Sunday, February 22, 2015

Guest Blog Post! The History of the Beech and Milton Street Neighborhood Coalition by Erin Cornell

The Beech & Milton Neighborhood Coalition had its beginnings at small neighborhood barbecues where any neighbor who happened past was invited to share a meal and good conversation.  Through those semi-spontaneous community gatherings, neighbors began to rally around the potential of transforming our neighborhood from one plagued by drug dealing and prostitution to a safe, family-friendly community.

With support from the City of Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement, neighbors formed a Neighborhood Watch, growing to 100 households strong.  Neighbors committed to calling the police when we saw suspicious activity.  We worked closely with the Portland Police Department’s Prostitution Coordination Team to target the pimps and sex buyers who prowled our streets.  We worked with our Neighborhood Response Team and other Portland Police Officers to shut down a drug house, and we played a role in the closing of a seedy motel that was fueling the crime in our neighborhood.

With our Neighborhood Watch going strong, neighbors were looking for the next steps to take back our neighborhood.  That next step was the formation of a Foot Patrol.  One evening each month, neighbors come together to walk our streets.  Through a non-confrontational, positive presence, we show that we care about our community.  While on foot patrol, we also submit photos to the City of graffiti or other vandalism, and we contact the police if we witness suspicious activity.  But, our primary task is just to smile and say “hello” to everyone we pass!  On our first foot patrol, people we passed by applauded and cheered.  It was easy to see the immediate impact of simply walking through our neighborhood!

After a year of barbecues, Neighborhood Watch, and Foot Patrols, we had successfully transformed the way everyone who lived here felt about our neighborhood, but we were acutely aware that we were still dealing with crime and that our neighborhood still looked inviting to that element.  We turned our focus to physical transformations that would not only continue to bring us together as a community but would also show the rest of the world we are committed, caring, community-minded people and that there is no place for crime on our streets.  It was at this point that the Beech & Milton Neighborhood Coalition took form!

Our first step in this endeavor was creating unique, hand-painted “Slow Down for Children” signs to address cars speeding through our streets.  Next, we identified a vacant lot as a problem spot and eye sore in our neighborhood and collectively dreamed about what we would like to see in its place.  The Beech Street Community garden was born!  The Garden was developed in partnership with the Urban Farm Collective.  It is ran by neighbors with a model of sharing the work and sharing the bounty!

In the Spring of 2014, the Beech & Milton Neighborhood Coalition undertook two intersection repairs (street paintings) through City Repair Project’s Village Building Convergence.  The design of the two paintings was the result of a highly collaborative, multi-iterative process.  Neighbors talked about the history of our neighborhood, what it has meant to us over time, the heart of the neighborhood now, and our dreams for the future.  The Coalition’s design committee captured those ideas and turned them into the beautiful pieces of art you see on the street today.  They have transformed two troubled intersections into community gathering spaces and sources of pride.  Other committees of neighbors that made these projects possible include our fundraising committee (annual rummage and plant sale), door-to-door committee (getting the word out), and party committee (very important).

Since the days of those initial barbecues, we have shifted from individual families living in isolation to a supportive community of neighbors.  We celebrate birthdays together and take care of animals and homes when neighbors are out of town.  We grow food together, and our children play together.  We lend tools to one another, and the last-minute missing supper ingredient is only a phone call away.  At Christmas time, neighbors undertook “25-Days of Community Giving” with one or two neighbors committed to doing some good deed for the neighborhood on their assigned day.  This past summer, we had a big block party between our two newly beautified intersections, and we intend to make it an annual event. 

We also continue to work with the City and the Portland Police Department to keep crime away from our neighborhood.  The Neighborhood Watch and Foot Patrols continue to be active, and neighbors now speak at the City’s Sex Buyer’s Accountability Program, an educational diversion program for first time offenders, about the impact that prostitution has on a community.

As we reflect back on the last few years, it is remarkable to see how far we have come.  But, we are not done.  Neighbors will continue to dream and continue to think big thoughts for what is possible for our little corner of the world.  Through collaboration with our many community partners, the dedication of those who live here, and many many more barbecues, we will continue to work toward our ever-evolving vision for our neighborhood!

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