Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Other Portland

A number of years ago when we were finally ready to buy our own home, it quickly became clear that we'd never be able to buy in any of the cool, quirky neighborhoods where we'd rented. Inner Southeast, where we rented three different places, was lovely. The neighborhoods had everything a person could need in easy walking distance but the home prices had been insane for years and only someone who'd been there forever or who had buckets of cash could think about buying there. Our last rental was a tiny little house on the cusp of the Concordia and Cully neighborhoods. Walk east and you hit an area of stately old homes and rapidly escalating prices. Walk east and you had huge lots, no sidewalks, but, again, rapidly escalating prices for houses which ranged from old and lovely to appalling 1970's atrocities, complete with bubble windows.

When we were ready to buy, The Spouse worked 2 doors down and I was teaching all of 4 blocks away from our rental house. Obviously we didn't want to move far, but as we quickly learned, a house that would hold all of us in a condition the banks would accept couldn't easily be found nearby. Portland is a city full of groovy, cool, and very hip neighborhoods and it quickly became clear that we wouldn't be living in any of them. We made the very un-cool choice of looking to the east. We learned that home prices dropped $20-30,000 just east of the I-205 freeway and that there were in fact lovely homes to be had in Parkrose. Our neighborhood is far from hip but it turned out to be one of the few places relatively close to our places of work where we could get a decent-sized house. And a lovely home it is.

But--there's almost nothing here. A great fabric store, a wonderful hardware store, and a good-sized Vietnamese market but no regular grocery, no restaurants I'd eat in and, saddest of all, not one decent coffee shop. There's a little coffee place attached to a huge church/motel complex down the road but I haven't visited because I just don't need Jesus with my coffee, thanks.

Our neighborhood is poorly lit with no sidewalks. People drive their kids just a few blocks to school because parents understandably don't want them killed walking on the streets. No bike paths, almost no parks, really very little that would cause you to get out of your car and meet your neighbors. The only reason I know anyone around here is due to conversations about my wandering cat.

But, ever so slowly, it seems that things are starting to happen. Graduate students from Portland State University's urban planning department began a conversation on neighborhood improvement here a couple of years ago though, honestly, I'm not sure where that's gone. Last spring a farmers market opened up, operating every Saturday May through October in the high school parking lot. This isn't your typical Portland market brimming with organic produce, fine coffee, and artisan breads and cheeses. In fact, the coffee is truly awful but since the concession belongs to the family that worked so hard to get the market up and running, I say let them have it (even though I just can't drink the stuff). The produce is local if not organic, and it's lovely to see my neighbors out in full force on market day.

And now it seems that perhaps City Hall is finally willing to concede that we are, in fact, part of the city. Not only a part, but possibly the most diverse and dynamic part, according to a recent Oregonian article which claims:

The area, with a population of more than 125,000, is growing twice as fast as the city in general. In the last decade, nearly half of all single-family housing and one-third of the apartment units built in the city have gone up here. And residents have complained about the low quality of much of the development.

The area also is becoming more racially diverse at a faster rate than the city as a whole, and low-income families are swelling the schools.
The article further details the Portland City Council's newly adopted East Portland Action Plan which addresses details relating to development including:
parks, public safety and transportation in eastside neighborhoods. It calls for more sidewalks, street lighting and storefront improvements, for example.
Sidewalks, which most of Portland takes for granted, would be a huge improvement. Maybe then I'd meet more of my neighbors on my morning walks, rather than watch them drive by in their cars.


Ali said...

I wanted sidewalks in my neighborhood, too, until my across-the-street neighbors mentioned that we'd be footing the bill--once, when they're put in, and repeatedly, in our increased property taxes. Eek! Now I'm glad that the plans for sidewalks aren't specific to our street.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

My first house was one I settled on because I could get more house and yard for my money in Rio Rancho (north of Albuquerque's West Mesa). And then I found that although we had no sidewalks, it was a really nice neighborhood with friendly neighbors, lots of kids, and a tolerance for Zoey's ability to leap the six foot fence in a single bound!
At the time, however, only one Walgreens and one local eatery were within walking distance--but hey, it was a Chinese place!

Now I have my dream home in the mountains, but I still do remember that neighborhood with a great deal of fondness! And since we moved out, the city is getting a town center, a new and improved library, and other amenities that I would have liked then.

Have fun with your neighbors, supporting each other in the improvement of your area. One day it will be one of those funky places you always wanted to live in!

beth h said...

You and my sister need to get together and knit and chat. You're both in the same area, after all; and perhaps you two can find something even better than sidewalks to agitate for.

(hint, dropped loudly)

ElizO said...

That sounds like good news for you neighborhood. The lack of sidewalks isn't a huge deal at our house, since traffic isn't too bad on our street. But, on busy streets like those around your house, sidewalks could have a big effect on the enjoyability and health of the neighborhood.