Sourced from Next City
Cully, a neighborhood in Northeast Portland, is among the most ethnically diverse in Oregon. It is also marked by poverty, rapid gentrification, and inequitable access to quality public infrastructure. Many green infrastructure project teams flounder when trying to couple social justice with their environmental goals, but in Cully green infrastructure provision is linked explicitly with wealth building and anti-displacement goals through a coalition called Living Cully. Living Cully is the brainchild of Verde, a community-based nonprofit with a mission to “build environmental wealth through Social Enterprise, Outreach, and Advocacy.” Using the momentum and resources in Portland’s EcoDistrict approach, but focused on grassroots, resident leadership to drive urban change, Living Cully is now a robust network of community organizations and resident leaders all working in concert to build local resident capacity, improve local infrastructure, and fight the forces of displacement those improvements might otherwise bring. One of the most powerful parts of the strategies employed by Verde and its partners was their use of resident-driven wayfinding and green infrastructure as a part of a larger antipoverty strategy.
Cully suffers from a lack of safe, high-quality infrastructure — with flooding streets, limited sidewalks, poor street lighting, and few high-quality parks. But adding these civic amenities would likely spur resident displacement if a thoughtful plan was not in place. Verde deputy director Tony DeFalco describes the Living Cully vision:
We define green infrastructure around community wealth. If you have nice streets and nice trees, these things produce both economic and health benefits. … We are interested in how this publicly owned infrastructure can increase equity if we advocate for it as a community, if we are able to influence the delivery of the assets. And that is really important, because often what happens is you get a new street, or a new park, and there is no corollary activity around having affordable housing nearby or hiring people from the community to perform the construction.
Living Cully invests in local residents through leadership development and job training that allow lower-income residents to contribute to positive change in their communities, while also building their own capacity to stay as revitalization occurs. Early “signature projects” included gaining the development rights to transform a brownfield into the community’s vision for a public park, and installing a set of wayfinding signs crafted by the community to highlight their community walks and biking programs. The wayfinding project also helped the community in their effort to convince governmental agencies of the need for better pedestrian and bike infrastructure.