being unique. It often makes sense to do the Idaho stop on a bike, for instance, even though it's illegal. We need to treat bikes as bikes.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:12 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Related: Suburban sprawl and bad transit can crush opportunity for the poor. Includes this interesting tidbit:
The point is that not all public transit is created equal, especially when it comes to serving poorer residents. Washington, DC, for example, found that in 2009 its rail riders had a median income of $102,000, compared to around $69,000 for its bus riders. Likewise, the median income for an LA bus rider as of 2012 was around $14,400, compared to $26,200 for rail riders.
The article uses these stats to illustrate that poor people are more likely to take the bus than the train. But it's a much more striking illustration of who uses transit in LA versus DC. The median DC riders for both modes have four times the income of their LA counterparts! Clearly no one in LA uses transit if they can afford a car.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:15 AM on August 2 [5 favorites]


I'm interested by the "cars with handicapped placards can (could) park free for as long as they want" concept. (Here there are very few handicapped street parking spots in metered areas, and they are paid.)

It seems to make a lot of sense, with even more abuse potential than the placards already have. (Which is to say, people borrowing ones from family members when they don't need them.)
posted by jeather at 11:17 AM on August 2


Seattle is the same fucking way. We're bending over backwards to encourage developers to build giant multi-unit buildings, but have weak laws about forcing them to build parking and meanwhile, we're cutting transit left and right.

I think in general, the fact that cities have become more attractive to live in means a rise in density, but the general American habit of voting down any tax at all has meant very little advancement in transit infrastructure.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:20 AM on August 2 [7 favorites]


Those aren't exclusive things, though...

I never said they were. And I didn't say that Portland hasn't done some shitty things. But has Portland done uniquely shitty things? Do they have worse policies in place than other places?

These problems and the mechanisms behind them can often get conflated to the point where it's convenient to say 'Portland hates black people' when that might not really be true. Tearing down houses and building condos happens everywhere, and there's only so much a city can do about that if it's legal to do so based on current regulations. It's often not in their control - you may as well just blame capitalism. It's easy to blame 'the city' but if a developer buys land and the zoning allows it, up go townhouses. I will say that higher density often gets sold as 'affordable' and yet it turns out to be very expensive. Nevertheless, the successes of places often push the poor out. It's true everywhere.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:22 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm happy to see that the consensus here seems to be that the whining disabled person doesn't appreciate what a great city Portland is. MeFi is really progressive right up until it's suddenly not. Which usually is about when it exits educated, middle-class able-bodied white person territory.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:24 AM on August 2 [25 favorites]


Ivan, where did anyone say that?
posted by jimmythefish at 11:27 AM on August 2


I'm pretty sure that the comments in this thread don't match your opinion of the comments.
posted by hippybear at 11:28 AM on August 2 [8 favorites]


I also nearly dismissed the entire piece based on that criticism.

Unless you too are disabled, that's pretty much the definition of privileged behavior. "They said one thing I disagree with? None of their complaints are valid!"

It's a pretty crappy behavior, and you might want to reconsider it.
posted by maxsparber at 11:29 AM on August 2 [13 favorites]


What a great article. I know people this part hits home for someone I know:

US language around disability centers the individual: we say a person “has a disability.” Disability rights activists in the UK, however, frame it differently. They recognize that people with disabilities are not disabled by impairments. We are disabled by the built environment and a capitalist society that excludes and exploits some while enabling others.

posted by cellphone at 11:34 AM on August 2 [19 favorites]


"Here are the numerous ways that I, a multiply-marginalized person, have a difficulty with certain parts of the infrastructure in ways which may be invisible to others."

"I dunno, I haven't seen any of these invisible difficulties, I think you're exaggerating."
posted by griphus at 11:35 AM on August 2 [18 favorites]


Cycling infrastracture is rarely meaningful or well thought out, most cities just slap some paint down on the routes people already use and put up a few signs and call it a day.

Yep, and then it makes the problem even worse, as many cycling advocates then become against bike lanes, seeing them as a way to marginalize cyclists and exclude them from space in the larger road system.

I have friends who are professional messengers who are extremely against them despite being walking testaments for how dangerous cycling on roads here is (missing teeth, scars, metal holding their bones together etc.). They've never experienced a functional bike-lane system like Amsterdam's or Copenhagen's, so they assume bike lanes are synonymous with painted-on travesties.
posted by melissam at 11:40 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Maybe everyone could stop scolding everyone else and instead just talk about what they want to talk about about the post?

Being that Portland is currently the Town That Can Do No Wrong in planning circles, with pundits falling over themselves in praising it, I enjoy reading conterpoints. However, this seems less an indictment of Portland than about how it generally sucks to be marginalized.

I think this is right on the money. The reminder that Portland is, you know, actually still part of the US, not some magical progressive wonderland, is always well-taken — the fairly shitty race politics of the city, especially, is an issue that tends to get swept under the rug by the Portlandia yuppie-utopia stereotype — but the bulk of this blog post really is complaining about stuff that would be far worse almost anywhere else in the country (e.g. public transit). Of course this doesn't mean it's at all unreasonable to complain about that stuff, it just makes the Portlandia myth-busting framing seem kind of off base and the piece as a whole seem a little lacking in perspective.
posted by RogerB at 11:40 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]


This hits me very hard and it's quite difficult for me to be dispassionate about it. So I'll try and put my criticism in terms that I hope people will understand.

Think about this like an article written by a woman about sexism in what is otherwise a pretty progressive environment. Or by a person of color. Or LGBT. Whatever. Now imagine that the majority of the responses here -- by people who are men, or white, or cisgendered/straight -- are nitpicking the writer's complaints; being defensive about the criticisms because, hey, that progressive institution/community/city/whatever should be getting credit for what they do right; expressing distrust of the writer and the entire argument on the basis of the nitpicking; and just generally not listening to what the writer has to say.

Because that happens quite a bit, even here, except that with some issues this is recognized for what it is and it's only a minority of folk who refuse to see these things through anything other than the lens of their privilege.

Except in this case, not.

"Of course this doesn't mean it's at all unreasonable to complain about that stuff, it just makes the Portlandia myth-busting framing seem kind of off base and the piece as a whole seem a little lacking in perspective."

Oh, please, provide those of with disabilities the perspective we so clearly lack.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:45 AM on August 2 [16 favorites]


But has Portland done uniquely shitty things?

It's perfectly appropriate to indict Portland for doing common shitty things, in fact it would be inappropriate to absolve Portland of fault or any other community or person simply because the shitty things they do are common.

Shrugging and saying "Welp, it's legal... nuthin' you're gonna do about it" when black people or poor people or disabled people get shit on is pretty craven, actually. Whether it's unique to do so or not. (Hint: it isn't. It doesn't add anything to the conversation or respond to anything the author is saying to point these things out. No one reading this is unaware that most methods of horrendous unconscionable discrimination are perfectly legal and that more legal protections against discrimination are getting stripped away every year.)
posted by XMLicious at 11:48 AM on August 2 [8 favorites]


They recognize that people with disabilities are not disabled by impairments. We are disabled by the built environment and a capitalist society that excludes and exploits some while enabling others.

I just find this statement totally nonsensical. Is the writer suggesting that living in the wild or some non-capitalist society they would not be similarly disadvantaged?

In a lot of earlier societies they would probably be dead. is that not significant?
posted by mary8nne at 11:51 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


They recognize that people with disabilities are not disabled by impairments. We are disabled by the built environment and a capitalist society that excludes and exploits some while enabling others.

I think the writer is suggesting that modern society can do a better job of providing equal access to basic infrastructure.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:56 AM on August 2 [8 favorites]


MeFi is really progressive right up until it's suddenly not. Which usually is about when it exits educated, middle-class able-bodied white person territory I don't like what I'm reading.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:57 AM on August 2 [7 favorites]


Shrugging and saying "Welp, it's legal... nuthin' you're gonna do about it" when black people or poor people or disabled people get shit on is pretty craven, actually.

You're really putting words in other people's mouths here, and saying that I'm taking a position. Stop doing that. I never said there's nothing I can do about it. I spend all my days doing something about it, and trying to work to improve living conditions. That's what I do in my job.

My point is that this isn not unique to Portland. It's not that it doesn't suck, or that we can't try to do something about it. The post was framed as 'Portland isn't all that awesome' and I agree with it. I'm saying that it's not just Portland. It's everywhere.

I tremble with disgust when the biggest political issue of the day is bike lanes, or when mouthpiece planners on Twitter talk about coffee shops and bike infrastructure and 'sense of place' when I'm in the trenches trying to make more affordable housing options or dealing with whatever myriad boring but critical thing is in the queue.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:00 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


I just find this statement totally nonsensical. Is the writer suggesting that living in the wild or some non-capitalist society they would not be similarly disadvantaged?

For example, if the entire world was built the way that the two people with dwarfism on The Little Couple were able to build their home, with counters and doorknobs at an appropriate height for them, it would be immediately apparent to any "normal" person that all of the problems they were having had to do with the world not being built for them, not because of any inherent disability.

So I think that the point is how strong the framing is, down to the language used, that tries to make any non-normative person's problems an inherent defect or flaw of their nature, rather than a case of everything else being inadequately or poorly thought out, or simply hostile towards even minor differences.
posted by XMLicious at 12:05 PM on August 2 [14 favorites]


Is the writer suggesting that living in the wild or some non-capitalist society they would not be similarly disadvantaged?

I don't entirely grasp the "capitalism" part, but I believe the suggestion is that we can't treat infrastructure -- especially infrastructure that we are actively, right now, building -- as a naturally occuring impediment to the disabled and say "welp, that just how things are. Sorry about your lack of access, but that's on you and your disability." We as a society build things that certain people can't access and that has to be acknowledged. Architecture isn't spontaneously generated.

The author gives numerous examples of newly-built places that aren't accessible by people with disabilities which in this day and age is a concious choice on behalf of the planners to exclude a population. Maybe not in a moustache-twirly villanous way but in a banality-of-oppression way.
posted by griphus at 12:07 PM on August 2 [13 favorites]


In a lot of earlier societies they would probably be dead. is that not significant?

Also I think this is the same line of argument as "the busses are worse in LA." You're not wrong but I have no idea what the point or criticism you are trying to make is. That it could be worse? It could always be worse. That's a given in any situation.
posted by griphus at 12:10 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


which in this day and age is a concious choice on behalf of the planners to exclude a population

Oh no you didn't.

Planners don't make decisions. Planners make recommendations. Politicians make decisions. To say that it's planners who are making all the calls is laughable. Our world would look a lot different if that were the case.

Newly-built places that aren't accessible by people with disabilities can often be built without any discretionary decisionmaking process whatsoever. Zoning is an as-of-right condition on a property. If it's been that way for 30 years, it's rightful for the property owner to build new luxury condos on a piece of land which is currently occupied by any sort of neighbourhood. All that must be met, often, is building code and some landscaping/architectural requirements in a development permit.

Planners often have shockingly little control. It's an endless source of frustration.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:18 PM on August 2 [10 favorites]


Who is the party responsible?
posted by griphus at 12:22 PM on August 2


Portland is often held up as this wonderful progressive utopia, and it is if you can afford to live in certain parts of the city. It's not a particularly nice place east of 205, or in the far stretches up north. The fact that some places are nicer than others isn't unique to Portland, of course, but the narrative that Portland is a shining example for other places does exacerbate the problem. People with legitimate complaints are silenced because the problems aren't as bad as Chicago, or LA.

I think this author has a point. I've lived in Portland long enough to see radical changes take place. The bike lanes on Williams and Vancouver are so widely praised, but I remember hearing members of the black community talking about how no one is listening to their needs, and people just not really caring.

I'm not surprised to hear that it sucks for disabled people, too. I didn't know about the downtown parking law, but that sucks. I also know people who abused the disabled parking tags in order to get free parking, and I have a very low opinion of these people. But cracking down on abuse makes more sense than making it harder for genuinely disabled people.

I think it's important that people keep hearing these types of critiques about Portland. We can't just say, "Oh, we're better than LA, so we're great." If we really want to be a progressive community (which I sometimes actually doubt), we need to be more inclusive.
posted by ohisee at 12:23 PM on August 2 [12 favorites]


You're really putting words in other people's mouths here, and saying that I'm taking a position. Stop doing that.

I started to write out this whole long response and then noticed that up above you talked about how it's "convenient to say 'Portland hates black people'", so I'm thinking you probably know exactly how much putting words in other peoples' mouths is going on here.
posted by XMLicious at 12:25 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


If Portland is bad, she should see LA.

LA is like that partly because it is desert. Historically, LA sprawled even before cars were the norm, when a lot of big cities were not yet becoming unwalkable sprawl. Because it is desert and because most of the water consumed there is imported from a long distance (like the Colorado River), it was not economically viable to develop anything but huge, sprawling tracts of land in one fell swoop. So LA had sprawl back when people got around by train/tram and walking. It was the only way to pay for necessary infrastructure in terms of water and what not. When cars became the thing and the local train/tram stopped having enough traffic to be viable and got dismantled, well, hello pedestrian hell. But that is partly situational -- due to the location.
They recognize that people with disabilities are not disabled by impairments. We are disabled by the built environment and a capitalist society that excludes and exploits some while enabling others.
I just find this statement totally nonsensical. Is the writer suggesting that living in the wild or some non-capitalist society they would not be similarly disadvantaged?

Some years ago, a friend of mine on an email list who was married to a rather aspie-ish man asked, in essence "Does he stop having a disability because he got married?" A lot of people could not relate to what she was saying but I could. It is extraordinarily commonplace for the wife to write to relatives, pick out her husband's clothes for work, make his meals and otherwise handle a million little details that make him come across as competent and which make him highly employable. In fact, there have been studies which show that married men with stay-at-home wives get promoted faster than average. Having been a SAHM, I feel pretty strongly that this is because a supportive wife frees a man up to focus pretty exclusively on his job. She worries about all the other details necessary to make life work.

There are a great many ways in which this goes unnoticed -- that white males are very much enabled by the system and given enormous advantages and there are huge expectations that other people will support what they do. They, themselves, are often oblivious to the ways in which other people get bled for time, energy or whatever so they can succeed. On an American military base, anyone in uniform can go ahead of un-uniformed people in line at the commissary or PX. That is just one of many, many ways in which military personnel are not required to wait, are not required to expend their time and energy, etc. Of course, there are mission critical reasons why this is so on base but the larger society often treats certain groups of people in a similar manner even when there are no rules explicitly stating that those groups should get treated that way.

I walk everywhere. I have for a few years now. I rarely take public transit. Some intersections deny a walker the right to cross in some places. In some cases, this means you have to walk an extra block or more in order to cross the fucking street and turn around and go back to what you were trying to get to. That idea is illustrated with pictures and measurements here: Thoughts of a Pedestrian

Meanwhile, cars are usually not expected to go out of their way like that. Cars can typically drive through that same intersection and go in any direction they desire. It winds up being a huge burden on a pedestrian, especially if one has a disability, to walk the extra distance involved. I often have no idea why it is being done that way. So, currently, a lot of transit policies defer to the rights/needs/conveniences of people with cars and people with cars are generally going to be more middle and upper class than people who walk and use public transit as their default. This is probably not specifically intended to be a classist thing but it winds up being that way. There are a great many ways in which the built environment in the U.S. is designed to be convenient for automobile culture at the expense of pedestrians. Pedestrians are generally viewed as folks who are walking for exercise or something. Walking is not taken very seriously in this country as a means of transit.

So, there are places on the planet where the built environment is more pedestrian-friendly. It is not a given that the built environment has to be actively hostile to pedestrians. But that is often the case here in the U.S. And that means people who are physically disabled and/or poor (two groups that tend to overlap a lot) are frequently saddled with additional burdens which are not at all necessary. Ease and convenience is often aimed at serving well-off individuals. For example, you can go through a drive-through to get a meal or fill a prescription or any number of other things. But if you walk to get around, you will find barrier after barrier after barrier thrown in your path by people who just assume "everyone drives" when that really isn't the case.
posted by Michele in California at 12:30 PM on August 2 [16 favorites]


Certainly Portland transit isn't perfect, and of course I support efforts to improve it, but it's just patently unfair to say that city resources aren't invested in transit. The transit in every other place I've lived has been so much exponentially worse than Portland (yes, with an invisible disability for a big chunk of that time, thanks), which is what made me bristle. While Portland transit isn't perfect by any means, I still miss it every single time my injury flares up and I need to bus somewhere. I'm lucky to get a bus once an hour most places I've lived since then, and those buses are only uncrowded because nobody uses the system since it's so worthless.

The privilege argument about nicer neighborhoods getting better service applies at a broader scale, too - Portland is by far the "nicest neighborhood" in Oregon and has better services than anywhere else in the state, so hearing someone put down those services when I'd have given almost anything to have even half of those services elsewhere in the state rubbed me the wrong way. I apologize if I sounded dismissive or nitpicking.

Finally, I think the lede is getting buried here. Her points about curb cuts, development regulations, and the city revoking free parking at meters are really important and provide much better support for the thesis that the City of Portland is diverting resources from supporting working-class and differently abled people in favor of attracting yuppie white folks.

I'd love to hear more from someone who knows about development regulations in Portland - I was under the impression that ADA accessibility regulations were set at a federal level and that Portland homes and businesses would have to provide those accommodations just like everywhere else. Is that not accurate?
posted by dialetheia at 12:41 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


There might be some crossed wires here with terminology. For my part, when I say something about "Portland" I'm talking about the community and society of the city, not just one specific part of the city government, or people of one particular profession within the community.
posted by XMLicious at 12:45 PM on August 2


"I don't entirely grasp the "capitalism" part, but I believe the suggestion is that we can't treat infrastructure -- especially infrastructure that we are actively, right now, building -- as a naturally occuring impediment to the disabled and say "welp, that just how things are. Sorry about your lack of access, but that's on you and your disability." We as a society build things that certain people can't access and that has to be acknowledged. Architecture isn't spontaneously generated. "

Capitalism ties in because the disable comprises a smaller community with tremendously disparate needs and no clear and evident solution to those needs on an individual basis. The argument goes that such a small market would never justify the amounts of capital required to provide them with a world altogether less hostile by design. Arguments based in return on investment are often given when a disabled person asks for something. It's the most bald-faced dehumanization and marginalization of people in the name of a profit I've ever seen. And to make matters worse, disabled people will often use this argument against their own self interest in the name of allowing the boat to sail unrocked.

I'm not an economist, and barely a scholar of capitalism. But that's a real argument spoken aloud often. I know there are economic realities of running a business. I'm not so naive that I can't grasp that. But I don't have to accept such a blatant fuck you either.

"In a lot of earlier societies they would probably be dead. is that not significant?"

In an earlier version of American society African Americans would be enslaved, amiright? Fuck social justice, be happy with what you have. Unbelievable.

The actual article, to be fair, is pretty poor. I wish there was an attempt to suggest productive changes or give some kind of thoughtful critique of the Portland transit system with an eye towards actual change instead of merely complaining. But that doesn't give anyone the right to pick it apart either. As said above, it's just a view into the life of marginalization that disabled people experience.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 12:47 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


"If you think Portland is bad, move to LA" :: "If you don't like America, why don't you move to Somalia"
posted by el io at 12:50 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


In a lot of earlier societies they would probably be dead. is that not significant?

One way it's significant is that in a lot of earlier societies, not to mention living in the wild, most "normal" 21st century individuals would also be dead. I sure as hell don't have the abilities necessary to be a subsistence farmer or forager anywhere but in the times and places where those things would be extremely easy.

And I would be functionally blind without glasses. But there's this handy widespread infrastructure that my society has built which makes it relatively easy and convenient to get custom-manufactured optics for my personal use.
posted by XMLicious at 1:00 PM on August 2 [11 favorites]


Defending Portland as less shitty than some other place ignores the fact that the problems articulated by the writer are important and easily addressable. Making it a priority to get curbcuts added to existing sidewalks for example seems like a pretty reasonable request. With an aging population we need to make these kinds of changes to enable people to live independently longer. If we dont start now in 10 years we will have a complete crisis on our hands.
posted by humanfont at 1:07 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


I love the straight-up FUD, lies, and misinformation that pop up on MeFi when the magical words "bike lanes" appear in a post.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:15 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Spending public money to increase curb cuts is a good long-term goal, but it's expensive.

The ADA has been around for 24 years (as of just a week ago, ish, so happy anniversary to it). Legislation requiring curb cuts and similar access features is more recent in other parts of the world, but we are talking about Portland here.

I know city infrastructure is built over the long term, but when I see new construction that doesn't follow the rules* on even the most obvious of things, well, it rankles. What does long-term mean? How long are we supposed to wait for the various people doing planning, design, and construction to get used to working with the constraints and features of the ADA?

* There's a digression here about how one factor in this is that the ADA was not built with a good - or even unambiguous - enforcement mechanism.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:17 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


"* There's a digression here about how one factor in this is that the ADA was not built with a good - or even unambiguous - enforcement mechanism."

Could you elaborate on this?

I should probably know more, but I don't.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 1:19 PM on August 2


Taking out all the space wasted by wide roads and parking lots would solve most of the transportation issues; most people would have to do so much less travel that a mix of rickshaws and accommodating minibuses (both with real-time flexible route dispatch for those who are more isolated) would take care of everyone.

The great thing is that it could all be provided privately, at a profit, or publicly, with a more balanced budget than usual. However, neither sector seems interested.
posted by michaelh at 1:26 PM on August 2


In a lot of earlier societies they would probably be dead. is that not significant?

"We kept you alive...WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM US?"
posted by drlith at 1:27 PM on August 2 [9 favorites]


I started to write out this whole long response and then noticed that up above you talked about how it's "convenient to say 'Portland hates black people'", so I'm thinking you probably know exactly how much putting words in other peoples' mouths is going on here.

Oh boy. Not really, but whatever. Look man, I really don't know what your issue is but you're missing what I'm saying. I'm on your side.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:28 PM on August 2


Generally*, the ADA does not apply to existing infrastructure. Generally*, the ADA only applies to projects of a certain scale when adding infrastructure or private accommodation, and projects of a separate scale when modifying existing accommodation. If you are using a HUD loan to rehab your apartment house, for example, you'll be required to do certain things to your building to conform to the ADA. People have a misplaced understanding of what the ADA was intended to do. Generally*, it has resulted over time in an increased level of accessibility in public and private accommodations.

* For various values of generally, of course.

We own a four-unit apartment building that was rehabbed (by a previous owner who got a HUD-subsidized city loan) with a wheelchair ramp. The ramp leads to a tiny foyer in which turning a wheelchair would be impossible, and an exterior and two interior thresholds that are too crudely installed for easy wheelchair traversing. It's pretty pathetic and I don't think it makes the place wheelchair accessible in a realistic sense, but it apparently conformed to the requirements that the city gave the previous owner when he signed the loan application.

As for curb cuts, we started getting those in the 1980s with all gutter and sidewalk replacements, and there are only a few that I know of near my house that have not been modified.
posted by dhartung at 1:32 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


I think that "Ok, so what places do it better" can exist without landing in the "silencing marginalized people" zone if it's done right. I don't think it's that by default. It can easily be, but it's not exclusively.

At the same time, i think the point of "even this place that does these things relatively well compared to the rest of the country is shitting the bed" that a lot of people are missing.

Seattle is the same fucking way. We're bending over backwards to encourage developers to build giant multi-unit buildings, but have weak laws about forcing them to build parking and meanwhile, we're cutting transit left and right.

What? point 1 is true, and so is point 3. But on point 2, the laws about parking seem to be very strong. Can you point to a new building(with the exception of the apodments, ugh) that does not have parking? Some, like the old times building project, have expanded their parking.

Also, the bus thing is getting fixed. And as with portland, the bus system is not run by the city, but the county. The city is having to figure out funding for the buses itself because the county said "go fuck yourself"... and that was because the state sort of pulled that one, too.

So yea, i'm a bit annoyed with the narrative here of "the city is cutting transit while doing xyz!". The city had nothing to do with it, voted against it, and is trying to clean up the mess now.
posted by emptythought at 1:34 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


I call bullshit. The trimet disability application just requires that a doctor attest to disability.
posted by jpe at 1:35 PM on August 2


Ephalump Jockey: sure. General disclaimer: I'm not an expert on law, or even that deep into the history of the ADA; there are people who could probably provide much more detail here. But I can take a stab at it.

The big thing that made the ADA such a watershed moment was not that it was the first law to deal with disability, or to say that hey, disabled people are citizens. But it was written as a civil rights law, in many ways modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was also the result of a lot of compromise, including with business interests that were concerned it would be too disruptive of their current practices, or too burdensome for small businesses. (Several religious organizations made similar claims, and got religious entities exempt from at least parts of the law.)

Now, if I want to make a claim of employment discrimination, that's mostly handled by the EEOC, like many other employment discrimination problems. But on the other hand, a lot is enforced through the DOJ - so sometimes I've seen local zoning/permitting/building inspection agencies sort of pass the buck there and not bother enforcing the relevant parts of the ADAAG* as building code because, well, that's the DOJ's problem. Which of course is harder to get the ball rolling on, but also means there's not really anyone whose job it is to proactively enforce the law; enforcement has to happen because a party with standing took the time to file a complaint and follow it through the system.

Also a problem: damages under the ADA are a bit vague. I think the courts have been split on this, but I'm not entirely sure of all the nuances. So where normally you might be able to get punitive damages through a lawsuit, or get your attorney's fees covered (because you're suing to correct a violation of the law), it's much harder, if at all possible, to do so on an ADA violation. In many cases, there are no damages, simply a court order to correct the situation. Which, hey, that's the end goal here, but if going to court means facing a significant financial burden with little prospect of recovering those costs, that can be a tough decision to make. So you don't go to court, and now a violator has little or no incentive to clean up their act.

* ADAAG: ADA Access Guidelines, regulations specifying exactly what qualifies as 'accessible' for things like public infrastructure and public (not necessarily public-owned, but open-to-the-public) spaces.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:41 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


To be clear, the ADA was a *huge* win, and like I said above, a watershed moment in how our country and our society thought about disabled people. But it was not an unmitigated good, and it is not perfect. Which is how social change usually happens - step by step.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:43 PM on August 2


"Which is how social change usually happens - step by step."

People in wheelchairs might argue that a revolution is needed.
posted by el io at 1:50 PM on August 2 [15 favorites]


Finally, I think the lede is getting buried here. Her points about curb cuts, development regulations, and the city revoking free parking at meters are really important and provide much better support for the thesis that the City of Portland is diverting resources from supporting working-class and differently abled people in favor of attracting yuppie white folks.

San Francisco just did a study that basically said there is no way to make free parking work. Free parking is so incredibly valuable in an urban area that there's no enforcement or regulation strategy that will reduce the number of cheaters. Even the advocates for the disabled think free parking isn't the answer. So I'm not so sure that revoking free parking is an attack on the disabled in favor of yuppie bike lanes since it doesn't seem the system particularly works for anyone. Also not sure about Portland, but here you can pay your meter via text message from wherever you are - there is no more sprinting back to your spot to fill it with quarters or going around the block for a curb cut.

It's unfortunate that all of these conversations about the urban landscape revolve completely around parking, even when it comes to disabled access. Like someone said above, the planners don't make the decisions. These plans always start out as "complete streets" redesigns that place disabled access as well as bike, pedestrian, and transit on a more equal level with cars. It's always disheartening watching these amazing proposals for much wider sidewalks, not just curb cuts but huge bulbouts, physically separated bike lanes, and more accessible bus stops go through the process of being completely dismantled because they inevitably involve removing at least one parking spot. Neighbors and local businesses will fight to the death with the city over a single parking spot, every single time. Even the disabled advocates will say we can't lose parking, people depend on their cars and can't walk further, even when the plan goes way beyond installing simple curb cuts.

So the city compromises and the parking stays, and the only part of the plan you can still implement without removing parking is putting down some paint for a dangerous bike lane. So it becomes a "bike lane project" in the media and everyone gets to vent their frustration at this huge failure of a process by blaming white yuppie cyclist gentrifiers or spandex road menaces, depending on your political persuasion.

All because of fucking parking.
posted by bradbane at 1:54 PM on August 2 [16 favorites]


Look man, I really don't know what your issue is but you're missing what I'm saying. I'm on your side.

And I'm on yours! But I've been addressing what you've actually said, and whether you like it or not your handwavy dismissals of the OP as not really valid as an indictment of Portland, and posing the fact that the phenomena discussed aren't unique to Portland as some sort of mitigating factor, are indeed the kind of thing that provides fodder for generally dismissing any need to redress these wrongs, even if you're also providing helpful comments and insight into the higher-level problems surrounding them. Please don't try to castigate me for using the same rhetorical technique to show this which you used yourself.
posted by XMLicious at 1:55 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


It would be fairly difficult to navigate safely around my Portland neighborhood in a wheelchair. Many of the sidewalks (where they exist) are not wheelchair accessible at the intersections. Many are broken up badly due to tree roots. I notice this now because I push a stroller around. I used to observe a woman in a motorized wheelchair going down the middle of the street and thought that seemed unsafe but now I know she didn't really have a choice.
posted by medeine at 2:18 PM on August 2 [11 favorites]


It would be fairly difficult to navigate safely around my Portland neighborhood in a wheelchair.

This is absolutely true, especially in areas of SE and NE Portland where the side streets aren't even paved.

I tried looking for groups advocating for increased accessibility and curb cuts in Portland but came up strangely blank - does anyone know of groups that are lobbying for these changes?
posted by dialetheia at 2:25 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


I take mass transit every day to a big city ... but stuff like this makes me very happy to live in a sensible suburb. Left-wing crazies will always bite the hand that feeds them.
posted by MattD at 2:29 PM on August 2


Did you intend that to be as ironic as it is, MattD?
posted by klanawa at 2:38 PM on August 2


Even if that hand is feeding them shit.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:42 PM on August 2


Here's a good article about the city's struggle to pave the remaining unpaved roads in Portland. While I appreciate the difficulties they cite, there have to be sources of funding besides just forming local improvement districts and charging the residents, right? Is that the way they finance curb cuts and improvements like that, too?

How do these issues relate to what Hales and Novick were trying to accomplish with their street taxes? I've been out of touch with Portland politics for a few years and I didn't follow that as closely as I'd have liked, but I would imagine that accessibility improvements would have been one of the projects funded by that program.
posted by dialetheia at 2:46 PM on August 2


While I appreciate the difficulties they cite, there have to be sources of funding besides just forming local improvement districts and charging the residents, right? Is that the way they finance curb cuts and improvements like that, too?

Would this situation improve if Oregon finally implemented a sales tax? Would that revenue be put to good use on things like infrastructure building and improvement?
posted by hippybear at 3:00 PM on August 2


A sales tax is bad. We have a higher income tax which is proportional to ones ability to pay as opposed to a sales tax which hoses those with lower incomes. I want my neighborhood to have a sidewalk. But I don't want someone working two minimum wage jobs to pay for it when those fuckers in Lake Oswego can.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:11 PM on August 2 [8 favorites]


As a person who uses a wheelchair the thing that drives me into apoplexy is neighbors who don't shovel their walks in winter. Yes, I am unable to take the trash because my landlord has other priorities. I bet a handful of rock salt in the eyes would be suitable retribution, but alas there are laws.
posted by angrycat at 3:15 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


I want my neighborhood to have a sidewalk. But I don't want someone working two minimum wage jobs to pay for it when those fuckers in Lake Oswego can.

So why does that article linked above talk about having to establish LIDs to pay for infrastructure improvements? What is broken with Oregon's money situation?
posted by hippybear at 3:18 PM on August 2


A new streetcar line opened up last year. A new MAX line is opening up next year. Trimet is replacing its fleet over time. The economic downturn forced some changes in service but things are improving. That is Trimet though.

The city's fund for street improvement comes from the federal gas tax. That revenue is down and Mayor Hales and Commissioner Novick have been working on a new funding mechanism which is just about as shitty and regressive as a sales tax. The public seems to have no taste for it and both may have their political careers ended because of it.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:27 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


and whether you like it or not your handwavy dismissals of the OP as not really valid as an indictment of Portland,

No, I'm saying that approaching them as problems that are rooted in Portland is not the right approach. It's a far more pervasive issue than that. It's a problem with how our society treats marginalized people.

I can't tell you how heartbreakingly frustrating it is to sit in a Council chambers listening to person after person say, essentially, that having a halfway house/special needs school/daycare/affordable housing site next to their house is going to ruin their lives and that their children will be molested by the 'retards' or 'criminals'.

But, equally, one of my first points is that blaming 'the city' isn't always right. It may not indeed be the city whose responsibility it is to put curb cuts in. If the sidewalk was built without them a long time ago, those things don't get changed without a new development associated with them. If they didn't get done as part of that, even then it may not be the city's fault. It could be that the company who should have put them in didn't, and they're now getting sued by the city.

There's any number of reasons why things do or don't get done. I find that the bulk of the piece was pretty anecdotal, and I'm always inclined to avoid judgement of a situation until I have all the facts. From my experience, these issues are incredibly complicated and the public's recollection/understanding of infrastructure regulation, funding and construction is terribly poor. I'm inclinded to want a specific example of a curb cut, what was supposed to be done and what was actually done.
posted by jimmythefish at 4:53 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


neighbors who don't shovel their walks in winter

I find it intensely objectionable that most cities pay to clear snow from streets but not sidewalks, as if only one of those are needed to get around somewhere, as if sidewalks were of secondary importance.
posted by jeather at 6:40 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


I call bullshit. The trimet disability application just requires that a doctor attest to disability.

I'm confused, what are you calling bullshit on? The author is not asking for a subsidized transit fare. They prefer to drive:
When I moved to Portland, the first thing I did was buy a car so I’d always be able to drive to work…and drive quickly home if my pain level started increasing too much for me to cope with.

It’s just a seven minute drive to work, but a 20-45 minute odyssey on the bus. Mine’s a crowded route and I usually have to stand because I don’t “look disabled” to other passengers (and I can’t begrudge elders, poor working people, and mamas who want to take a load off). On a bad pain day, this means my daily allotment of energy gets used up before I even get to the office, which leads to more sick days. On really bad days (made more frequent by all the extra walking), I can’t even make it three blocks to the bus stop. I worry about losing my job because of so much missed work. Driving lets me park less than half a block from my office and save my energy for work and other essentials.
posted by desjardins at 6:47 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


I call bullshit. The trimet disability application just requires that a doctor attest to disability.
posted by jpe at 1:35 PM on 8/2


Bullshit called right back at ya. RTFA.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 6:57 PM on August 2


I'm in San Francisco and regularly get left out of buses, especially when I need to get to work and home from work, because the drivers let on 10 or 20 walking people before they think to put down the wheelchair lift. Then the driver will tell me there "isn't room". People are often nice enough when it's less crowded but the other riders as well as the drivers are pretty horrible during commute hours. And how about Caltrain. They don't let more than 2 or 3 wheelchairs onto any one train. You can't at all rely on taking the train. Or a bus. Paratransit is a joke...
posted by geeklizzard at 8:25 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


No, I'm saying that approaching them as problems that are rooted in Portland is not the right approach. It's a far more pervasive issue than that. It's a problem with how our society treats marginalized people.

But it is perfectly valid to ask one particular area, agency, group of people, or person to do better than average. It is, in fact, a much more effective strategy than issuing a general call for civility. "This particular system has these particular problems" is much more addressable than "People in general suck."
posted by jaguar at 9:14 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Mayor Hales and Commissioner Novick have been working on a new funding mechanism which is just about as shitty and regressive as a sales tax. The public seems to have no taste for it and both may have their political careers ended because of it.

We can only hope.

So the street fee, right — a lot's still up in the air, but the idea originally was that households (and added later, businesses) would pay certain amounts of bucks per month / year respectively to help pay for street maintenance, re-paving and so on. It was something like $144 a year for households.

For businesses, the fee charged per month was going to be proportional to the amount of traffic they generated based on a trip generation formula, and could have been anywhere from $6 to $2,241 per month. Again, based not on income generated, but traffic.

You know what kind of business was originally exempt? Paid use parking lots.

Novick and Hales are some kind of dream team, that's for sure.
posted by Chutzler at 12:38 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


But, equally, one of my first points is that blaming 'the city' isn't always right. It may not indeed be the city whose responsibility it is to put curb cuts in. If the sidewalk was built without them a long time ago, those things don't get changed without a new development associated with them. If they didn't get done as part of that, even then it may not be the city's fault. It could be that the company who should have put them in didn't, and they're now getting sued by the city.

There's any number of reasons why things do or don't get done. I find that the bulk of the piece was pretty anecdotal, and I'm always inclined to avoid judgement of a situation until I have all the facts.


To reiterate what I said above, when I say "Portland" here I am referring to the community and society of Portland, not the government or some other particular sub-unit of it. I continue to think that reasoning that makes Portland blameless for the circumstances discussed in the OP by pointing to some action of the present city government which makes up for it or reasoning which sublimates all blame for the things the author talks about because they're so common both inside and outside of Portland is at best diversionary.

This piece is supposed to be anecdotal—the link text in the OP even begins with "Rory Judah Blank's experiences" and the author leads the piece with statements like "These are some of the little things that make it harder for me to participate fully in society." Saying it's merely anecdotal is just another poor way of categorically dismissing it all. (A way of dismissing it which, I dare say, I think both the author of the piece and the author of the OP thoroughly anticipated.)

If the city government were suing over the absence of curbcuts in her neighborhood, that would be an interesting addendum to this piece—but just an addendum. It's kind of emblematic that your heartbreak while sitting in Council chambers is evidently extremely relevant to validating the proper perception of these issues of discrimination against the disadvantaged, while in the exact same comment you discount the materiality of the experiences—explicitly labeled as such—of one of the disadvantaged people your heart breaks for.

Your avoidance of judgement isn't temporary or even particularly related to the article in my view: you are disclaiming judgement of anyone, anywhere, even at so collective level as the community of an entire city across a duration at the scale of a century, for the circumstances described in the article.

Let's just say that for the sake of argument you have succeeded in irrefutably proving that the city government is blameless for any of these circumstances, or proving that the city government's portion of blame could only ever be examined after haring off into an intricate discourse about infrastructure regulation, funding and construction, and a curbcut-by-curbcut accounting of who did what. Even had you proved either of those things it would have almost no bearing on the meaning and significance of this article, IMO.
posted by XMLicious at 4:55 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


I see things through the lens of a problem-solving policy and regulation writer. Anecdote is terribly important to ascertain people's subjective experience. From a planning perspective it's helpful in determining what people need. In terms of implementation, it's terrible. The public is really good in terms of stating problems, but useless in terms of solving technical problems.

I have two things to say about this article. She's describing something that's absolutely pervasive in American society. It's symptomatic of the low amount of social programs available to disadvantaged Americans. And, it doesn't matter who she is - I don't trust ANYONE with assertions that the city was 'supposed' to do anything. Those things are always horribly understood.

I say that it's not a city problem because that's probably not the place to look for solutions. It's a symptom of the low-social program, capitalist, right-wing, fend-for-yourself attitude your country has.

I'll give you an example. We have a woman who works at our office who has difficulty walking. A combined non-government and provincial/federal government program essentially pays for her to take taxis to work. It's cheaper and easier for that program to be in place because it directly solves her problem. It has jack shit to do with the city or any of its programs, and it's not something that is available everywhere because I live in Canada. Curb cuts and Portland is not the issue. Funding of social programs is.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:13 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


This thread's given me a lot of insight into the difficult experiences of others who I've observed over many years, including here. I've been a feminist for several decades, but it took me a long time, as a man, to really become aware of my own privilege and the patterns of behavior involved in privilege. So especially in my first ten years of being a feminist man, I'd just unconsciously assert my male privilege and make discussions of sexism and feminism and such all about my impressions and experiences and solutions because, hey, the point is to oppose sexism, right? And aren't we all equal in our opposition to sexism?

But we're not, because some of us (men) don't experience the oppression of sexism in every part of our lives every goddam day.

When there are posts here by women complaining about sexism at fan conventions, for example, there are a few explicit sexist/anti-feminist responses. But they're really only a tiny part of the problem. The bigger problem are all the men whose response to the linked piece is "well, actually..." or "she's exaggerating and so I don't trust her" or "I don't think she's improving things with this piece" or "let me tell you about what I don't like about conventions" or "if she's really interested in changing things, she should concentrate on..." and all the rest.

And this is infuriating and damaging for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the whole notion that any person who ever speaks up about this kind of systemic oppression must be somehow exemplary -- they can't make any factual mistakes, they have to be of good moral character, they have to be "reasonable", they have to be worthy, they have to be nice -- before people are willing to listen to them is itself a clear encapsulation of the oppression.

Secondly, this relentless insistence that such pieces must be clear, informed, and specific attempts at problem-solving, or that the only discussion to be had about such pieces is focused problem-solving, misses so much of the point. In threads about harassment, there are always men who will insist that what the discussion must be about is to determine some set of rules for acceptable behavior and if it's not narrowed down to some clear rules, then what's the point? But the point is that any specific example is just a specific example of a much larger problem and simply acknowledging that this widespread problem exists, simply talking about it that, itself, is very important. Because people don't want to talk about it and, when they do, they want to imagine that the "problem" is just some specific thing that can be corrected.

Thirdly, the previous two things function as a means of ensuring that the majority of the people participating in the discussion are the people who really don't have a fucking clue in the first place.

When I read the linked piece, I found myself feeling a bit ambivalent about it because, frankly, I don't really expect accommodation that much and one of the reasons I don't is because I don't even like to think about my disability at all in the first place. I see this pattern all the time with members of other groups -- they are often a little put-off when someone among them becomes angry and outspoken about things. Because it's uncomfortable for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons are because they've internalized some of the oppressive values. This is true in my case. So while overall I'm appreciating the writer for expressing things I would like to express, because I think these things need to be said, I'm also being a little critical, I'm nitpicking what she's saying, here and there. And, you know, I have some right to do that, because as a disabled person, it's a life I live, too.

Okay, but then I come back here and start to read this thread. And I find that I'm both hurt and deeply, surprisingly, furious.

And the irony is that I've demonstrated over ten years at MeFi that I'm capable of writing several thousand words on a wide variety of subjects on a moment's notice and here, on this topic, in this thread, I find that I have a lot to say, there's a lot I should say, there's a lot of things that people should hear me say ... and yet I am so overwhelmingly exhausted and disheartened by this that I don't even know where to begin.

Within minutes of my first comment in this thread, I received a memail from another disabled person thanking me for writing my comment and saying that they don't have the energy to engage, paralleling my own feelings. And I was struck by this. Here we have a disabled person writing about the ways in which they have difficulties being a disabled person in Portland, and then mostly a bunch of abled people nitpicking and arguing about the piece, while many of us who are disabled are largely silent. And I thought about all the times I've heard women and transfolk and some others here say basically the same thing: that the issue is their issue, it's their life, they have a lot they could say, but that it's so damn exhausting and disheartening to do so. Because, invariably, if you're not engaged with skeptical argumentative back-and-forths, you're doing the 101 education thing.

Even so, I'll try.

When I've written about chronic pain, I usually explain that for many people who live with chronic pain, certainly in my case, the pain itself is not the biggest issue, contrary to expectations. When you live with pain, it sort of fades into the background. But the effects of pain do not fade into the background. Pain is exhausting, it sucks the life out of you in many different ways. Pain is disabling.

Likewise, what I think people don't understand about disability, and especially if their understanding is built around a temporary illness (quite like how healthy people's mistaken understanding of chronic pain is usually informed by their temporary experience of pain), is that it's not any one thing, it's the whole of it, the totality of the impact it has on one's life.

There is literally not a single activity left in my life that is not a negotiation with my disability. Not one thing that I can think of at this moment. My genetic collagen disease has meant that I have extreme joint degradation in basically every joint in my body. Certainly every major joint, but also everything from my knuckles to my vertebrae. That's where the pain comes in. But for complicated reasons, I have had progressive extreme range-of-motion impairment. My right shoulder, for example, is technically "frozen". If it weren't for the fact that the collarbone structure to which the shoulder joint is anchored is quite flexible, I'd have very little use out of my right arm. My hips bend maybe twenty degrees. I can't cut my toenails or wear shoes with laces, I can't reach anything below my knees or above my head, I can only sit on chairs that are tall (so I can get back up) and where I can slouch (because my hips don't bend much), and the implications for what this means for using the toilet, you don't want to hear about. I can't lift either of my feet more than about three inches off the ground, though because my knees are still quite flexible, I can navigate certain things like steps providing I can step up and backwards, because I can raise my foot by bending at the knee, not at the hip. Because of the limits on how I can sit, it's hard to eat at a table, because I can't lean forward the way everyone else does.

Stairs are a big obstacle and any amount of extended walking is right out of the question.

Now, all that said, maybe you can see what I mean about there not being any activity in my life anymore that isn't limited by my disability, that isn't some sort of negotiation of it. Sitting here at the computer is. Lying in bed reading is (shoulders, hands, neck). Bathing and other hygiene is. Cooking, eating, moving around the house, leaving the house, getting in and out of cars and driving, entering buildings, standing or sitting in public -- it's just one attempt after another to figure out how to get something done that is easy for everyone else, something other people entirely take for granted. And at least in the privacy of my own home, there's no one else to watch and I can arrange things to make it easier. Out in the world, not only is it just one new challenge after another, but I have to deal with people while I'm doing it.

And so of course the lack of a single curb-cut is not that big of a deal, or that I have to make it up a few stairs, or that I have to ask for a chair to sit in because even if I can sit in the couch without mishap, it'll be hell getting back up. None of those things, by itself, is a big deal. Having people ask to help you with things you don't need help with while not asking if you need help with the things you do --- that's unavoidable, people don't understand, and I know they mean well. What do I expect of them? But, even so, all of these things, from the actual practical obstacles and how I must do things other people aren't required to do, or avoid things other people aren't required to avoid, and that in doing so, when around other people, am constantly calling attention to myself, and that I'm different ... what this says, in every minute, in all sorts of ways, is that I don't belong. This world isn't for me.

Because so much isn't actually inevitable. Back before I stopped working fourteen years ago, at the software company where I worked our group would have a morning meeting. People would meet in a moderately-sized room where there were few chairs and most would sit on the floor. Everyone but the manager was in their twenties and thirties and it was just taken for granted that sitting on the floor was an option. I didn't use at cane at that time and while people knew I had some kind of joint disease, it wasn't obvious to them that it was difficult for me to sit on the floor. And, for a little while, I did. Even though it was both difficult and painful. The alternative, which I eventually embraced, was to explicitly ask everyone to be sure to save me a chair. And maybe you wonder, why didn't I just ask in the first place? But that's just one thing. In real life, for disabled people, every example like that is just one among many and there's all sorts of reasons why one avoids constantly asking people to accommodate your disability.

That was when it first start getting bad for me and so it's when I really started to notice stuff like that. This whole assumption that everyone is able and that if you're disabled, you're expected to have to either just grin-and-bear it or to constantly call attention to yourself and request accommodation. Because no one thought to make sure there were enough fucking chairs in a meeting room because, hey, people can sit on the floor, right?

That's basically an archetype. The default assumption is that everyone is abled and the "built environment" that is the subject of this post is designed around that assumption.

One prime example that I think might make it clear to many people are bathrooms. It took feminists many years to get planners and regulators and builders to accommodate in public buildings the way in which the 52% of the population that are female uses toilets. And also to accommodate those with mobility impairments. And then parents. And then the transgendered. At each step of the way, the assumption was that the status quo represents what's "normal" and changing things meant making "special accommodations". Because, apparently, the way that able-bodied, childless, cisgendered men use public toilets is the standard. There's only a small number of people who aren't able-bodied, childless, cisgendered men, right?

There's a great deal of human diversity and this includes what kind of activities people can easily accomplish. The unexamined notion about what is "normal" contains a bias that favors the powerful. When we design our artificial environments, the things that we take for granted about how "normal" people can or will be able to use them is not some inevitable product of basic human nature, it's a cluster of expressed values that implicitly says to some people "this place is for you" and to other people "you're not welcome".

When a writer like Rory Judah Blank complains about the difficulties of being disabled in a progressive city like Portland, it's someone saying, hey, this shit's difficult, it doesn't have to be that way, and it is that way even where many people expect that it won't be. The correct response to that is to listen and think and not to say that it could be worse, or that it's getting better, or that it's no use unless we're talking about specific solutions, or that they're blaming the wrong people. I know that progressive mefites have learned to do this in other contexts. I've learned to do this in other contexts.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:16 AM on August 3 [33 favorites]


It's symptomatic of the low amount of social programs available to disadvantaged Americans.
I find this perspective pretty frustrating, because it positions people with disabilities as "disadvantaged Americans" who need special "social programs." And you know, most people are going to experience disability at some point in their lives. Making cities livable for people with disabilities isn't some sort of add-on, special thing for a small special interest group. A city that doesn't work for people with disabilities is a city that doesn't work for a lot of its residents, and that's going to be increasingly true as the population continues to age. This can't be a secondary consideration for planners. It's central. And the problem with free taxis for people with disabilities is that it's seen as a special program for a special interest group, and that makes it vulnerable to budget cuts in a way that programs for everyone aren't. I know that there are differing perspectives on the issue of paratransit, and there are good arguments for having some sort of special door-to-door system for at least some people with disabilities, but I really think there's something to be said for focusing on accessible transit that is available to everyone, rather than special programs that are only for people with disabilities.

I'm not nearly as invested in this as Ivan: I don't currently have physical impairments that limit my mobility, but I have in the past, and getting to work and the grocery store was a massive issue for me when I did. I, too, found the response here to this article pretty infuriating. It's not a scholarly treatise, but I think it's really important to ask what voices are marginalized in discussions about what constitutes a liveable city and how can we make sure that these voices are included.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:47 AM on August 3 [5 favorites]


> lavished on ... bicycle infrastructure

Is there a number on the % of transportation spending on bicycle infrastructure? Because I'm guessing it's around 1% or less. Bike infrastructure is insanely cheap compared to every other mode of getting around at 12km/h.

And her complaint is ironic and very North American - with real, properly engineered bike lanes, the disabled benefit immensely. Scooters for the elderly, power wheelchairs, even micro-cars are allowed to use Dutch cycle infrastructure. When visiting Holland, my girlfriend's cousin was able to drive his scooter (which goes 30km/h) half an hour to come to a family picnic. He can barely walk on his own, yet lives quite independently.

Quality cycling infrastructure is accessibility infrastructure. Note that "Quality" doesn't mean painted lines between car doors and open-wheel 10 ton trucks.
posted by anthill at 8:16 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


I totally believe that bike infrastructure could be good for people with disabilities who use scooters, but that's not automatic. Not only does the infrastructure have to be high-quality, which is not typically the case in the US, but law and social custom have to accept that people on mobility scooters are legitimate users. That will only happen if people make it happen, and a big part of that would be including people with disabilities, including working-class people with disabilities, in conversations about planning. If you want to convince people like the author of the OP that bike infrastructure would benefit them, then a good way to do that would be to engage with them, rather than dismissing them out of hand because they don't already agree with you.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:19 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


And, it doesn't matter who she is - I don't trust ANYONE with assertions that the city was 'supposed' to do anything.

The only place the word "supposed" appears in this article is when the author says,
What’s happening to me is exactly what’s supposed to happen to me and everyone like me.
She very frequently is speaking in more general terms than Portland, and she doesn't appear to be even trying to say anything prescriptive about policy changes or policy implementation for Portland or anywhere else. She's just discussing racism and structural and cultural disableism in her life and in her community by portraying her experience of it through personal anecdotes and current and historical events. In a forum called Black Girl Dangerous, by the way, that is explicitly dedicated as a place for exposition and discussion of the experiences of some marginalized people.

I agree with much of what you've said, and I can certainly see that this article isn't a manual for urban planning—because it's not intended to be—but your repeated and vehement dismissal and devaluing of it for reasons that appear to have little to do with the author's purposes in writing it and alot to do with its usefulness to you and others in your profession, and because it doesn't serve purposes like educating the public in optimal ways to participate in city planning, seem like a microcosm of the phenomena the piece is discussing.

But at least it's good to hear that some judgement and assignment of responsibility is possible once we get all the way up to the collective national level.
posted by XMLicious at 9:52 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


What? point 1 is true, and so is point 3. But on point 2, the laws about parking seem to be very strong. Can you point to a new building(with the exception of the apodments, ugh) that does not have parking? Some, like the old times building project, have expanded their parking.

Well, the formula for determining parking needs factors lot size in. So small, dense developments can easily keep their units under the minimum that requires them to build parking. Last year developers commissioned a study 'proving' that there is a parking glut in Seattle. And they wave it around whenever they appeal permits.

As for the buses being 'fixed' I hear that, but I take the buses about three times a week and it's only gotten worse. I understand that the city doesn't have direct control over that, but my feeling is that if you want to pretend that you are a modern metropolis, you better have some goddam transit options.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:21 AM on August 3


The problem I see is when people talk about cars and parking in a way that claims they are in direct opposition to the disabled, even when many of the disabled - even the OP - prefer cars.

I have PTSD. It is a disability, and in fact, is extremely disabling. Taking public transit once it starts to get even the slightest bit crowded is a nightmare. Walking in large crowds in open spaces will fuck me up for the rest of the day. When I lived in NYC, a city designed for pedestrians and mass transit, it was my own personal hell until I moved. Now that I can drive to get around and not spend an hour or pay $20 for parking, my life is much easier.

But you can't legislate a solution to the "problem of the disabled" when we are vehemently opposed to each other's proposals. To prioritize cars means to spread the city out and provide parking. To prioritize mass transit means less space for cars. What does the city do, in that situation, /except/ run the numbers?
posted by corb at 11:49 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


If the numbers, in their totality, were actually driving public policy, we wouldn't have this problem, but of course the only numbers people actually look at are the cost estimates of transit projects versus the "free" roads they drive on, which is obviously not a fair fight. In reality, driving creates many negative externalities that residents tend not to consider. In aggregate, those residents may have a preference for driving versus public transit, and it's perfectly fine to articulate that, and to prefer letting them decide, but that doesn't mean their preference is supported by the numbers, unless you leave out numbers pertaining to traffic deaths, emissions, housing cost, sprawl, etc.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:29 PM on August 3


—but your repeated and vehement dismissal and devaluing of it for reasons that appear to have little to do with the author's purposes in writing it and alot to do with its usefulness to you and others in your profession, and because it doesn't serve purposes like educating the public in optimal ways to participate in city planning, seem like a microcosm of the phenomena the piece is discussing.

Well, what's useful to me is useful to the public interest, is all. I'm the tool used to get things done (please no jokes). Your insistence that I'm not spending all my energy trying to do whatever little I can at a local government level is odd. But whatever. I'm not dismissing anything other than the wrong tree is being barked up here, more or less. I'm not saying there's nothing I can do, but it takes great creativity. Lobbying for change outside of what a municipality can address is really really difficult. Most issues such as this cannot be addressed effectively by municipal planners. At least in BC, minimum accessibility standards and transit standards are not dealt with at a municipal level. I'm sure it's the same in the States.
posted by jimmythefish at 1:54 PM on August 3


The correct response to that is to listen and think and not to say that it could be worse, or that it's getting better, or that it's no use unless we're talking about specific solutions, or that they're blaming the wrong people. I know that progressive mefites have learned to do this in other contexts. I've learned to do this in other contexts.

Hey I deal with the public professionally, and I understand and do this without question. However - there is a difference between talking to someone and empathizing, and talking about their article on MetaFilter. It's also my job to solve problems associated with public health and living conditions, so I tend to try to do that too. I wouldn't be doing my job if I were to not listen and to also try to improve things where I can.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:02 PM on August 3


Your insistence that I'm not spending all my energy trying to do whatever little I can at a local government level is odd.

I didn't mean to convey anything about what you do IRL beyond responding to the way what you've mentioned was involved in your criticisms of the article, so my apologies if anything I said came across this way. I'm sure that public misunderstanding and ignorance of planning issues do make your job difficult, and undoubtedly also difficult for people with similar responsibilities within the Portland city government; I just think that exposition on the difficulties in those areas of government for those people doesn't answer what's being voiced in Blank's article, however informative it may be as context.
posted by XMLicious at 2:49 PM on August 3


The correct response to that is to listen and think and not to say that it could be worse, or that it's getting better, or that it's no use unless we're talking about specific solutions, or that they're blaming the wrong people. I know that progressive mefites have learned to do this in other contexts. I've learned to do this in other contexts.

Disagree.

The correct response to me, because there really isn't one that any of us get to dictate, so I'll just play along...is a productive one -- in this "perfect is the enemy of good" world we actually live in, where the disabled are in fact lucky to be accommodated at all to literally any extent that they are (which doesn't mean "YOU SHOULD BE HAPPY," but it does mean you're more fortunate than you would be in just about any other position, just as Americans in general are lucky to be Americans and we're all lucky to be alive), it is helpful to point out when the most progressive example can't be matched by another one in the country, and if it is getting better, it is correct to point that out, and it is correct to point out the wrong people being beaten down unfairly. I do the whole "YOU'RE MAD! I KNOW! YOU'RE MAD" thing with my three year old. With adults I expect better, yes, let's talk about more than just accepting that you're upset.
posted by aydeejones at 4:05 PM on August 3


Did you just compare people with disabilities who want liveable cities to your tantruming 3-year-old? Because yuck.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:09 PM on August 3 [7 favorites]


That was terrible, I'm sorry -- I understand wanting to be heard and it's more akin to hearing someone's narrative without offering immediate feedback and solutions. That's hard to resist everywhere especially on the internets. It was insensitive and wrong, I apologize.
posted by aydeejones at 4:11 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


Really, y'all, do you start every single complaint you ever have with, "I realize I'm lucky to be living in the United States/Canada, where my standard of living is better than 99% of the world's population, and if I lived in Africa I'd probably be dead of Ebola and it's amazing how wonderful everyone is to me, really, how much economic and emotional support I get from the majority of the people, institutions, and government agencies in my life, and how much better they are at giving me that support than similar people, institutions, and government agencies would be in less-developed countries, or if I were disabled or destitute or homeless. Here's my current complaint, and I am addressing it only to those people, institutions, or government agencies that have direct power to fix it; please ignore it if you do not fall into any of those categories!"?

And no, a faux-apologetic "First World problems" added to the end of a statement with which you expect people to empathize does not count.
posted by jaguar at 7:12 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


...and if I lived in Africa I'd probably be dead of Ebola...

Wow, seriously? I get that you're trying to be all "hey, my life is better than most" with what you have written, but the current Ebola outbreak has infected fewer than 1500 people across an entire continent the land mass of which is bigger than three USAs and which has a population nearly 4 times that of the US.

If you're going to try to be all "hey, first world sensitive about the actual state of the global population", you probably need to check exactly how you're expressing that.
posted by hippybear at 7:39 PM on August 3


Wow, seriously? I get that you're trying to be all "hey, my life is better than most" with what you have written

I'm pretty sure that's not what jaguar is aiming for; the statement about ebola is deliberately hyperbolic.
posted by kagredon at 8:59 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


If you're going to try to be all "hey, first world sensitive about the actual state of the global population", you probably need to check exactly how you're expressing that.

Yeah, that was my point. The people here claiming that the author of the linked article is not properly grateful seem to be holding that author up to a standard to which they are not holding themselves, a standard that requires all of us to list all of our advantages and how grateful we are to all those "normal" people who deigned to notice us "abnormal" people before we're allowed to acknowledge any problems not yet addressed by the "normal" people -- all the while maintaining a proper subservient tone, of course, in recognition that the normal people haven't yet killed us, or whatever.

Apparently we're all supposed to be forever grateful that no one left us to die in a field, or something.
posted by jaguar at 11:09 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


In Portland on a visit a few months ago I saw hundreds of yellow-slickered rush-hour riders cross the Hawthorne bridge from downtown in the rain from my warm and dry vantage point on the spacious and frequent city bus. Whatever Portland is doing, find out what brand it is and distribute it to my other generals.
posted by telstar at 2:57 AM on August 4


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