BY LINDA BAKER
Above: The Portland Mercado, a Latino market, is slated to open in summer 2014 in a now vacant property at the corner of SE 72nd and Foster.
Below: Hacienda CDC clients Karen Castaneda and Andres Perez (right) attend a business class at PCC as part of their training to become Mercado vendors. The husband-and-wife team hope to open a Columbian food stand.
// Photos by Sierra Breshears
In a city filled with food carts, Mark White is something of a pioneer. The president of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, White is perhaps the first person in Portland to open a food cart on his front lawn and the first to make the cart into a political statement, in this case about the dearth of amenities along 122nd Avenue south of Powell Boulevard.
Apart from a bar, a small restaurant and a tire shop, there are virtually no businesses in the area, observes White, who named his food cart “South of Holgate” — a prosaic name rife with meaning. “I have wanted to brand this area as SoHo for a long time,” says White. “If we can ever get appropriate investment in the area, we will have a familiar name and a shovel-ready branding idea to build upon.”
White isn’t the only resident frustrated with the slow pace of development in East Portland, a region that typically refers to a collection of neighborhoods east of I-205 that were annexed by the city of Portland in the late 80s and 90s. The moniker East Portland is also applied, somewhat indiscriminately, to a wide swath of relatively poor, sprawling neighborhoods around 82nd Avenue. To this day, many outer eastside communities lack basic public services such as parks, sidewalks and transit options, as well as amenities inner-city denizens take for granted, such as grocery stores and coffee shops located within walking distance.
In 2009 the Portland City Council adopted the East Portland Action Plan, a road map designed to allocate more resources to the area. But so far, progress has been slow — and White’s food cart, a small shed sitting on a small lawn fronting 122nd Avenue’s busy four-lane artery, symbolizes the slow pace of change.
But if South of Holgate is a metaphor for East Portland circa 2013, it’s also because signs of neighborhood improvements are beginning to emerge. This past October, the city rezoned areas of 122nd Avenue to encourage more commercial activity. Community development organizations are moving forward with innovative entrepreneurial programs tapping into the region’s singular cultural diversity, and public officials and agencies, including Mayor Charlie Hales and the Portland Development Commission, are tweaking programs and policies to focus more attention on the outer east side.
At stake in these initiatives — and promises — is more than the equitable distribution of public and private resources. Since the 1990s, urban redevelopment has revolved around inner-city revitalization or new downtown developments such as the Pearl District and the South Waterfront. As efforts to improve the outer east side lumber forward, the question is whether policy makers, along with business and community groups, can create yet a third model, one that uplifts disenfranchised, car-oriented suburban neighborhoods.
“It’s the next big challenge for urban planners,” says Hales, sitting in his office this past January, just a few weeks after the mayoral election, “how to take 122nd and Division, where the pedestrian is a forlorn, endangered species, and systematically change it to a higher-value urban neighborhood.” Do outer eastside districts have to look exactly like the trendy North Williams or Alberta avenues? “No,” says Hales. “But they can’t function like they do today.”
Attention to social equity will distinguish eastside development practices, elaborates Nick Sauvie, executive director of Rose Community Development, a nonprofit working on several projects in the area. Historically, Portland revitalization efforts have involved displacing poor and minority residents from the inner city to outlying areas, Sauvie says. But East Portland requires a new strategy, one that revitalizes without gentrifying.
“It calls for an incremental, neighborhood-based approach that works with the existing strengths of the community,” says Sauvie. “Asset-building and on-the-ground organizing is what’s going to be needed to make East Portland the place people want it to be.”