Overlook Sustainability Summit, 2015

A Quick Recap of the 2015 Summit


Photo: www.photosbykim.com

Back in February 2015, Sustainable Overlook organized the neighborhood’s first Sustainability Summit, held in Beach Elementary School’s auditorium.  The event brought together 12 unique presenters to talk about the work they’re doing in and near Overlook to create a more sustainable and resilient community.

Josh Cabot led off by presenting Sustainable Overlook’s working definition of sustainability, which is of course a broad, often-used, and sometime very ambiguous term.  This event sought to define sustainability through a Triple Bottom Line approach, which focuses on economy, (social) equity, and ecology as the three main pillars.  Although Overloook, and Portland in general, excels nationally with its efforts to make our world more sustainable, there is always more that can be done.  In the words of landscape architect, Ian McHarg, “Health is…the ability of (a) system to not only solve problems, but to seek them out.”  With this in mind, the event allowed each of the presenters to talk about their own activism, which then opened up to whole-room discussions about ways to further improve the economy, equity, and ecology of Overlook.


Photo: www.photosbykim.com

Here are a few of the big takeaways that percolated out of the day’s discussions.

  • Local economy is strengthened by looping our goods, services, and money back into our immediate community.  Perhaps we could develop a directory with map, or tie into an existing online infrastructure such as Nextdoor.com, to list all of our neighborhood’s local businesses which could help residents find local businesses first when seeking out goods and services.  The Economy panel was moderated by Kjell van Zoen of Plywerk, and included Faith Dionne of New American restaurant, and Brent Young of Young Design Studio and the Overlook neighborhood’s quarterly Business Speakeasy.


Photo: www.photosbykim.com


Photo: www.photosbykim.com

  • As a community we need to take a more direct look at equity issues in Overlook and find ways to be more culturally inclusive.  Diverse ecosystems have been scientifically proven to be stronger and more resilient in nature, and our neighborhood is no different.   Perhaps one way to help strengthen our network would be through a series of “courageous conversations”, as coined by Cinda Jackson, who spoke that day about encouraging equity through her role leading the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (S.U.N.) program at Beach Elementary.  These courageous conversations could be a bold way to bring together people of all cultures and colors that reside here in Overlook.  Joining Cinda on the Equity panel was Kieran Connolly of Trillium Charter School, Mitch Bixby of Overlook’s Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET), and the panel was moderated Erin Friend of The Aspire Project.


Photo: www.photosbykim.com

  • The Equity panel also discussed Emergency Preparedness as a neighborhood, which actually has a strong social dimension to consider. Simply put, our resilience as a community is strengthened as neighbors get to know each other better.  Block parties are great ways for neighbors on each street/block to get to know themselves and stay coordinated as an immediate group.  While a lot of block parties already happen throughout the summer here in Overlook, maybe it would be more productive and interesting to ask all blocks to try and host a party on the same day? Much like the Yard Sale / Free Share that happens on the same weekend every year across the entire neighborhood, an Overlook-wide series of block parties would hopefully encourage neighbors to get to know each other as blocks help to build networks of preparedness.


Photo: www.photosbykim.com

  • The big takeaway from the Ecology panel is that we have the power to directly shape the world around us – particularly the physical environment.  Exercising thoughtfulness around the plants we put into the ground and the chemicals we use to amend our yards and gardens is especially key.  Ecology moderator, Mulysa Melco talked about Pesticide Free Overlook, which has been seeking to make Overlook the nation’s first pesticide free neighborhood, and the early results are promising.  For instance, one great first step away from pesticides and herbicides can be to use native plants that help to crowd out weeds and encourage the right types of bugs in our gardens.  Nikkie West of the Audobon Society’s Backyard Habitat program underscored this approach as a way to also help support urban wildlife.  Residential lots, like our’s in Overlook, make up over 40% of our city’s land area, so taking direct action with our own land can aggregate to make a huge difference for our urban ecology.


Photo: www.photosbykim.com

  • Mary Peveto of the Neighbors for Clean Air group contributed to the ecology discussion by reminding us that we have the power to organize and hold businesses accountable that are polluting the air in our immediate neighborhood.  Multnomah County is the 4th largest emitter of diesel particulate matter as a county in the U.S., and so it is important for us to empower ourselves to stay vigilant and become vocal when we notice air pollution.


Photo: www.photosbykim.com

  • Ruth Oclander rounded out the Ecology panel by talking about the current efforts by Friends of Overlook Bluff to save the oak meadow along the part of Overlook Bluff that abuts Overlook Terrace.  Identifying and protecting the existing natural spaces we do have, whether inside or on the edges of our neighborhood, such as the bluff, can certainly improve Overlook’s natural beauty, but perhaps more importantly it helps reinforce the broader ecologic health of the region.


Here is a detailed list of the day’s presenters and the organizations and businesses they represent:


Moderated by Kjell van Zoen of Plywerk


Moderated by Erin Fried of The Aspire Project 


Moderated by Mulysa Melco of Resilience Design  and Sustainable Overlook’s Pesticide Free Overlook project

The event kicked off with a tasty lunch provided by New American, a restaurant focused on sustainably-sourced and convenient meals, which recently opened on N. Killingsworth.

Coffee and scones were also provided in the afternoon by The Eisenhower Bagelhouse, which operates during the morning hours out of Pinky’s on N Interstate Ave.  A big thanks to these businesses as well as to our presenters and Portland Public School’s Civic Use of Buildings program.

Many thanks to Kim VanZoen for photographing the event. www.photosbykim.com

If you would like to learn more about any of these efforts or if you have any ideas, comments, or questions about the work of Sustainable Overlook, please e-mail us at sustainable@overlookneighborhood.org.

The summit was sponsored by Sustainable Overlook, a volunteer committee of the Overlook Neighborhood Association.

Finally, if you did not get a chance to donate at this year’s summit but would like to support the work of Sustainable Overlook, please click the Paypal donate button below.  (Thanks!)