ROSEWOOD, A LOW-SLUNG neighborhood of strip malls and apartment bunkers, sits firmly on Portland's far eastern haunches, bisected by wide, tree-lined SE 162nd. It's so close to Gresham that some people might make the mistake of thinking it is part of Gresham.
Even, maybe, some of the people in Portland City Hall. That's about to officially change.
The neighborhood is one of six business districts in Northeast and East Portland that's been chosen for an experiment in urban renewal, championed by Mayor Sam Adams, which city officials are calling the Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative.
The program, due to be approved by Portland City Council on Wednesday, April 11, draws tiny urban renewal zones around each area—cementing a new mission for the city's main blight-fighting agency, the traditionally downtown-focused Portland Development Commission (PDC). And it puts real money, if not much of it, where city officials' mouths have been when it comes to subjects like equity.
"This is the first time that the city and the PDC have ever offered anything in this neighborhood," says Jenny Glass, executive director of the Rosewood Initiative, the group that helped drive the community's participation in the program.
But it won't be easy. The PDC has historically been an agency more comfortable with developers proposing expensive projects meant to overhaul large swaths of city land. For the initiative to work, it's got to cozy up to—and teach—neighborhood groups in places where community involvement is an uncertain concept, letting residents take the lead on smaller economic-development projects. "We're learning as we go. The PDC is learning as we go," says Glass. "But this is a great opportunity for this neighborhood to get any investment—period. It's more exciting than it is daunting."
Rosewood joins business districts in Parkrose, Cully, NE 42nd, SE Division and 82nd, and Division-Midway. The six were selected over the winter from a pool of applicants. Applicants were judged based on income levels and the strength of their neighborhood groups, among other factors.
The six districts will each receive up to $1.25 million over the next 10 years. Some of that will come from Portland's general fund, but most will come from property tax revenues generated by the new investments. How much revenue is raised depends on the success of those investments.
Community groups are still working up their wish lists. A lot of what goes in will be storefront improvements, maybe grants, road fixes. In Rosewood, says Glass, it might be as simple as streetlights that let people feel safer walking—and shopping—at night.
That's not to say there won't be challenges. There will only one PDC staffer on hand for all six districts once they're up and running, and the PDC itself is facing funding cuts in coming years as the city's older and larger urban renewal areas max out and expire. And the PDC has experienced minor growing pains with some of its other neighborhood projects, specifically the Main Street programs it created in three better-established business districts in 2009: Hillsdale, St. Johns, and Alberta.
Jeff Bissonnette of St. Johns Main Street says it took weeks before his group could get the PDC's attention on a job as simple (and cheap) as hauling away old city garbage cans.
"It was us being annoying," he says. "A lot of it was bureaucracy winding its way through. They're learning how to be a different agency, and it's an ongoing process."