Johnson Creek Floodplain residents and PSU sustainability students identify concerns in flood-prone areas

By Tyler Wilkins, an undergraduate political science student with a minor in civic leadership and a member of the Student Fellows Leadership Team.

After nine months’ worth of research and community engagement for the Johnson Creek Floodplain Listening Project, Portland State University students presented their research to the Lents community and several local residents who were heavily involved. It was an incredible experience to work with people in Lents to bring stakeholders together through the Listening Project to address community issues within flood-prone areas of the Lents and Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhoods.

The Listening Project and collective impact The Listening Project is part of Oregon Solutions Lents Stabilization and Job Creation Collaborative. This particular project evolved into a collective impact effort to bring in partners such as PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, The City of Portland Housing Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services, Portland Development Commission, and local community organization Green Lents. Our mission was to listen to our community in Lents, get a deeper understanding of the financial burden placed on residents caused by increasing rates of hazard insurance, and identify solutions to help residents overcome those issues.

Key activities

October—March:

Canvassing and data collection Students from Dr. Kevin Kecskes and Professor Jennifer Joyalle’s community based learning course, PA 312: Foundations of Community Leadership, asked Lents residents about flood insurance costs. After surveying 111 residents, project partners gathered enough quantitative data that captured the residents’ experiences in relation to the costs associated with living in the floodplain.

March—June:

Storytelling We gathered lots of data, but we were also interested in documenting personal stories to connect to the information we gained from the surveys. Students in PA 312 conducted in-person interviews where people had the opportunity to express their concerns with flooding, with rising flood insurance costs, and their future in the floodplain.

Civic leadership

I started out as a student involved in the project through Dr. Kevin Kecskes’ PA 312 course and emerged as a civic leader by the end of the project. The magnitude of the project was inspiring, seeing so many city and state bureaus joining forces with private institutions and community organizations to initiate change. I had felt a calling to remain involved with the project after the term had ended so I used the resources available to me as a Student Fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions. Eventually I was presented with an internship opportunity through ISS to work with project partner and community organization, Green Lents. From there, I supported PA 312 students prepare for canvassing activities, community orientations, project planning.. Being part of a collective impact project of this size was truly an invaluable experience and a testimony to the possibility of social change through collaboration and ensuring the work reflects the community’s interests.

Lessons learned from this project

When advocating for sustainability through our various leadership roles, we should continue to remind ourselves that people are at the center of any form of social change. I have learned that the foundation of any change involves three basic concepts: community, leadership, and us. It’s essential to connect social and environmental sustainability in order to initiate change that benefits our environment and people.