As I retire from the Portland Parks Foundation at the end of October, I want to share just a few thoughts about the impact of partnership in fulfilling our mission.
We do nothing alone. In America there’s a persistent myth of the impact of the rugged individualist. I’m not sure whose interest this myth serves, but the truth is that ALL of our enterprises depend upon continuity, collaboration, cooperation, and community. Even the world’s greatest innovators in science and art, or leaders in commerce and politics, acknowledge that they “stand on the shoulders of giants.” Partnership works across time as well as tasks.
In three years at the Portland Parks Foundation I’ve been privileged to work with selfless community volunteers on our board, on our Footbridge campaign, and among many park Friends organizations, as well as dedicated staff at the Foundation and at PP&R. They are the greatest strength of our city—people dedicating their time and expertise to public good—and in the case of volunteers, they do it for free. They are leaders not because they command but because they serve.
When leadership is rooted in service, partnership is a natural consequence. We don’t go it alone. Partners look not to compete but to complement each other’s strengths. And, as the saying goes, partners’ “many hands” are what makes “light work.” We get a lot farther with less effort rowing together in the same canoe than by taking on the current by ourselves. And we owe a lot to those who built the canoe.
The Portland Parks Foundation was literally founded on the concept of partnership. Perhaps even more now than at PPF’s inception in 2001, partnership is important to help preserve and improve the public spaces that Portlanders prize as highly as any other city service. Even as we expect clean water to run from our faucets, or our streets to be maintained, or our neighborhoods to be safe, we expect to go to the park. And we do just that—tens thousands of us every day—because public parks are an essential feature of the city we know and love. They are magnets drawing others to live here. Every Portlander has the right to be on our common ground, under the sky and trees, away from the traffic and the noise, in a place that we share as a community.
From Forest Park to Gateway Green, it has always been a combination of private and public partnership that made this possible. Look at what Verde has accomplished with public and private partners in Cully Park. Look at the lively plaza downtown that is Director Park. Visit Southeast Portland’s upgraded Sellwood Park, or the stunning Peninsula Park Rose Garden in north Portland. These special places stem from partnership. Reflect on a concert or sporting event or movie you saw in a park this past summer. Hundreds of partners create Summer Free For All. And next summer we’ll have a virtual public art installation in the erection of the Barbara Walker Footbridge, spanning west Burnside to provide safe passage along the Wildwood Trail—the latest of the Parks Foundation’s major efforts, with nearly 1,000 private donors contributing $2 million.
Successful partnership will continue to derive from leaders who serve. Whether it’s the PP&R staff giving their best, or the community volunteers who spend evenings and weekends with their hands in the soil, or the fundraisers and private donors who give time and treasure to parks, we must complement each other’s work, remember our debt to those who have gone before, and our responsibility to those who will be here when we’re gone. The Portland Parks Foundation seeks to make and keep these connections, and to keep Portlanders close to nature. If our connection to each other and to nature is broken, Portland may as well be just anywhere, or nowhere. But as long as we are here together, and we work together, we’ll be somewhere special. Thanks for making it so.