The Public Launch of the East Portland Placemaking Plan on March 28, 2015 was the culmination of three months of researching, interviewing, taking the bus, talking to people, running around streets, approaching strangers, handing out flyers, and overall just trying to get to know East Portland and the Black community better. One of our major challenges among our student consulting team (Portland State University Masters in Urban and Regional Planning students) was that none of us identified as Black. So we were afraid to offend, but mostly nervous because we wanted to do justice to this community that we so very much care about. This community has such a long history of being left behind, so the last thing we wanted to do was become one more group of people to not trust. We had so much to learn in such little time. We were fortunate to have the Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) as partners to help make sure we did our best. Two days before the launch, we were really excited because we got a shout out from Mayor Hales. Social media was buzzing about our event. We did not know how many to expect, it could have been anywhere from 5 to 50.
Finally, the day had come, the public launch. We set up at the Rosewood Initiative, a community center in Outer East Portland that was establishing itself as a hub of activity. The Victory Outreach fair was lit up outside with its rides going round and round. A mix of about ten members from the African and African American community gathered.
Several topics came up. Lisa Mathis, a mother of seven and part of the International Center for Traditional Child Bearing voiced her concern over “a lack of things for kids to do.” She described the Rockwood Max station:
“There’s a lot of kids over there. My kid – my son who’s fifteen has been over there twice. One kid right around the corner got shot and died. And him and his cousin were there....Nothing for them to do. They’re over there fighting… Fighting over drugs. Fighting over girls. Nothing to do…..There’s no community center out there that I know of. So it’s a bunch of little kids unattended to. I always go over there looking for my son. I find there’s a lot of kids over there just out there.”
It was clear that the community members were filled with stories of the reality of East Portland. Some of the main challenges that emerged out of these stories were:
Lack of activities for youth, especially teens.
Difficulty engaging and building community
The need to connect community members to services
Crime and violence at Max Stations
The lack of culturally appropriate services
The need for improved access to Transit
Looking back on the workshop, I think at first my student team members and I were a little disappointed because we thought with the publicity, we would have had more people. However, by the end it was clear that the cheesy saying is true-- it’s quality not quantity. The discussion was rich and filled with passion. It was clear that this group of people had a lot to say about their community. I think Nicole Philips summed up the feel of the conversation, “This community has a lot to offer the city as a whole I think. The people are an untapped resource.”
We are ready to invest in our most valuable resource, the people.