Racial inequity has a long and tumultuous history in Portland, Oregon. Particularly in Albina, a neighborhood in Northeast Portland. Since the 20th century, a large percentage of Portland’s African American community has lived in this neighborhood. Albina was close to the railroad and docks that a majority of the residents worked at, however, wealthy white neighborhoods began to inflict restrictive covenants. Housing rules suddenly made it difficult for African Americans to move beyond this neighborhood.
There was then a surplus of residents after the Vanport Floods of 1948. Again, these citizens were mostly African American or other immigrant families who had been building boats for World War II. This displaced 16,000 people who were limited by redlining, a systematic practice of denying government services to areas inhabited by minorities. By the 1950s Albina had become a black cultural center, with many residents opening shops, restaurants, and clubs.
Soon this came to a halt, as the Portland Development Commission study said that 60 percent of the houses were substandard, and the number later jumped up to 80 percent. The city took this and ran with it. The only way to solve the issue was to launch a Portland Renewal Project. In neighborhoods like Albina, the city demolished apartments and shops, selling the land in place of infrastructure like I-5, the Rose Quarter, and the Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum. There were attempts to bring back cultural programs in Albina, but they were unsuccessful. Housing policies continued to disenfranchise black residents and gentrification rolled in by the 1990s (Black Past, 2016). Gentrification continues to be an issue across Portland, transforming neighborhoods and making housing unaffordable. These events display institutionalized and blatant racism and now cause environmental injustices.
The construction of I-5 through the heart of Albina destroyed around 300 homes, displaced black families, disrupted shops and community spaces, and created a health disparity between black and white neighborhoods. Exposure to air pollution from highways causes adverse side effects like: decreased lung function, worsened asthma, cardiovascular disease, childhood cancer, among others (Tsuneta, 2019). Recently, as climate change has brought on an onslaught of heat waves through Portland over the summers, Albina has been disproportionately affected. A Portland State University study on heat islands found that “areas prone to excessive heat are disproportionately populated by low-income communities and people of color due to racist housing policies that stretch back more than a century” (Williams, 2020). The heat island effect occurs when areas are constructed of mostly reflective, impermeable surfaces, like concrete and asphalt. The exact materials of I-5. The suns rays are reflected and cause a bubble of extreme heat to build. Neighborhoods that were denied municipal services now deal with temperature disparities as high as 13 degrees Fahrenheit, one of the worst in the nation (William, 2020). Albina and other black communities lack green spaces due to racist housing policies, which would otherwise help reduce temperatures and serve as community areas.
Because the Center for Diversity and the Environment (CDE) deals with issues of inequity and environment, we think this provides an opportunity for new leaders to become involved in the community and put their skills to work. A project undertaking green spaces in communities of color aligns with many of CDE’s values and would benefit Albina residents. We envision multiple communities and stakeholders coming together, in a forum held by CDE leaders to discuss bringing back parks and cultural centers to historically undermined neighborhoods like Albina. CDE strives to inspire change in the environmental movement and to create leaders. Our proposal would engage with a current issue in Portland, bringing historically averse communities into communication lead by the passionate individuals of CDE, all while hopefully reducing impacts felt by climate change and facilitating community engagement.
- Ackerman, Lauren. “Albina, Portland, Oregon (1870- ).” Black Past , 19 Mar. 2016, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/albina-portland-1870/.
- Tsuneta, Alexandra. “Why Portland, Oregon Is Problematic & Damaging to People of Color.” Medium, The Human Condition, 28 June 2019, medium.com/the-human-condition/why-portland-oregon-is-problematic-damaging-to-people-of-color-55fe7a6aa878.
- Williams, Kale. “Historically Racist Housing Policies Exacerbating Climate Change Effects in Low-Income Portland Neighborhoods.” Oregon Live, The Oregonian , 21 Jan. 2020, www.oregonlive.com/environment/2020/01/historically-racist-housing-policies-exacerbating-climate-change-effects-in-low-income-portland-neighborhoods.html.