Above: An undeveloped lot on Southeast 136th and Powell was recently rezoned for possible commercial development, such as a vertical manufacturing company.
// Photo by Sierra Breshears
Below: With a population of about 150,000 people, East Portland is not a monolithic community but a group of 13 diverse neighborhoods. The region was annexed by the city of Portland in the 1990s and lacks many of the public services and amenities found in central-city neighborhoods.
Whether the New Seasons, McMenamins and Tasty & Sons of the world eventually expand to the outer east side remains to be seen; whether that kind of business development would lead to gentrification and displacement of local residents is also unclear. More certain is the incremental on-the-ground capacity building, which continues across East Portland. The Division-Midway Alliance, another East Portland prosperity initiative district, is planning a spring neighborhood fair and bike rodeo; according to Alliance co-chair Lori Boisen, the organization is also recruiting multilingual high school students to help engage business owners in cleaning up and improving their properties.
The owner of a coupon business targeting inner Southeast and Northeast residents, Boisen says her company is eager to move east. “But advertisers want to go where the money is,” she says. “Our goal is to make this a prosperous area for businesses.”
In Lents, longtime property owner Sam Farah had been using a storefront on Southeast 92nd Avenue as family storage — for the past eight years. But with the help of PDC grants to improve the sidewalk frontage and storefronts, Farah recently decided to upgrade the building. “We finally felt the need to do something with the property,” he says. One of the spaces was recently leased to Working Class Acupuncture, a business that used a $60,000 tenant improvement loan to complete its own build-out.
On 122nd, when White isn’t putting the finishing touches on South of Holgate, he’s championing a mixed-use project that would combine retail space, a community kitchen and veterans’ housing, a development he says requires PDC assistance. White also hopes a few of the rezoned properties — a large undeveloped lot off 126th and Powell, in particular — will attract a vertical manufacturing company like Bridgetown Natural Foods, which, in 2010, moved into a 65,000-square-foot facility on Foster Road east of I-205.
For White and many others, such projects can’t arrive soon enough. But if evolution is slow, a new chapter is definitely unfolding in Portland, a city at once lauded for revitalizing languishing neighborhoods and criticized for creating a pattern of homogeneity and dislocation. Improving the fortunes of East Portland is about more than uplifting neighborhoods on the margin. It’s about maintaining the health — and reputation — of the entire city, and testing the viability of a new, culturally diverse, community-based development model. The success or failure of that model could have ripple effects nationwide.
In the past decade, poverty has migrated away from the inner city to the suburbs, in Portland and around the country, says Nick Christensen, president of the Lents Neighborhood Association. “If we want to tell the world we are the best planned city, then we have to come up with the answer to East Portland and how to make it successful economically,” Christensen says. “It’s the great problem we are all trying to solve.”