Friends of Wilshire Park met on Wednesday, April 23, with 17 Friends and three representatives of the City of Portland in attendance. This was a big meeting for our group, as we were able to speak with officials from Portland Parks and Recreation: Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Community Relations Manager Jennifer Yokum, and Ecologically Sustainable Landscapes Manager Eric Rosewall. The Friends were very grateful for the time these representatives were willing to give after a long day’s work.
Jennifer Yokum expressed thanks to the Friends for their enthusiasm and willingness to volunteer, explaining that Portland’s parks are greatly enhanced by work done during more than 500,000 volunteer hours every year. Commissioner Fritz was able to provide an overview of the situation with Portland’s parks at present. There are over 200 parks in the city, with about $400 million dollars in maintenance needs and another $400 million in improvement needs. During the recession, cuts to the parks budget were deep, and although we are now in recovery from that period, there is a lot to do. The city has chosen at this time to focus on the problem of homelessness as its key issue, as well as cost recovery and financial sustainability.
All of this means that the parks budget is limited, and there isn’t any money or staff time to give to Wilshire Park. The city is midway through an equity plan, in which all parks funds are devoted to geographic and racial equity. There are large areas of Portland, particularly in the east, where there were no parks at all, so the city decided to devote its entire budget for improvements to these areas. An impressive facility went in recently at Luuwit View Park, with a sculpture garden, play area, off-leash dog area, community garden, teen area, amphitheater, picnic grounds, and plenty of green space. These projects were built to serve the thousands of families that didn’t have any park at all, but the bottom line is that Wilshire Park will receive no funds or staff time for planning projects from the city, and our group is on its own if we want to see anything happen in our neighborhood. There is a possibility that some of the children’s play area equipment may be improved soon, and this may open a small window of opportunity to fundraise to allow for even more improvements to be tacked on.
This is challenging information to hear, but members in attendance at the meeting made the case for why their park deserves a little attention. As a large, flat space in the heart of Northeast Portland, it serves a fairly diverse population as it connects more and less affluent neighborhoods, and its varied facilities make it a big draw. The play area is the only one for miles with play equipment suitable for toddlers, although this equipment is over 25 years old and beginning to decay.
After the meeting, the city representatives were kind enough to walk over from Bethany Lutheran Church to the play area to see the state of the children’s equipment and provide further advice on the best way to work with the city, raise funds, and implement improvement projects. For now, the most likely scenario is that any large project will need to be entirely funded by our group.
Friends of Wilshire Park will meet again soon. Please subscribe to our newsletter for updates and information about meetings and projects. We will soon be putting out information about our NatureSpace project, which will bring a sustainable native landscape to a disused area of Wilshire Park. We also have ideas about simple projects to improve the jogging trail and dog park, so volunteers should get their work gloves ready.