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Talking Headways Podcast: The Community Knows What it Wants

This week we’re joined by Duncan Hwang, interim co-director of the Asian Pacific Network of Oregon, and Gauri Rajbaidya, architect and senior associate at SERA. They chat with us about community-driven development in Portland’s Jade District and how it's connected to the rest of the region.

For those of you who get your news through your eyes and not your ears, there’s an edited transcript below the audio player. If you want a full unedited transcript (with some typos!), click here. If you want to listen, here you go:


Jeff Wood: You mentioned being rooted in place and that place is the Jade district, but that didn’t always exist. Where did the Jade District organizing come from and what are the boundaries of that place?

Duncan Hwang: So the Jade District is a pretty innovative approach to place-based work from the city of Portland. We’re part of the Neighborhood Prosperity Network. So we’re actually our own micro urban-renewal area. Our boundaries are basically 82nd and Division and about the half-mile around, but it’s kind of squiggly because it’s an urban-renewal area. It’s an attempt to do urban renewal in a more community-driven way that advances community priorities rather than serves as a tool for potential displacement, like we’ve seen urban renewal gone awry in many parts of the country.

So this is an attempt to use this specific financing tool to fund community-driven projects like the Orchards.

Wood: That’s TIF, I’m guessing.

Hwang: That’s TIF. We have a very small amount of TIF; it was like enough to get a few things done, but not to make any like huge waves, which is how you would approach it in this pilot phase.

Gauri Rajbaidya: Another example is just past the Jade District — the Division Midway Alliance. Lisha Shrestha is running it right now. Further up, is the Rosewood Initiative ... again, community-based.  If we can really have that stretching all the way to the outer Southeast, how incredible it would be. Like really locally focused.

Wood: How would you connect the dots as it were between those groups?

Hwang: We’re all part of the Neighborhood Prosperity Network. So those groups are all in that network. And we received some city funding to run the admin and operations, and then also administer the small amount of TIF dollars that we have. Then we try to leverage whatever foundations or public funders to scale up our work.

Rajbaidya: If PBOT is doing a transportation improvement along Division, say, Safe Routes to the School, it’s still relevant. Division, which stretched from 60th to 92nd, is still really dangerous. So when that happens, it’s still all the DMA along the same division line and then Rosewood Initiative starts, you know, so it really becomes a collaborative thing.

Wood: Then the Jade District and the creation. And then you have this parcel, which is a former furniture store and then a place for organizing before it got torn down, how do you pick the parcel and what is the way that it moves forward?

Hwang: So when we first came to establish our headquarters here, back in 2013, the first thing we did was a community-visioning process to really see what the community wanted to invest in. We did this process in Chinese and Vietnamese, Russian, Spanish, and English — five languages. Guari was also one of the facilitators and helped design all these beautiful drawings and things of what the neighborhood could become. That key intersection 82nd and Division, there was an abandoned furniture store and it was vacant for many years.

One of the main priorities for community was: This building is an eyesore. Can you do something with it? It’s this underutilized space at the heart of the district. So throughout the process we had public partners come observe a visioning process and Metro, which is our MPO, came and was part of a process. Because of that groundswell of support, they knew that that building was a key acquisition target. So Metro’s Transit Oriented Development program bought the building and basically leased it to a APANO for a dollar a year for a couple years.

We ran it like an impromptu community site for public events. We hosted a number of nonprofits; bands practice out of there. There was a real vibrant community space; it was really kind of rough around the edges, but people loved it, and over those couple of years, Gauri's team did the architectural design. We applied for low-income-housing tax credits and upon them actually ran a capital campaign. That was always part of a deal. This was a building we can use for now, but how do we make sure the community understands it’s going to get torn down and we’re going to build something back or we’re going to build affordable housing on top and then continue to have that community space on the ground floor? So all that was a sequence of events from this massive community vision to the building that we have today.

Rajbaidya: Some other things to keep in mind is, before PCC developed their campus, there used to be the traditional Chinese restaurant that used to be the community gathering place. For a lot of community members, they had a lot of the banquets and galas and things in that one. There was this big lack of community hall, so with the Jade visioning process, not only was affordable housing identified, but also night market as a concept was also a big piece that community brought forth.

At first we were doing the night market at the Fubon parking lot, but it got so big that we had to move to PCC campus. Right. So when we did that, then the big space we had at the furniture store really functioned as that community gathering space, even though it was really rough on the outside and somewhat rough on the inside. So the idea that that place needed to be preserved as an anchor for the community became very clear. So even when we developed the affordable housing with partnership with Rose CDC, it was always clear that that ground floor needed to be the anchor for the community. When APANO came in to kind of really put the vision for a APANO space, with the multicultural gathering area that opened up could bookend the night market coming in from PCC.

It really completed the narrative and story. In that particular pocket, it seemed to be an ideal space for Transit-Oriented Development.... That’s exactly the intersection where you have all the buses stopped right in the four corners, and easy access for the residents, easy view, also the access to the amenities around the area. It all made sense.

Hwang: It’s a process of establishing your presence and sending a statement about the neighborhood identity and where we are. Also of building trust; this wasn’t our first project. The first thing that we did when we got here was that there was like lower-hanging fruit — besides a $20 million building to start, the first thing we did was a visioning, and then we built a community garden, and then we ran these night markets and really activated underutilized space. We worked on advocating for traffic and safety improvements. So you see all these new crossings, some lighting — that was a result of our advocacy.

Smaller projects you do demonstrate [that] we’re following this vision and taking the community demands and asks to heart and moving those priorities and then scaling up to developing things like affordable housing.

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