The Need for Environmental Justice in a “Renewed” Portland
Kevin Odell, OPAL Co-Founder
The City of Portland, within Multnomah County, Oregon, has the highest population density within the state. Compact development issues are a priority in the region, as the Urban Growth Boundary and incentives for increased density limit sprawl and create more livable communities, thus making the Portland Metro region a model for innovation and urban planning across the nation. Yet the benefits of livability, sustainability, and “green” living, including healthier air, clean water, viable mass transportation, and access to parks and resources, are primarily directed to Portland’s privileged neighborhoods. Gentrification of formerly low-income neighborhoods displaces families to resource-deprived corridors adjacent to highways and industrial areas, deficient in parks and greenspace, affordable housing and amenities and rife with brownfields, bringing into question the equity of Portland’s “sustainability.” Major highways and thoroughfares, in addition to municipal landfills, sewage treatment plants and polluted waterways, traverse these communities and form the most polluted traffic corridor in the state.
Two of the target areas for OPAL organizing work, Outer Southeast and North/Northeast Portland represent examples of these areas. OPAL’s goals and organizing work is focused on bringing people together to discuss positive change in the community, including addressing air pollution through citizen action, conversion of brownfields and vacant lots into greenfields and community benefits, and developing a strong and collective voice focused on engaging elected officials and local government on sustainability and equity for all communities and neighborhoods in Portland, regardless of income or race.