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Real Montavilla area bypasses stereotypes

My View • Perception doesn't trump reality in our vibrant, growing neighborhood
by: Tribune File Photo, Waitresses serve dim sum at Wong’s King Seafood restaurant on Southeast 82nd Avenue. A My View writer believes the availability of affordable housing is drawing new families, first-time homeowners and immigrants to neighborhoods surrounding 82nd Avenue, making the area a vibrant place.

Reality and perception are two separate commodities. For those who take a quick drive down 82nd Avenue or through my neighborhood, Montavilla, perception is often clouded by stereotypes that prevent people from seeing the reality of what is going on here.

In Montavilla, this reality includes an explosion of business development, changing demographics and a tremendous amount of new community involvement.

True, Montavilla and other neighborhoods along 82nd Avenue historically suffer from challenges related to public safety and neglect by institutions and local leaders. As these challenges are being addressed, though, business development is expanding greatly. Take for example the booming Stark Street strip in Montavilla between Southeast 82nd and 76th. It boasts the Country Cat Restaurant, Montavilla Farmers Market, Vintage Cocktail Lounge, Academy Theatre, Bipartisan Café and Flying Pie Pizza. Or along 82nd, there are many new venues that represent the avenue's prominence as a new regional center for authentic Asian food: Fubon Marketplace, which draws visitors from across the metro area, and Pho Van, Shenzhen and Wong's King restaurants.

On the other hand, along the entire length of 82nd Avenue there are only nine adult businesses.

Once again, perception vs. reality. Or reality vs. perception, depending on which you prefer to emphasize.

Spurred in part by the wide availability of affordable and fairly priced housing, new families, first-time homeowners and immigrant families are moving to Montavilla, changing its demographics and making it a vibrant neighborhood in which to live and work.

A tour through Montavilla on a weekend will reveal hipsters mingling with immigrant families, young professionals, new families and long-time residents, all either dining out or having drinks, tending their yards, chatting on their porches, riding their bikes or strolling through the neighborhood.

A walk down Northeast Glisan Street just off 82nd reveals an African immigrant-owned halal meat market and African church.

Aside from new business development and expanding demographic diversity, perhaps the most important asset Montavilla enjoys is the incredible level of new community involvement. As I attended the Montavilla Neighborhood Association Movie Night in the Park this past summer (which drew more than 700 visitors and handed out backpacks stuffed with school supplies to 400 low-income kids), I could hear live music coming from an event at Milepost 5, the new artist live-work space at Northeast 82nd and Oregon Street. This 10-day art, music and theater extravaganza, The Manor of Art, brought more than 4,000 visitors to view 115 individual exhibits created by more than 130 local artists. Twenty local bands played indoor and outdoor sets on two different stages.

Earlier in the year, Montavilla's Friends of Trees event planted the most trees and boasted the second highest number of volunteers of any Friends of Trees effort this year.

In the summer, Portland's City Repair hosted a de-paving event at Vestal Elementary School, in which more than 200 volunteers removed 15,000 square feet of pavement to make room for green space and community gardens.

Montavilla residents are also exploring the feasibility of creating a food co-op.

These examples are drawn from Montavilla, but there are also many examples from the other neighborhoods bordering 82nd Avenue - a short list includes Lents International Farmers Market in Lents and the East Portland Expo in Powellhurst-Gilbert (whose organizer just won a Spirit of Portland award), just to name a couple.

So, if you're inclined to look beneath the surface, to explore, then Montavilla and the other neighborhoods along 82nd Avenue are likely of interest to you. Most of the time reality is much different (and much more interesting) than perception.

Fritz Hirsch lives in the Montavilla neighborhood, which straddles 82nd Avenue in Southeast Portland and Northeast Portland.