City Commissioner lays out East Portland parks improvement scheme

Wondering what’s behind the City’s ‘E-205’ Initiative? Check this out, and see how the Parks Commissioner laid it out, in his own words …

At the May meeting of the East Portland Parks Committee, members and visitors fill almost every seat in the East Portland Neighborhood Office’s meeting room – as Chair Alesia Reese (facing, center wearing red) calls the meeting to order.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Well-attended was the May East Portland Parks Committee meeting – because the featured speaker was Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish.

On his way into the room, Commissioner Fish told us, “I’m delighted to be here in outer East Portland this evening, to give folks a ‘heads up’ on what we’re doing at the Parks Bureau.”

The meeting’s Chair, Alesia Reese, dispensed with committee business, and gave Commissioner Fish the floor.

After introducing staff from Portland Parks & Recreation – Strategy & Planning Manager Brett Horner, East Portland Services Manager Doug Brenner, and his office’s policy director and liaison to the parks bureau, Jim Blackwood – Fish began his comments.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, in charge of the Parks Bureau, outlines their successes.

“I’m in my second year in charge of the Parks Bureau,” Fish said. “I am the first Commissioner in the history of Portland to have both Housing and Parks [in my portfolio], which is an interesting little footnote. I love being the Parks Commissioner; I’m very proud of their work. In a recent survey that we did citywide, we got an 86% favorability rating from Portlanders.

“It’s interesting: About 95% of Portlanders have some kind of contact with my Bureau. They access our parks, our trails, our natural areas; these are recreational areas, recreational facilities. One of our programs is sports fields.  We touch almost everybody.

“A number of years ago – certainly before I was elected – there was a rather dynamic conversation out here in East Portland: Whether or not the City Hall was listening, and acting on concerns of people here.”

Two things started to make a difference, Fish opined: The creation of the East Portland Action Plan, and the Cully-Concordia Plan. “You know, talk is cheap.  There’s nothing like a plan to focus people’s attention.  Since I’ve been on the City Council, and I’ve been on it since June 2008, the Council has unleashed a lot of positive energy.”

Commissioner singles out Lents Neighborhood Association Chair Nick Christiansen, and Lents Park Plan volunteer Cora Potter, as people who have worked to better their area’s parks.

Fish ticked off improvements in outer East Portland – including the installation of the Aquatic Center in the East Portland Community Center, laying the groundwork for the “Gateway Green” biking and hiking area, and the Lents Park Master Plan.

Explains Initiative E-205
“And, you may have heard of the new initiative I’ve launched at City Hall; we call it E-205. It stands for ‘East of 205’.

“E-205 is part of what I would call the ‘good news/bad news’ about investments we’ve made over the last 10 years in the east part of Portland.”

The commissioner pointed out that over the past 20 years, East Portland has received the most capital spending of any City area. But, he added that that some $32 million was spent simply on land acquisition.

Fish says the City has “fallen short” when it comes to making improvements to outer East Portland parks, as Wilkes Community Group’s Alice Blatt listens intently.

“Where we’ve fallen short is that we don’t have the dollars to do the needed improvements,” acknowledged Fish. “I’ll be coming to you in the future to ask whether you think we should go out for a capital bond measure to actually improve the land that we’ve acquired.

“Thus, E-205 was born out of frustration. The frustration we’ve felt is that we’ve been unable to come up with the dollars to do the improvements that people have been waiting patiently for.”

Looks for list of small projects
“I want to look at all the land we own,” Fish went on, “And that we have not developed. We need to come up with a list of smaller-scale projects that would give people immediate ‘wins’ on the things that they want – instead of waiting for the day when we have substantial amount of resources to do everything that’s needed.”

These improvement may include, said Fish:

  • New community gardens,
  • Playground equipment,
  • Ball fields, and
  • Walking/hiking trails.

By the Bureau’s tackling some smaller-scale projects, Fish says, neighbors will become more interested in supporting their parks.

“These may be smaller-scale projects, but they have huge impact on people’s lives. What I said to my colleagues is, ‘If you give me the seed money, I will match it with private dollars.’ We’ll go to work, and start doing some good things.”

Then, Fish made the announcement all were eager to hear: “I’m very pleased to announce that Mayor Sam Adams has marked a half-million dollars, for the first year, in seed money. I commit to you, if we can hold the line on that budget item, I will go match it.”

Arlene Kimura of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association; Hazelwood’s Linda Robinson, parks advocate and now PP&R Board member; and Alesia Reese all clearly look pleased by the commissioner’s announcement.

With funding secured, Fish said he’ll meet with folks in outer East Portland to hear the priorities set forth by the community. “With that information, we’ll set priorities and then, we’ll make them happen. Engaging people around our park spaces will kindle a sense of hope and possibility.”

Wrapping up, Fish concluded, “I wish I could do more, but instead of doing nothing, I want to launch a new things on a human scale, to make a difference in the community.  You’ll hear a lot more about E-205. But I’m pleased that I can announce this here this evening.”

To see Commissioner Nick Fish’s official “E-205” webpage, CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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