TribTown • East Portland residents and city focus on growth and outreach
Much of what is now east Portland was annexed from unincorporated Multnomah County by the city starting in the 1980s. But years later, the area still feels to many like a place set apart.
The difference has long been obvious. Compared with the more westerly parts of Portland, more roads in the outer east side are unpaved, more homes rely on septic tanks, and more neighborhoods have a rural feel.
But east Portland is increasingly different for other reasons: The area is the fastest-growing part of the city and undergoing rapid demographic changes at the same time, including greater diversity fueled by burgeoning immigrant communities.
Last fall, city officials and neighborhood leaders gathered to kick off the East Portland Action Plan. With a citizens committee and public meetings, the plan is designed to help the city respond to the growing area's needs as well as help residents join in that response.
'It's really about trying to get people involved and thinking about their community - and how they can work together to improve it,' said Barry Manning, a planner who is helping with the process.
This is not some endless 'visioning' process that could drag on and on. Rather, officials say, it's a short, surgical, seven-month timeline that already is leading to concrete results.
The committee that is shepherding the plan into fruition has settled on three short-term fixes it wants to see happen. Two are not surprising: graffiti cleanup and helping residents learn how to contact the police using the nonemergency number, to avoid clogging 911.
The third one is what committee member and resident Michelle Winningham, a marketing executive, is most excited about: community building, meaning helping to reach out to new residents who may not be aware of the possibilities for becoming involved in civic life.
Ethnic groups need outreach
Winningham likes the changes the region is undergoing. She loves shopping at the Asian market in the Fubonn Shopping Center, 2850 S.E. 82nd Ave., and for other ethnic foods in the area as well. But she also thinks the city should help new residents connect to their surroundings.
So Winningham is happy to hear that momentum is growing for the city, in its upcoming budget, to allocate $500,000 to community building and the other aspects of the plan.
'That is kind of exciting, as a resident, to know that there's some money to do this,' she said.
Committee member Simon Wong, who works in real estate, applauds the effort to reach out.
'It's pulling in a lot of people from different ethnic groups. It covers a wide range of the city,' he said.
Wong said that for people newly arrived from China and Southeast Asia, this kind of outreach is key.
'The Asian community has been quiet because in the Asian culture people don't want to deal with politics,' he said. 'I hope to get involved more and bring the message back to the Chinese and Asian community.'
Similarly, another committee member, Vadim Riskin, of the Slavic Coalition, says the influx of new residents from the former Soviet Union is growing 'very quickly.'
'Immigrant communities need to be more involved in whatever happens on the county and city level,' he said. 'We just don't know how to do that.'
Access to services is key
Besides helping his fellow immigrants, Riskin wants to 'send a message that we are here, that we exist and that this is a big community that wants to be integrated in the larger community - but we have our own cultural values.'
He added that from sitting on the committee, he's learned that it's not just people new to the United States who need help playing a role in their community. Many people who are not immigrants 'don't know how to be involved either,' he said, adding, 'I think this committee will help everybody.'
'Everybody' keeps growing. Between 1996 and 2006, east Portland absorbed nearly 40 percent of all the growth in the city.
At the root of these changes is that east Portland is becoming more of a destination spot for people who can't afford the rent increases in other parts of the city. That means more people who lack resources, such as seniors.
Riskin, who works for Portland Public Schools, said, 'A lot of people are moving from Portland Public Schools to David Douglas (School District) because of cheaper prices.'
Besides helping people assimilate, the plan is considering a number of other strategies aimed at sparking business revitalization, improving education and making sure all parts of east Portland have adequate access to services, such as parks and safe mass transit through TriMet.
It also will look at how best to resolve issues of density, such as development in neighborhoods where apartment buildings are not common.
For information on the East Portland Action Plan, and to download related documents, go to www.portlandonline.com/planning/index.cfm?c=efeei .
To become more involved, call Barry Manning at the city's Bureau of Planning, 503-823-7700.