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Bruce Poinsette of The Skanner News
Published: 16 May 2013

Community members protesting the expansion of Legacy Emanuel Hospital. To read more about this
and the history of gentrification on Williams Ave.,
see The Skanner News' "Portland Gentrification:
The North Williams Avenue That Was - 1956


The Portland Development Commission was all smiles as it put the last pieces in place to begin its Dawson Park improvement project. City Commissioner Nick Fish added to the excitement at the May 8 Board of Commissioners meeting with a special announcement that Legacy Emanuel Hospital would be donating $200,000 towards a water feature for the renovated park.

While city officials say their aim is to bring more resources to the area of North Portland historically hit hardest by gentrification, Steven Gilliam of the Portland African American Leadership Forum's Urban Renewal Team -- a neighborhood resident -- is critical. 

Proposed fountain design for Dawson Park

"I think that it is kind of disgusting that Emanuel Hospital can claim to be part of a community that they literally demolished, especially when they have land that's sat undeveloped for 40 years and they refuse to give it back," he says. "They're using Dawson Park as a public relations move to make it look like they're doing something for a Black community they almost destroyed. The PDC loves to invest in revitalizing monuments to the legacy of the 'poor African Americans' who used to live in Portland but it's just in time for a New Seasons and two new apartment complexes to open."

Map of the proposed improvements for Dawson Park. For a larger image, see PDC Report Number 13-15.

Dawson Park is a 2.02 acre neighborhood park located between N. Williams and N. Vancouver Ave. next to Legacy Emanuel. It is within the boundaries of the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area. According to the PDC, "Renovation of Dawson Park was called out as a priority in the 2009 ICURA Parks Implementation Strategy, created collaboratively by PDC, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) and the Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Advisory Committee (ICURAC) Parks Subcommittee, and is on the ICURAC 'Gem List' of important projects to complete during the life of the district."

According to Sandra Burtzos of Portland Parks & Recreation, the improvements were based on a master plan developed for the park and adopted in 2007.

Improvement plans were spearheaded, in part, because of inappropriate uses of the park in the early 2000s, she says. Portland Parks and Rec responded to incidents including drug use and drug dealing by targeting the areas they thought were encouraging these behaviors. As a result, they removed benches, shrub beds and parking directly adjacent to the street over time. The changes had an unintended consequence.

"Our efforts to make the park more safe made it less appealing," says Burtzos.

2.ink Studio Landscape Architects is responsible for the new design. According to Portland Park & Rec, it follows CPTED, or Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, principles. Improvements will include a more visible main entry, expanded playground, new picnic tables, barbecues and benches, and art done by local artists that will commemorate the Eliot neighborhood's historic Black community.

Patti Miles' father and a friend standing in Dawson Park in 1951


The bidding process for the Dawson Park improvement project will begin this month. PDC will be testing out a Best Value Guaranteed Maximum Price contract, which is a pilot program, instead of the standard low bid process. The contract is not to exceed $1,775,000 for construction improvements.
This decision was approved following a Mar. 20 public hearing on exempting the PDC from competitive bidding in which no member of the public attended.
According to the PDC, the alternative construction contract will allow the entity to consider "no-price factors such as past performance, prime and subcontractor qualifications, capability and Minority, Women, and Emerging Small Business (MWESB)/Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) utilization."
PDC will be working with the Metropolitan Contractor Improvement Partnership on outreach to minority contractors and subcontractors. MCIP is offering an optional class on interpreting bid documents and putting on an informal networking event to link contractors and subs.
Inici Group, Inc. will be overseeing the construction process.
Project manager Patti Miles grew up in the Eliot neighborhood. She says that Inici will be hiring an intern from the community, either a junior or senior, to shadow the construction process. The goal is to encourage participation from a student who has expressed interest in the construction trade in either engineering or architecture.
"It's kind of a full circle situation where I grew up there, left for many years and now I'm back and have an opportunity to participate in this project," says Miles.



Both Portland Parks and Rec and the PDC say the improvements were community driven. The entities partnered in a public outreach program that included open houses, comment forms, surveys, discussions with employees and visitors to Legacy Emanuel and small meetings in local gathering places like Matt Dishman Community Center. They also participated in an open talk at Vancouver Ave. First Baptist Church's 60th Anniversary celebration, according to Burtzos.

"It was really important for us to connect with the history of the community," she says. "We weren't speaking for people but giving them the chance to talk about how they wanted the park to be for themselves."

The public outreach also included one-on-one meetings with selected individuals from the community. Portland Parks and Rec and the PDC say they were guided by the late Harold Williams Sr.

According to Anne Mangan of the PDC, the entities reached out to stakeholders they were aware of and tried to look beyond them to see who else they should ask.

"Who are the neighborhood churches and pastors that we should reach out to?" she says. "Who are the community leaders and business owners and people that work for Portland Public Schools and neighbors that might have a stake in this and might have something to say about it?"

"The Radiator" is set to be built on top of the where LV's Twelve-22 used to stand. Twelve-22 was the Boise neighborhood's last Black-owned bar and was located a
few blocks from Dawson Park. The
Skanner News covered its closing in a
past story.

Burtzos adds that it was important to connect with people who had a role in the history and planning of the process, as well as those that still lived in the area.

Two of the people selected for individual meetings included Joe Nunn and Donny Adair.

In a Portland Parks and Rec press release, Nunn is quoted saying, "I grew up near the park, still live here, and dedicate my time to this community.  As a kid, I was in childcare at St. Martins, where they would take us to Dawson Park three times a week."

In the same press release, Adair says, "As toddlers we used the swings and jungle gym. As we got older we played softball, ping-pong and tetherball. My older brother even worked several years as park host, helping us to learn arts and crafts. It was a safe place to play from dawn till dusk under the watchful eye of neighbors and citizens."

PAALF's urban renewal team is in the process of developing a policy solution to stop the urban renewal. Gilliam says the group of young people got together because they recognized gentrification wasn't a part of the past, but an ongoing issue that results from urban renewal being an accepted public policy.

(UPDATE: Portland African American Leadership Forum has not taken an official position on urban renewal and respects those who support the project. Read Cyreena Boston Ashby's letter of clarication.)

New Seasons construction continues a couple of
blocks from Dawson Park


"We have $25 million city deficit and we're taking more than that from urban renewal to subsidize development that gentrifies neighborhoods, breaks apart families and only makes the rich richer," Gilliam says.

According to a PDC report on property values, the total combined assessed value, or AV, of urban renewal areas has increased 88 percent since 2001. Areas outside of urban renewal areas have seen a 51 percent increase in AV over the same time period.

The Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area has seen a 78 percent increase in AV per acre since 2001.

The Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Project is paying $1.8 million of the total cost of the Dawson Park improvements.

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