Roof rats are darker and smaller than most rats. They climb trees and like to nest in attics.

Roof rats are darker and smaller than most rats. They climb trees and like to nest in attics.

By Cornelius Swart

PORTLAND –The roof rat, also known as the black rat or ship rat was once famous for spreading Europe’s Black Plague.  The nocturnal rodents spend about 90 percent of their lives four or more feet off the ground. They’re dark grey or black with no hair on their ears and can measure 15 inches long from their heads to the end of their long scaly tails.

Roof rats nest outside in trees, wood piles, and dense vegetation. But they also climb power lines and can run right into a house. They can squeeze through any hole larger than a quarter.

Chris Roberts is Multnomah County’s lone rat inspector. He takes about 1,000 calls for rat problems each year. The majority turn out to be for the larger common ground rat, or Norway Rat.

“Normally I get about four or five calls that turn out to be roof rats,” Roberts said.

This year, so far he’s seen 40 to 50 roof rat cases.

Read the rest at

This photo was found at Lee Perlman's home after his death. It shows Perlman (at right) during the 1970s, when he was active in the group Portland Tenants Union. (Courtesy of Bill Perlman)

This photo was found at Lee Perlman’s home after his death. It shows Perlman (at right) during the 1970s, when he was active in the group Portland Tenants Union. (Courtesy of Bill Perlman)

Two weeks after the death of Lee Perlman, his rundown, 110-year-old Portland bungalow is a swarm of activity. Former friends, contractors and city staffers scurry around the property dividing up the rundown home’s contents.

Every surface is covered. Newspapers are stacked four feet tall in the corners. A mound of magazines three feet high subsumes a bed. Workers shuffle through narrow spaces on a carpet of paper four inches deep.

Lee’s brother Bill Perlman, just arrived from his home in Massachusetts, stands in one corner. “It’s a shock,” he says, “but not a surprise.”

In August, Lee Perlman, at the age of 64, killed himself in his Eliot neighborhood home. The death of the well-known reporter and 40-year neighborhood activist sent shock and dismay through Portland.

Perlman — recognizable for his snowy hair and beard, button-down shirt sleeve, jeans and work boots — recorded a generation of neighborhood activism that helped transform Portland’s once-neglected urban core into one of the most livable cities in the U.S.

Read the Rest at The Oregonian/OregonLive

Mayor Charlie Hales announced Monday that the city would begin enforcing sidewalk rules to keep campers from sitting and sleeping during daylight hours outside Portland City Hall. (Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian)

Mayor Charlie Hales announced Monday that the city would begin enforcing sidewalk rules to keep campers from sitting and sleeping during daylight hours outside Portland City Hall. (Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian)

Portland has long struggled with homelessness downtown. The good weather and liberal environment also makes the Northwest a popular place for travelers and transients in the summer.

Two weeks ago, while mouthing off about this or that, I told Susan Nielson of The Oregonian’s Editorial Board about my experiences as a freight-hopper and hitchhiker back when I was young.  I said I never thought that I had the right to sleep on city streets, and even if I did, the rules of the road were to just move on if police asked. She invited me to write an essay which is the rare public editorial from me that you see below.

A good traveler knows when it’s time to hit the road

Portland’s downtown remains a fairly livable place by my East Coast standards. But the recent assault on Larry Allen by a skateboard-wielding kid and last December’s battle between street kids and food cart vendors has highlighted that downtown is increasingly cultivating a lawless atmosphere. An overly tolerant policy toward camping on the street and “travelers” is greatly to blame. Now that City Hall has made moves to clear protesters from its front steps, it should go further and enforce bans on camping on public streets. I say this as someone was a bit of a traveler, hitchhiker and freight train hopper back in the day.

In 1994, as a New Jersey-raised young man, I arrived in Portland on a sparkling summer afternoon with a backpack smelling of campfire, a deep tan and a smile on my face. Two friends and I had just jumped a freight train from Eugene to Albany and hitched into Portland on the latest leg of a thousand-mile trek from San Francisco to the western shores of Canada’s Vancouver Island.

Read the rest at The Oregonian/OregonLive

Oh, the irony. This article I did on April 13, culminated about ten months of reporting dating back to when I still did work for the Oregonian’s hyperlocal team.

I basically went to cover a community meeting in August and a year later wound up with this sprawling transportation piece that encompassed the Washington DC-like gridlock mentality that has recently seized the region.

The article prompted an editorial follow up, which can often happen after large enterprising stories, but the editorial ran in The Columbian, the newspaper in neighboring Clark County, not the Oregonian. Perhaps the O will write an editorial about Vancouver’s Bus Rapid Transit coverage.  We’ll have to see.

FROM OregonLive

The I-5 Broadway/Weidler project is generating controversy, though it's overshadowed by the CRC. (The Oregonian)

The I-5 Broadway/Weidler project is generating controversy, though it’s overshadowed by the CRC. (The Oregonian)

Local freeway commuters know the spot where traffic grinds to a halt almost every day. It’s where Interstate 84 ends its 773-mile long journey from Echo, Utah, to Portland by slamming headlong into Interstate 5. And it’s where northbound and southbound I-5 travelers find three or four lanes of traffic slimmed down to two.

The city calls it The Gateway of Portland’s freeway system. Combined with the chokepoint a few miles north at the Interstate Bridge, it creates regular backups that can send gridlock deep into city streets.

During the past two years, as the region’s public officials, voters and activists have clamored over the fate of the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing, a plan to address Rose Quarter congestion has slowly inched forward like so much rush hour traffic.

The I-5 Broadway/Weidler Plan may be the biggest transportation project most people have never heard of. In December, the Oregon Transportation Commission approved a plan that aims to both alleviate I-5 traffic and remodel neighborhoods near the Rose Garden with new surface streets, a cap over the freeway with a possible park, and new bike- and pedestrian-friendly improvements.

Read the rest at The Oregonian/OregonLive

seanongleySean Ongley is not a jazz musician per se. The self-described “musician-humorist-writer-producer” is more inclined toward obscure indie bands like AU than local jazzman Mel Brown.

The 29-year-old president of the nonprofit group InterArtsstays on a farm in the hills northwest of St. Johns and says he earns a living off “odd jobs, barter and faith.” He’s never organized a music event for more than 2,000 people.

Given that, Ongley has a little less than three weeks to rescue the largest and longest running free jazz festival west of the Mississippi.

For the last thirty-two years, on the third weekend in July, the Cathedral Park Jazz Festival has attracted thousands of music lovers to a three-night summer concert under the yawning spans of the St. Johns Bridge. The event has a history of drawing national acts like the late James Moody and David “Fathead” Newman.

But in May of 2012, the Oregon Department of Justice forced the nonprofit to dissolve itself due to chronic fiduciary oversights and failure to maintain its nonprofit status. With the event only three months away, most thought the festival was dead.

Read the rest at The Oregonian/OregonLive

Photo by Severen Sadjina

Post appeared on George Rede’s blog RoughandRede, August 31 as a part of his Voices of August guest post series. It appeared under the headline “Oregon’s Unique Racial History.”

They say that those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. So, it’s always been a little alarming to me how few people know about Oregon’s unique racial history.

I think many who live here view Portland as a progressive place governed by thoughtful public policy. Portland likes to think of itself as home to innovative and inclusive creative residents. Given that most people know that Portland is very white. At 78 %, it’s one of the whitest major cities in America. Its core neighborhoods are actually getting whiter (topping the nation at 74 %). Yet few I’ve met seem to see an inconsistency in the city’s lack of diversity and the rhetoric of “celebrating diversity” we often proclaim.

“Why would black people even want to come here?“ a young creative type (and a fellow reporter)  once asked during a conversation about Oregon’s pioneer history and the lack of early black migration to the area.

“They came looking for opportunity just like everyone else,” I said. “But they were told that they weren’t allowed to live here.”

Oregon was the only state to enter the Union with a constitutional exclusion on African American residents. Less than 65 years ago The National Journal of Social Work declared Portland the most discriminatory city outside the Deep South. The state did not ratify the Fifteen Amendment (giving blacks the right to vote) until 1959. Read More

Donna Maxey (from left) greets Susan Fatherree and Melissa Lowery at the Gathering of Friends on Sunday. The event, now in its 25th year, brings together families who grew up in North and Northeast Portland and Vancouver in the 1940s, '50 and '60s. Cornelius Swart/The Oregonian

Donna Maxey (from left) greets Susan Fatherree and Melissa Lowery at the Gathering of Friends on Sunday. The event, now in its 25th year, brings together families who grew up in North and Northeast Portland and Vancouver in the 1940s, ’50 and ’60s. Cornelius Swart/The Oregonian

Hundreds of friends and relatives gathered in the park last Sunday to barbecue, laugh and reminisce about the good old days. Adults recalled running through backyard sprinklers, visiting relatives after church and girls taking etiquette classes at the local community center.

It may sound like small-town Oregon, but this was in North Portland’s Eliot neighborhood, the heart of Portland’s African American community in the 1940, ’50s and ’60s.

Today the neighborhood bears little resemblance to its former self. Urban renewal projects demolished about 1,300 homes over the years, and gentrification has transformed it into a majority white part of town.

But founders of this, the 25th annual Gathering of Friends, a de facto neighborhood reunion, say the friendships forged in the solidarity of segregation and the grinding displacement of the past half-century have bonded them into a community like no other.

And as the event grows, more residents from the past return, and bonds with new generations form.

Back in the day
“When we grew up it was an idyllic time,” said 64-year-old Donna Maxey, who attended the Gathering with her 92-year-old mother Sunday, Aug. 28, at tiny Dawson Park. “I liken my childhood to ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ ‘Father Knows Best’ meets the Huxtables” from “The Cosby Show.”

Read the rest at The Oregonian/OregonLive

THE OREGONIAN May 27th, 2011

Members of the St. Johns Mainstreet Foot Patrol walk through the community’s downtown during the program’s first night.

On a rainy Thursday night in April, three volunteers with the St. Johns Mainstreet Foot Patrol clad in yellow vests — and armed only with cellphones, flashlights and a digital camera — made their way through the town center.

Crime in St. Johns has fallen steadily during the past four years, but recent events have some people feeling a sense of relapse to the years when the area was know for little other than neglect and street drinkers. The neighborhood has been hit hard by the recession, and graffiti, prostitution and vagrants have returned.

And while some signs of economic recovery are taking hold, the community’s civic pride hasn’t fully recovered from the 2008 closure of the Police Bureau’s North Precinct. Combined with a recent spate of gang shootings citywide, many simply don’t feel safe downtown at night.

So when the foot patrol volunteers made their way past bus stops and shops, they received an almost heroic welcome from the neighborhood.

Local merchant Randy Plew of Plew’s Brews on North Lombard Street wraps a volunteer in bear hug as the patrol passes.

“Thank you,” gushes 34-year-old Angela Cobb, who says she’s frequently harassed by men looking for prostitutes. “This (foot patrol) means a lot to me.”

The patrol’s impact is reaching even beyond residents and local merchants. Portland police were so impressed they decided to support the effort by doing something they haven’t done in years — walk the beat themselves.

“They are really motivated people,” says Stephanie Reynolds, of the type of gritty volunteers who typically make up such foot patrols. Reynolds, program coordinator for the city’s Crime Prevention Program, helps support the dozen or so foot patrols in Portland and but had never heard of one getting the police to walk the beat.

But she’s not surprised. “They are the type of people who want to get things done.”

Read the rest at The Oregonian/OregonLive

cash-in dearie

This week we officially named the J-Lab project The Oregonian News Network.  Yes, yes, the acronym is ONN, which makes me think of the Onion News Network, but nothing’s perfect. There’s a new official ONN blog, where I’ll be posting program updates and announced today that we’ll be awarding the first seven Pilot Partners $2,500 a piece to take part in the program.

“The ONN will first work to organize a strong and consistent group of initial partners. To help do that, we are awarding $2,500 to up to seven Pilot Partner bloggers.  These Pilot Partners will be a combination of hyperlocals and beat bloggers from around the region and state. The cash will serve a number of purposes. First, it’s part of J-Lab’s mission to support existing indie news producers.  Second, we’ll still be working out the kinks on the program, and Pilot Partners will be live beta testers. Lastly, we’d like to have the freedom to do something experimental, a-la Pipeline, at later stages in the program. So if that put some demands on partner time, we want them compensated.”

The program is moving along merrily. I hope to have things in place next week so we can start working with our very first pilot partner.  I’ve been at the job a month and we’re only now getting a pilot partners up and running. Things sometimes move  slowly at the O. It’s a large organization and one of the largest papers to try this J-Lab experiment. Read More

In this Post

Cornelius gets a new job

What is J-Lab?

Working at the Oregonian

Burying the lead: what’s in it for me, how to get involved

A new job

Greetings from the Death Star!  I’m sitting at my new desk inside the largest newsroom in the Pacific Northwest: The Oregonian. Yes, that’s right. Cornelius Swart: scrappy publisher, reporter and master of the pan-flute, has taken a job with The Man!

Well more of a contract than a job to be exact. A few weeks ago I came on board as the new project Coordinator for The Oregonian’s Networked Journalism Project. Over the next year I’ll be working to create partnerships between The Oregonian/OregonLive and hyperlocal, beat and topic bloggers from around the state. The program will attempted to get bloggers and the paper working together in a cooperative and mutually beneficial way. To do that the program will promote hyperlocal and beat blogger stories through the OregonLive website as well as provide trainings aimed at sharpening journalism  and business skills. There could be other ways to work together. The program is just getting started. Personally, I’m pretty excited about working with the indie community that I’ve known for so long AND the incredible news professionals here at The Oregonian (the biggest newsroom in the Pacific Northwest , did I mention that all ready?)

What is J-Lab?

The Networked Journalism Project  is part of a national effort funded by American University’s J-Lab Institute for Interactive Journalism and the Knight Foundation. It’s a one year pilot program. Last year J-Lab funded Networked Journalism projects at the Seattle Times, Charlotte Observer, the Miami Herald and in Asheville NC and Tucson AZ. This year, The Oregonian, SF public radio station KQED, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Lawrence Journal World (Kan.) all received grants.

It’s a big opportunity for me in particular. For several years while I was publishing the hyperlocal paper The Sentinel, I was also involved in a non-profit think- tank called Portland Media Lab.  In 2008, PML published a list of recommendations for improving the local news ecosystem  (see items C-F). We tried to implement some of the ideas at the Sentinel, but never really had the resources (read: time and money) to get anything significant off the ground.

So I was excited when I heard The Oregonian had stepped up to the J-Lab plate and put its considerable audience and “resources” into the project. For me, its a chance to put some of PML’s ideas into action.

Working at The Oregonian

The folks here at the O have been really nice to me. I’ve gotten to meet quiet a few people already. It’s been reassuring to see that when it comes down to it, journalists are all journalists, whether they work in huge newsrooms or from their laptops in coffee shops. The folks here are well aware of the paper’s old reputation as “The Death Star” and that some independents may be wary of working with them.

Read More