Discussing urban renewal in inner N/NE Portland.

The Portland Development Commission’s website hails Rhythm Traders (at 3904 NE MLK) as a PDC-aided success story.  To quote from PDC’s story on Brad Boynton’s move of his shop from NE Broadway to NE MLK:

Boynton purchased the building last spring because his business had outgrown its previous space along NE Broadway. He was attracted to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. area for a number of reasons, but was particularly enticed because the property was located in an urban renewal area. Boynton quickly saw the effects of investment around him, as new real estate developments along the boulevard increased property values and led to an overall decrease in crime, just in the short time the store was in its remodeling phase. Additionally, Boynton’s property is located adjacent to the Heritage Building, one of several PDC catalyst projects.

Throughout the redevelopment process, Boynton took advantage of several programs operated by PDC… Beyond the financial assistance [from PDC], Boynton also found that having additional staff from PDC overseeing the development process was extremely helpful, as he had never undertaken a remodel at this scale. PDC expertise and oversight provided better assurance that work was being done in the proper manner.

Boynton was further impressed with the welcome he received from neighboring property owners who offered help and encouragement, answered questions and provided advice.

Rhythm Traders, on the corner of NE MLK & Failing

At an Urban Renewal Area Town Hall meeting earlier this month, Allyson Spencer wondered whether a minority-owned business would’ve gotten this kind of support from the city, and from fellow business owners.

The town hall was part of a series of community meetings on urban renewal organized by the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, and co-sponsored by the Urban League of Portland, Portland State University’s Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, and Oregon Humanities.

Speakers and area residents were invited to ‘share prespectives on how inner North/Northeast Urban Renewal Areas have historically impacted neighborhoods,’ with feedback delivered to the PDC.

Folks who attended the town hall were deeply critical of the ‘urban renewal process’ in Portland. Among the views I heard expressed by different attendees  during the meeting included:

  • There has been “intentional blighting” of neighborhoods on the part of city agencies to make them unlivable, a process of “scrubbing the area of long-time owners,” with Urban Renewal Areas and “white saviors” coming in. As a result, property taxes have soared, and it’s now more expensive to live in the area (inner North/Northeast, aka Albina) than it was before.
  • This sort of meeting out to have happened at the beginning of the formation of Urban Renewal Areas, rather than years into the establishment of the Interstate and Oregon Convention Center URAs.
  • There’s a lack of diversity in the area now, as gentrification has been a “little form of genocide,” a “slow death” for the community that lived in the area.
  • African-American Portlanders in Albina are now forced to live in Gresham on “reservations, virtual concentration camps without walls,” where people are dying little by little.
  • The PDC has a “ghetto door” for minorities – it prefers to work with “other” businessfolks and organizations.
  • Commerical redevelopment tends to meet the needs of people moving in to the area, rather than the needs of long-term residents.
  • Predatory investors, aided by deregulation, have alighted on the neighborhoods in the area, pushing housing prices ever upwards; the city has responded with “empty promises” of affordable housing.

One person noted that “gentrification has displaced us from our history. We need to create our own space for talking. Redevelopment is also a process, not just… buildings.”  Seeing urban renewal as more than just dollars and new buildings – that’s something I couldn’t agree with more.

The town hall meetings continue tonight with an Urban Renewal Area Community Forum and Planning Session at Billy Webb Elks Lodge; attendees will ‘participate in work sessions to provide input into the future of the URAs and economic development in inner North and Northeast Portland.’ The full schedule of meetings is here.


1 thought on “Discussing urban renewal in inner N/NE Portland.”

  1. I love checking out all the amazing percussion instruments at Rhythm Traders and then getting a tasty spicy chicken sandwich from Chris’s Gourmet Grill on the same block. Good times.

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