WANT Community Series: Gentrification

On the third day of our program we had a discussion with community leaders about the history of the historically African American neighborhood of North Portland and the urban renewal that has resulted in massive gentrification and displacement in recent decades. We centered the conversation around the installation on bike lanes on North Williams avenue, a move that was largely seen by historic community members as yet another example of gentrification and disregard. Students were ask to speak with locals and understand all sides of the issue. They then crafted opinion pieces about biking in Portland.


By Sydney Wallis

Bikers in Portland: What’s the deal?

As I stepped outside this morning–tired, hungry, and already anticipating bedtime– I happened to notice about three people ride by my house on bicycles. Now, as anyone who resides in Southeast Portland probably already knows, it’s slightly less common to see well-equipped, athletic-looking bike riders in some parts of the area.

On my way to the north section of the city, I was a bit more aware of the presence of bikes around me. Seeing as I would soon be entering one of the most highly bike-populated areas in Portland, I was subconsciously more cautious to look for bikes waiting at designated crosswalks and intersections. Like most Portlanders would probably be able to say, I enjoy biking. I wouldn’t say that I’m a biking expert, or that I could survive a fifty mile trip, but I like to consider myself well educated on bicycles and the role of bikers in Portland.

After working fairly closely with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance for a program I was in, I was able to reconnect with biking. They gave us all sorts of great resources like bike maps, seat guards, and more, which further encouraged me to get back into biking. Currently, I don’t own a bike. I’ve had bad luck with them in the past and have ended up having to throw away or sell every one that I’ve owned. My mother, on the other hand, does own a bike. A very nice bike, at that. Sometimes I take it out for a little ride around the neighborhood, but never too far from home.

Today, me and the others who are part of a journalism camp I’m attending got to learn more about the effects of the presence of bikers in the Portland area. Keep in mind, our camp location is set in the Boise neighborhood, one of the most bike-friendly areas in all of Portland. Granted, all of Portland is considered “bike-friendly.” According to mentalfloss.com, we are the number three most bike-friendly city in the world, just behind Amsterdam (second), and Copenhagen (first). Though, some individuals in Portland just still can’t seem to jump on the bike-lovers train quite yet.

On North Williams Ave, there is a bike lane. This bike lane has caused a lot of controversy from both bikers, and non-bikers. At first, bikers said the lane was too confusing from what they were used to, and it makes their riding experience uncomfortable. As time progressed, it seems as though they are now used to it, and appreciate the twelve-foot wide bike lane better than the previous, five-foot one.

Many non-bikers were definitely not happy with this new bike lane at first, and still are not happy today. In fact, some of them are not happy with bike lanes, or just plain bikes in general. Today, me and a small group of others took to the streets to ask a few people what they thought about the strong bike presence in Portland, and more specifically, the addition and change of the bike lane on N Williams Ave.

The first man we spoke with, Mike Hennessee, is a pastor at local Vancouver Ave First Baptist Church. Pastor Hennessee was bright and full of life, and actually approached us first. I could hear the authenticity and general enthusiasm in his voice, and became excited to hear what he had to say.

I smiled, prepared myself, and asked: “What do you know about the change of the bike lane on North Williams Avenue?”

Right away, I could see his facial expression shift, his mouth curving into a smile as if he knew I would ask this question. “I was on the committee,” he said, laughing a bit. Immediately, I knew he was not speaking of the committee that was for the bike lane, but against it. “I am not happy about it,” he told us after we’d all had a good laugh.

“I have no problem with bikers in general. I just think what we are not doing, and what we need to do as a city, is really set rules of the road,” Pastor Henessee continued thoughtfully. After asking a few more questions and listening to his wise words, we continued on our way to collect more interviews.

Upon entering local Dawson Park, we were able to speak with another local, Erin, who shared with us her opinion on biking.

“I wouldn’t say [I’m a] frequent [bike rider],” she told us, as she pointed out the bike she rode to the park on. We had asked her what a typical encounter with a car looks like while she’s on a bike; similarly to Pastor Henessee, her answer incorporated the fact that both bikers and drivers need to be more educated on the rules of the road.

Based on these two interviews, I believe there is a strong need for more biking education. With Portland being such a bike prominent city, drivers should be able to understand the role that bikes play in our town.

The relationship between cars and bikes must be strengthened in order to ever be able to create a safe environment for both modes of transportation. Will we get to that point in the next five years? Maybe not. But there is always room to grow and learn.


By Adelina Bajrami

Biking has always been a core feature of Portland’s culture, mainly stemming from the city’s desire to be eco-friendly and welcoming of differing lifestyles. Around the city are bike sculptures, bike shops, bike racks, annual bike events, and even Nike’s new bike sharing program. Because biking holds such prominent significance, it never once occurred to me there was a huge controversy surrounding the bikeway programs being implemented around the city.

When the idea of expanding bike lanes first arose, there was immediate backlash from many communities, one being the neighborhood around N. Williams Avenue across the river. For people commuting by car, an increase of bike riders means they’ll have to be even more attentive than usual in order to avoid getting into an accident- and as expected many drivers are not happy about this news. People in the neighborhood are also unhappy, stating they are concerned about how interactions between bikers and pedestrians will look like. And lastly, because the N. Williams neighborhood has always been historically African American, these folks are certainly not excited about bikeway programs either. They fear that by adding in more bike lanes around their community, gentrification (the displacement of low-income families or small businesses due to increases in property values from renovations made by wealthier bodies) will push them out of their homes, forcing them to relocate to another neighborhood or even outside the city. In fact, gentrification has been such a pressing issue that only 22 percent of the African American community remains in the N. Williams area versus the 65 percent it used to be.

Besides all the criticisms of the programs, there are Portland residents who do support the improvements being made to our bikeways. Both bike riders (of course) and local businesses in the area are offering resounding encouragements to the bike developments, noting it will create a safer environment for riders, drivers, and pedestrians alike. Shops and eateries also enjoy the fact that better bike lanes help improve their business.

“Bike lanes have mostly improved the community. I’ve seen a lot more people on bikes being able to access these streets and less people being afraid of both Williams and Vancouver. And for this business, the bike lanes have brought in a lot more folks down because it is more accessible,” says an employee of Brass Tacks Sandwiches who commutes to work on bike every day.

Really, the main priority of the bikeway programs is safety, so while nothing is perfect as of yet, the way bikers travel from point A to point B will only continue to be refined- and that is definitely something to celebrate as more and more people in the city select bikes as their primary form of transportation. Although there are unfortunate consequences, there is no denying bikers need a secure way to travel around Portland, so the only logical plan of action is to make the streets as safe as possible for not just bikers, but for cars and pedestrians, too. This is especially important when considering Portland’s growing population and increase of cars on the road. Now is the time to motivate people to seek out other ways of journeying around the city besides car and to embrace the eco-friendly attitude Portland always prides itself of having.


By Caroline Diamond

I sit at the cedar bar of a trendy, new coffee shop, admiring the interior decorating, and watching the bustling community on the corner of Fremont and Vancouver, particularly the community of bike commuters whizzing by on their recently implemented, and controversial bike lane.

The neighborhood of Boise-Eliot has not always been a hub of yoga studios and delectable sandwich places. Northeast Portland used to be known as Albina, a residential area full of businesses and centralized around the black community.

In 1910, African Americans began moving from northwest Portland, an area experiencing quick population growth, to the Albina neighborhood. Soon after, white townsfolk living on the East side of Portland began to create restrictive laws, thereby confining blacks to the Albina neighborhood, in a practice known as redlining.

During World War II, shipbuilding on the Columbia River brought  more African Americans to Portland, increasing the black population from 1,931 in 1940 to over 20,000 by 1945. Most lived in Vanport, until the devastating flood of 1948. With 16,000 people displaced, most African American, there was little replacement housing due to redlining. So, more black people quickly moved into abandoned apartments, left by white people moving to suburbs, in Albina, furthering the bustling area and creating a community around Williams Street.

In 1956, the City of Portland found 60% of homes in Albina to be substandard. Residents of Albina, 80% of Portland’s entire black community, implemented a plan to restore their neighborhood and asked for federal funding. Instead, the City of Portland began the process of gentrification, that lowered the population of African Americans in Albina to a mere 28%, caused an outbreak of gang life, and encouraged wealthy landlords to kick their black tenants out, and then sell to developers. Eventually, the neighborhood of Albina, and it’s community, was replaced with the chic area of Boise-Eliot, an area lacking it’s precious and historical culture.

Throughout the gentrification of Albina, the African Americans living there were forgotten, as their homes and lives were demolished, for the furthering of Portland. Today, black churches still meet in Albina, however few of the churchgoers still live in the neighborhood, as they used to.

In continuation of Portland’s plan for Albina, a bike lane was implemented on the streets of Vancouver, Williams, and Fremont, along with many surrounding streets.

With this new bike lane, city planners hoped to encourage bike commuting and exercise among an age range of 8 to 80. Along with reducing traffic, planners wanted families to integrate into the Albina neighborhood and continue to help it grow from its previous self.

A local business owner stated, ” The bike lane is very nice for business, having all this bike traffic right outside,” another said, ” I think they have mostly improved the community. I’ve seen bikes being able to access these streets and less so of people being afraid of Williams and Vancouver.”

Clearly, the bike lane has improved business by bringing new customers in on their way to work, and the surrounding community by getting more people on bikes and riding around their neighborhood. However, isn’t the bike lane just another implication that the voices of African Americans is irrelevant in city planning?

Biking is considered a sport and activity done by a majority of white people. Inserting a lane into a historically black neighborhood, and ignoring revolts from ministers at the African American churches, illustrated the continuation of gentrification in Portland. While a bike lane might be an improvement to our city, we must take all views into account as we continue to oppress and hide historical areas in our Portland.


By Caroline Cook

It is another rainy weekday in Portland, Oregon and the daily commute has just begun, people are hustling through the crowded roads to get to their jobs. The streets and bridges are filled with an overwhelming amount of cars, buses, streetcars, and the cities extremely popular mode of transportation, bicycles.

Portland has been known for many years as the country’s leading cycling city. It becomes very clear of this as you walk or drive throughout the city, as the number of bikers and biking commodities is growing everyday.

Unlike the national amount of .05% commuters riding bikes, 7.2% of Portland workers choose biking as their mode of transportation, meaning 17,000 people in this city ride their bikes to work. Also, 238% of people biked more in 2010 than in 2000.

Portland has always had high hopes of making streets comfortable for people ages 8-80 to ride their bikes and with a raising amount of people choosing this mode of transportation demands for bicycle friendly streets. The city has recently installed new facilities all around the Portland area in order to slow down cars, regulate traffic and make it a safer environment for bikers. Items such as speed bumps, stop signs, traffic barriers and storm drains help to reduce the speeds of vehicles and regulate the traffic in neighborhoods. Other commodities like bike lanes have been added to create a safe place for bicyclists.

These additions in neighborhoods have made the environments very bike friendly, which has raised the comfortability in children to ride their bike places instead of walk but on large streets the addition of new bike lanes and the expansion of old bike lanes has not produced the result the city may have wanted.

The North Williams Traffic Operations Safety Project was implicated in 2014 on Williams street in North Portland. The 1.5 million dollar grant has attempted to transform the city’s busiest bicycle commute corridor with 4,000 bike riders at peak hour into a safe place for all types of transportation. Although they have added in curb extensions, reduced the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 and 20 mph, built a new traffic signal, widen and switched the bike lanes from the right side of the street to the left side, Stephen Gomez, a daily cyclist on the road, says that the street has not yet made it a comfortable place for children and elders to ride.

Even with all of Portland’s hard work to make bike riding easy and safe for everybody, they have not been able to reach their goals. Children may feel comfortable on bike boulevards in their neighborhoods but they will never feel completely safe on busy roads like North Williams and for one main reason, the attitudes of the car drivers. Most car drivers in the city have bad attitudes towards the bikers and all the work done to fit their needs, James Cook a commuter that drives his car everyday to work says, “…because Portland spends a lot of money for bicycle safety and lanes that bicyclist should…pay a license fee on bikes and to help pay for bike infrastructure.” If drivers tend to have that mindset on bikers they aren’t typically going to have a positive attitude towards them.

Portlands large attempts to make bicyclists trip safer has worked in some ways. Although they have formed neighborhoods into bike boulevards, a safe place for children and elders to bike, they may never find a way to change larger streets such a North Williams without the attitudes of the drivers hanging first.

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/53905

http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2013/03/portlands_controversial_north.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNNxwF1BPKE

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/407660


By: Lauren Woodhouse-Laskonis

Albina District Bikes

Walking down North Williams in the Albina district it’s hard not to feel a sense of community. Walking past Dawson Park you see kids running in and out of pavilion, whose crown used to be the top of the old city hall. Adults making small talk while watching their kids, and families sitting together at wooden park benches eating snacks they’ve bought from Cathay’s Market just across the street. If you walk a block over, you’ll see Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church. You might find yourself in an accidental conversation with the pastor of the church. Although if you keep walking further down something will start to seem out of place. A large New Seasons next to food carts in a gravel lot that still has the closed gas station in it, a complex that looks more like a futuristic office building rather than the storefront it really is, and a bike lane on the street that has been subject to a lot of controversy in this community.

I’ll admit, when I first started this piece I was confused about all the fuss being made over this seemingly average bike lane. It gives people more opportunities to be active and it’s good for the environment. Although that may be true, there is also aforementioned controversy.  N Williams is 40 feet wide, with 35 of the feet being used by cars and five feet for bikes. It is the most ridden bikeway in Portland with roughly 7,000 people biking on it everyday, and the confusing mix of cars and bikes, this can often result in hostile feelings toward each other. While the bike lane was ultimately supposed to promote safety and community growth, the city is missing the bigger point. The urbanization of the N. Williams area has been a deeply personal issue for a community that is still hurting from city-sanctioned changes and this bike lane seemed to only be causing problems.

This was the sentiments of a family I came across in Dawson Park, who prefered not to be named. Their issue was with the significance of the bike lane. They told me that there are homeless people in the streets of Albina who are living in tents and instead of helping them the city spending money on seemingly insignificant projects like this bike lane for purely aesthetic and “safety” purposes.

 

“This is not what we need.” The mom said, pointing to the bikes.

 

I understand this. Where was this attention in the 90s? Safety was just as important back then, from guns, drugs, and sure, cars. But why do they choose now to intervene?

J.W. Hennessee, a member of the Williams Avenue Corridor Committee and a pastor at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church has a different grievance. From its formation in 1944, VAFBC has been a staple in the community of North Portland. Due to the fact it’s been around long, the staff and congregation alike have seen the Albina district go through many transformations, including this bike lane. Pastor Hennessee’s issue was not only with the lack of understanding bikers and drivers have about the rules of the road when it comes to each other, but also with the hostility created between the two.

“They’re our neighbors, So we’re trying to do things to really help them. So we want to give them water or coffee or ways to stop and have conversations. So that we can get to know each other. My feeling is going beyond: you’re a biker, I’m a driver. We’re all members of a community and how do we really build that community together.”

 

Ultimately, I think community voices need to be heard when decisions, like this bike lane, are being made. Midge Purcell, the policy director of the Urban League of Portland, explained the situation perfectly in an interview with the Portland Mercury saying: “There were music venues, social clubs. All the things that made it a community, those things are no longer here and the things that have replaced them are the exact opposite of what made this community….The City of Portland’s policies want to encourage increased cycling and environmental friendliness. That’s all very well and good. But when people feel that those values are imposed upon them, especially when there’s been all the other historic impositions on the community, then it really does become about a lot more than just putting in a bicycle lane. In a lot of ways, this is a real test. To see whether some of the lessons have been learned from previous projects where the outcomes have been really, really poor.”


By Ihsaan Ali

Portland, the land of the weird and the home of the hipsters. A place full of  and kale smoothies. Where the land is green and the everyone roams free. At least that’s how others perceive this intricate city. But deep within our authentic tandoor ovens lies a deep and dark history. A past filled with discrimination and segregation. A time when the Columbia once separated two very different communities, heck they were even separate cities. And as the city continues to change drastically, her twisted past has come back to haunt her.

Portland, especially in places like Northeast, have become large hubs. Californians are coming in by the hundreds and the housing market is in turmoil right now. But as housing is becoming more expensive certain communities are being forcibly removed. They happen to be historical African American people that have deep roots in that part of the city. Now suddenly stores like Trader Joe’s, small hipster cafes, and bike shops are popping up everywhere. There is a good side and a bad side to this process of gentrification. On the good side, or rather the not horrible side, homeowners are benefiting off of the large populations. On the bad side African Americans are once again left behind as their voices are ignored in favor of riches.

Right in front of the New Seasons on Fremont there’s a bike lane that was just put in place. The African American Church near that bike lane have been fighting to get it removed. Their pastor, Max Hennessee, has spoken out about his communities issued with the bike lanes. But the city ,although feigning interest in their opinion, followed through with what they wanted in the first place, a bigger and safer bike lane for all those bikers. Just another notch on Portland’s belt of selfishness.                                                                

Although I lived in southwest Portland my entire life, every weekend I would go across the river to the north side, and my memories do not match up in any way or form with what exists there today. I remember huge African-American populations there, my cousin’s black neighbors always playing with us outside, or those sweet older women who would sit on their porches and watch us. I don’t remember quaint little cafes where a small cup of coffee is $8 and yet is more watered down than Starbucks. Gentrification has a huge effect not only on the African-American Community but on the city as a whole. Although the city may not know it yet, they have lost a valuable part of their identity.

Bike Lanes in Portland are not a bad thing, in fact they’re pretty great and make the city much safer. But it’s the sudden push by city members to implement it that poses such a difficult question that most like to circle around. Where was this push when the community was majority-black? Where was the New Seasons, the Trader Joe’s, and all those new health food stores? Why is there such a push for improving this part of the city when the majority of its citizens have been pushed to the outskirts? Why is Portland twisted history making a comeback, why are we ignoring and selling out a people that helped create this wonderful city? My dad told me one day as we drive through NE that the reason Black people were pushed to this part of the city was that it was not valuable in the eyes of white people. But as soon as it was, the black people living there were pushed off until nothing was left of them but their artifacts. And that defines Portland. Unfortunately as much as we like to think of ourselves as liberal, inclusive, open-minded and open to progressiveness and change,the fact that the city did not take into account the voices of the African American community shows that we still have a long way to go.


Photo Credit: Alejandro Lopez

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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