The Albina Vision is a 50-Year Plan—But It Starts Now

WHAT: The Albina Vision is a community-led effort to revitalize a district that was once the heart of Portland’s black community.

The plan calls for building nine city blocks of affordable housing and community gathering space, and capping the I-5 freeway that displaced thousands of families in the 1960s — but the project is about more than construction.

“People like to focus on the built environment, our cityscape, the infrastructure, the buildings, and they think that constructed things are growth, but they’re not,” Albina Vision Trust chair Rukaiyah Adams told us. “We’re people who live in this built environment that we create.”

WHY IT MATTERS: The area around the Rose Quarter used to be a multicultural district filled with jazz clubs, black-owned businesses, and a thriving residential community.

All of that started to change in the 1960s and 70s, when “urban renewal” projects like I-5, Memorial Coliseum and the expansion of Emmanuel Hospital leveled some 1,000 homes. From 1960 to 2000, the black population in Albina decreased by more than 50 percent.

The community leaders behind the Albina Vision have a plan to reverse those trends, and they’re dreaming big: think freeway caps, a new riverfront park, and affordable housing.

They’re also confronting these challenges with a novel process: Rather than sweep the neighborhood’s past under the rug, Adams and other leaders want Portland to embrace its history in order to move forward with a stronger, more inclusive Albina.

“No one factor caused the transformation of Albina, but racism was probably the thread that carried through all of them,” Adams said. “As Portland evolves, we have to learn how to grow and hold onto our urban ethnic history and not just wipe it out.”

The group’s 50-year plan to transform the area around the Rose Quarter is ambitious, and a lot needs to happen to make the whole thing possible, including acquisition of the Portland Public Schools property near the Broadway Bridge.

But the first steps are already underway, including an effort to get the Oregon Department of Transportation to cap the I-5 freeway that displaced thousands of families in the 1960s.

“We can’t move I-5, but if we put buildable caps there so that the streetscape is continuous for pedestrians and bicyclists, then that stitches the community back to the eastside neighborhoods, and that’s pretty critical,” Adams said.

The public comment period for ODOT’s I-5 project is expected to start this month.

FUN FACT: The Portland Parks Foundation is organizing a series of events in March focused on the future of Portland’s public green spaces, and Albina Vision will be one of the projects in the spotlight. (Stay tuned for details.)

QUOTABLE: “In this 50-year vision, we’re essentially saying, ‘We’re not going anywhere.’ In all of [Portland’s] African-American history, no generation has been able to plant their feet and say, ‘Not running, not going to be displaced, going to stake claim to our futures.’” —Rukaiyah Adams

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW? Got questions about the Albina Vision, or about other parts of Lower Albina’s history, culture, or character? Let us know. We’ll be picking three questions to put up for a vote next week. 👍