This post was written by Adam Brunelle, program director at Green Lents. It was originally published by The Intertwine.
The Lents Green Ring project seeks to improve neighborhood safety and accessibility through placemaking and community-led advocacy. Physically speaking, the Lents Green Ring is a network of loosely connected bicycle streets with needed upgrades — like better crossings and improved signage. But more importantly, the project builds social connections in the community through placemaking projects and community programming that is accessible across cultures and geography. And ecologically, partners work to improve habitat connectivity for pollinators in both urban and natural areas in Lents.
The Lents Green Ring has been developing at the grassroots level alongside the City of Portland’s Green Loop project, and can serve as a model for how to equitably develop greenways that provide benefits for existing residents.
Who is doing this, and why?
The project is coordinated through Green Lents, a local grassroots environmental organization founded in 2009. Green Lents engages the greater Lents community in developing a more livable, thriving place. We operate the Community Tool Library on SE Ramona Street, which sits at the heart of the Lents Green Ring, and conduct youth-led community science to enhance Pollinator Habitat. Last year, we opened the Malden Court Community Orchard at the southwest corner of the Lents Green Ring. For decades, the space was infested with Himalayan blackberries, served as a dumping spot for trash, and attracted nuisance activities. Now, it is a functioning and thriving community space.
Also in 2016, Green Lents and partners released Lents Strong — a five-year grassroots action plan for a Livable Lents. The plan confronts major livability challenges, including affordability, unsafe public spaces, and inequity that Lents residents face each day as a diverse, low-income neighborhood. The Lents Green Ring plays a central role in Lents Strong through actions that create safe, accessible community spaces in Lents.
Towards a more livable Lents
In recent years, a livability crisis has put Lents under the microscope while parks, natural areas and streets have been home to hundreds of unhoused, displaced residents who are lacking adequate services. Meanwhile, Lents is undergoing rapid gentrification, which increasingly puts communities of color and low-income residents at risk of displacement.
Lents is diverse: one in two residents are people of color, and two in five speak languages other than English at home. Despite dramatic demographic shifts over the last 15 years, government and community planning efforts have repeatedly struggled to engage this diversity.
A truly grassroots, community-driven plan, Lents Strong was created through deep engagement with more than 1,400 residents in six languages over five years, as well as engagement with six different city agencies and more than 40 community leaders.
Our extensive outreach shows that residents across Lents’ diverse communities fear decreasing affordability alongside a wide range of undesirable activities, including: theft, break-ins, violent crime, abandoned vehicles, and squatting in vacant homes.
People in Lents often feel uncomfortable in public spaces due to dangerous crossings, missing sidewalks and unimproved streets. Despite these challenges, community members have developed a positive vision for the future which includes community-based advocacy, culturally-relevant programming, and community-building events that bring diverse residents together.
But won’t that worsen gentrification?
“Green” investments like the Lents Green Ring can unintentionally exacerbate gentrification and displacement pressures. Due to this, we prioritize strategies that improve livability while preserving affordability. We also work to ensure that improvements will meet the needs of a diversity of existing residents. We have done this by co-creating the project’s process and outcomes directly with community members.
Lents Green Ring partners dig deep to break down barriers to participation in our engagement, ensuring that participation and leadership are accessible. We do this by offering childcare, translation and interpretation, participation incentives, and nourishing food when bringing people together. We also provide stipends for community members to advocate on behalf of the community.
What does the future hold?
Lents Green Ring Wayfinding project
Green Lents is working with Lents Green Ring partners to develop a pedestrian wayfinding program that enhances walkability, strengthens Lents multicultural identity, and connects key community assets. The project will bring people together through community walks and utilize art and a community-led design to create wayfinding signage that strengthens the connectivity and accessibility of existing neighborhood assets. Wayfinding efforts will kick off in late 2017 and ramp up in 2018.
Accessibility at the Malden Court Community Orchard
Over the next year, Green Lents will work to install a pervious concrete path that will improve mobility within the orchard–a project funded through the Community Livability Grant program. Green Lents is committed to utilizing Malden Court as a site for environmental education. In 2018, Green Lents will work with Lents Green Ring partners to establish the orchard as an excursion learning site for English-language learners.
Coming this summer
“Out and About” on the Lents Green Ring
In 2017, Green Lents and its partners are focused on getting residents “out and about” in Lents to develop a deeper connection to community spaces and to each other. These events will help restore comfort for residents and help to normalize walking and cycling.
Lents Garage Sale on Saturday July 15th
The Lents Garage Sale is a new neighborhood-wide event that connects many individual garage sales hosted at participating homes or businesses. This one-day event provides a chance to meet neighbors, explore the neighborhood, and join the hunt for a great garage sale find! Lents community members can add their garage sale to our Garage Sale Map that will be available both in print and online. Participants can use the Lents Green Ring to travel between garage sales by bike or on foot.
Oregon Walkways: Lents Founders Fair on Sunday, Aug. 6
This is an open-streets event that provides opportunities to explore the neighborhood on foot, experience the Lents Green Ring, and use the streets for play. The route will highlight the new NAYA Generations intergenerational community, The Lents International Farmer’s Market, the Community Tool Library, and community favorites like the Beautiful Chicken Contest, Belmont Goats, and live music performances. Represent your organization as a vendor ($25 nonprofit, $50 business), or sign up to contribute volunteer time for activities. The event aims to build capacity toward a larger Lents Green Ring Sunday Parkways-style event in future years.
— Adam Brunelle, Green Lents
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I applaud your efforts on creating this green loop using an excellent existing route, as well as your efforts on mitigating involuntary economic displacement of local residents and businesses. However, what successes have you all had on working with the local homeless, including residents of the Springwater camps?
“including residents of the Springwater camps?’
So they are now called “residents”?
Yeah, what a way to re-phrase it. I really feel for the actual residents of Lents. City leaders just don’t seem to care about the hell they’ve unleashed out there.
You make it sound like the city invented the homeless problem.
What would your approach or solution look like, Mossby?
The Springwater doesn’t seem to have that massive homeless problem it had last year. I rode up from downtown recently and saw few tents (all but one were beyond Lents/Brentwood going toward downtown). Lots of “no trespassing – city property signs” everywhere – parts are still in poor shape, but healing and not overrun with tweakers. The 205 path is another story though – we’ll have to wait for things to spiral wildly out of control before the city deals with the illegal camps on it.
Yes, homeless people have the exact same rights as the housed.