Group seeks to balance community pride, city connections -

COURTESY PHOTO - Rockwood kids play during the 2016 Rock the Block event which is held annually at the future site of the Rockwood Rising neighborhood hub.Sometimes it seems like Rockwood — one of Oregon's most diverse and economically challenged neighborhoods — doesn't quite fit with the rest of Gresham.

At least, that's how the Gresham Redevelopment Commission tends to see it. But the group sees an opportunity, in conjunction with YBA Architects, to not only create a central hub through the Rockwood Rising initiative, but also to foster an identity for the community and forge connections with the rest of Gresham.

The physical changes are the easiest.

Plans for the first phase of development — a large public square at 185th Avenue between Southeast Burnside and Southeast Stark streets, with mixed-use buildings and a striking market hall — are going through the final stages of approval, with groundbreaking for the redevelopment happening in one year.

Creating a new public perception of Rockwood is much more difficult. It requires changing the way people think about the neighborhood both internally and externally while creating a Rockwood brand to rally behind, the commission says. They have visions of T-shirts, bumper stickers and other merchandise showing off love for the neighborhood. They also are active on social media platforms such as Nextdoor and Facebook.

“We can capitalize on Rockwood’s uniqueness and create its own cool identity,” said Christopher Bentley, a member of the advisory committee.

It’s not just the committee and planners coming up with things, as they have worked with community members to incorporate their ideas and input. A recent example of collaboration was the fourth-annual Rock the Block family-oriented celebration, a two-day event in early June at the future site of the Rockwood Rising town center. Fourteen-hundred people and 55 organizations that provide resources for the community attended.

“There was a lot of thoughtfulness that went into the questions we asked the community,” said Emily Bower, senior urban renewal project coordinator. “We have done meet and greets, community events and culturally specific forums to get our message out and continue the conversation.”

It was an opportunity for the development team to see the faces of Rockwood. Joan Albertson, committee chairwoman, explained how neat it was to see Matt Brown, with YBA Architects, interact with the people.

“I was impressed to see little kids having deep conversations with Matt,” Albertson said. “You could see the synergy going on between them.”

In total they received 99 community comments during Rock the Block, all of which will help design the physical space as well as the direction of the Rockwood Rising project as a whole.

The next step is expanding their community engagement approach. The commission has brought on two community-based consultants, Design and Culture Lab and Rockwood CDC, to help guide the project through the coming year. Both bring their own list of local partners — Rosewood Initiative, Urban League, Shalom Rockwood and Reynolds School District, to name a few.

They want to engage communities of color, promote multi-cultural businesses and continuously evaluate the effectiveness of the outreach. A lot of this will be done through community liaison training to create leaders to help spread the message — Rockwood is something to be proud of.

It all comes back around to the core idea, balancing that pride while also creating an inclusion with Gresham as a whole, the commission says.

“There are a lot of people around here who grew up in Rockwood and have very fond memories of it,” Albertson said. “We don’t want the people of Rockwood to feel like no one wants them, we want them to know they belong in West Gresham.”

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