September 10 2020

Urban Renewal History and the I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project

If you've been on our bus tour, you know that urban renewal in Portland contributed to the destruction of predominately Black neighborhoods. The Albina neighborhood in particular saw a series of urban renewal projects that depleted the housing in the predominately Black neighborhood. Beginning in 1956, Albina saw a series of three massive construction projects that destroyed homes and displaced hundreds in N/NE Portland.

The first displacement of Albina residents came in the 1950s with the construction of Veterans Memorial Coliseum in the southern most portion of Albina. Southern Albina was not the first choice of where to build the Coliseum. The Exposition-Recreation Commission had favored Delta Park and downtown Portland near present-day Keller Auditorium. Both preferred locations faced backlash from the public for years, forcing the Commission to compromise and make a hasty decision to build the Coliseum in Albina. Residents of the area fought back, but the Commission’s political power outweighed that of the residents. The Coliseum’s construction resulted in the destruction of 450 homes in the predominately Black neighborhood.

The second displacement came in the 1960s with the construction of the Minnesota St.-Minnesota Freeway, now known as I-5. The interstate was routed away from downtown Portland to the east bank of the Willamette through Central Albina. The highway cut through the center of the Albina community. The project forced many African Americans to leave their homes and move their business to North Williams or close their businesses forever.

The third displacement was in the 1970s with the expansion of Emanuel Hospital. After spending 10 years planning the expansion, the Portland Development Commission told residents they had 90 days to move. As the bulldozers razed the last home, news arrived that the funding for the expansion was not approved by Congress. Hundreds lost their homes for what are now vacant lots.

Today, ODOT’s I5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project reminds us of the painful history of urban renewal North/Northeast Portland saw in the 1950s-70s. Albina Vision Trust withdrew their support from the project when two of their demands could not be met. The first demand was that ODOT make amends for the historical harms the original freeway caused. The second demand was for caps over the highway on which neighborhood redevelopment could occur, which ODOT has not been willing to commit to. Following Albina Vision Trust’s decision to withdraw support, Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said “she will step down from her position on the project’s executive steering committee, calling it “the wrong project for the city,” and the existing Rose Quarter I-5 corridor “a monument to the racist legacy of our transportation system.” Mayor Ted Wheeler has also withdrawn his support.

Lifelong Albina resident Liz Fouther-Branch, whose family was displaced in the 1950s by Legacy Emanuel and who personally witnessed each successive wave of urban renewal projects, shares her experience being on ODOT’s Community Advisory Committee, a community engagement effort which has been replaced with the newly formed Historic Albina Advisory Board.

Read more about the project here:

 

Additional reading - LA Times Opinion Piece: Want to tear down insidious monuments to racism and segregation? Bulldoze L.A. freeways

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