OKAY, I GET IT. I get that a lot of you really, really want another Trader Joe's somewhere in North or Northeast Portland—and flipped over news that the crunchy-appearing grocer was ready to occupy a long-vacant lot at NE MLK and Alberta.
It beats driving out to Hollywood! It's more pleasant than Safeway (but so is a root canal)! It's cheaper than the new New Seasons on N Williams!
And I get that a lot of you were really, really disappointed when Trader Joe's—citing controversy and discontent among African American leaders—announced on Monday, February 3, that it was pulling out of the city-subsidized land deal that had paved the way for its arrival.
Fine. We get it. Now get over it.
What's played out in the controversy over this grocery store—and the role played by the Portland Development Commission (PDC)—is precisely the kind of conversation we need to be having in the face of changing demographics and an ongoing debate in city hall about the future of urban renewal in Portland.
It's not about a grocery store. It's a reckoning after years of gentrification and displacement.
This is about Portland's black community getting its say after having watched the same PDC tear apart its historic neighborhoods in decades past (something the PDC has now admitted aloud, admirably), and then let those neighborhoods drift until white Portlanders finally had the urban-renewal red carpet extended their way.
The Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) made the point last year in a letter ripping the PDC and Mayor Charlie Hales for letting the deal go through. Though the lot meant for the Trader Joe's was reportedly worth as much as $2.9 million, the city sold it to a California developer for $500,000.
PAALF wondered where that subsidy was when the neighborhood was still mostly African American. (Census data shows it no longer is.) They wondered why that money wasn't available for the kind of affordable housing that might keep the neighborhood's cultural heritage intact.
PAALF noted that Trader Joe's, or even something just like it, caters more to the new arrivals than the neighborhood's longtime residents.
"Given the longstanding list of promises made, and yet unfulfilled by the PDC to prevent community displacement, PAALF is and will remain opposed to any development in N/NE Portland that does not primarily benefit the black community," PAALF members wrote.
PAALF was joined by our local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter (something reported by the Skanner)—and then the national group. They wanted to be heard.
PDC officials and project supporters have gamely said that the proposed development —that any development—would be good for everyone in the neighborhood. They point to the Vanport Square shopping center across the street, home to smaller businesses, and suggest that an anchor store would be an opportunity for those owners.
And that's not unreasonable.
But there's another opportunity to be gleaned from all this hubbub. It's a chance to listen. And it's a chance to do more than honestly admit past sins. And begin figuring out a way to atone for them, too.