Community Garden to Knit Town Split by Highway

If you’re a big vegetable person like Amanda Munro, who gets enthusiastic about onions, spring salad, potatoes and zucchini, getting a new community garden is cause for celebration anywhere.

RobLeeBut for Munro and other residents of Linnton, the promise embodied in a community garden goes beyond cucumbers to the point where it touches old wounds. Like the loss of the community’s downtown during the widening of St. Helens Road (U.S. 30) from two to four lanes. Or its legacy of industrial pollution near the center of the Portland Harbor Superfund site.

At the May Linnton Neighborhood Association meeting, Community Gardens Program Coordinator Laura Niemi announced that Portland Parks & Recreation has decided to move forward with a garden at Kingsley Park after receiving enthu- siastic support from the neighborhood. The project will require fundraising of $40,000 to $50,000 for a water line, parking and fencing improvements, she said. But with 28 people wanting plots, a new steering committee and strong fundraising outlook, the garden seems likely to become reality.

“It’s been a long time coming,” says Rob Lee, secretary of the neighborhood asso- ciation and a leader of local ecological restoration proj- ects. “I feel like we’re kind of at a tipping point.”

Donated to the city by lumber magnates Edward and Charlotte Kingsley in 1924, the park is sandwiched between Highway 30 and a railroad track often loaded with tanker cars — not quite the bucolic vista offered by nearby Forest Park. The grassy acre of land reflects Linnton’s character as “a transportation hub,” as LNA Vice Chair Edward Jones calls it.

There’s no plan for a covered structure at Kingsley, Niemi said, but enthusiastic locals don’t care.

“To me, the community garden is one little thing that Linnton should have, because Linnton lost a lot, a lot, in losing half the com- munity,” said Shawn Loo- ney, who was elected LNA chair last month. In the early 1960s, road widening, the city demolished all the buildings on the west side of U.S. 30—“virtually half of [Linnton’s] downtown,” says a city document.

The Kingsley Park location feels disconnected from Northwest Front Avenue, the Linnton Community Center and Ma Olsen Garden, though it’s an easy walk from these local attractions.

“We had been holding [Kingsley Park] hoping that we might be able to use it in some sort of land swap or deal to provide a better site for Linnton,” Niemi said. “The community just said, ‘Listen, you’re not doing anything with it, let’s do something.’ ”

Parks & Recreation sent postcards to 318 Linnton residences to assess interest. Of 99 responses, Niemi said, 81 were in favor, 11 neutral, seven against. Niemi has successfully found funding for 11 other community gardens, she said.

As an “underserved” community, Linnton might be given priority for grants like Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods, Niemi said.

Folks in Linnton have a slightly different way of say- ing that.

“There are a lot of folks [in Linnton] who feel like the city owes us,” Looney said.

Unique site

While some of Portland’s 50 community gardens are urban, none is surrounded by petroleum tank farms, sits on top of the Olympic Pipeline and abuts a state highway, as Kingsley Park does.

Niemi said the park’s soil was tested extensively a year ago by the city’s brownfield assessment program for heavy metals, pesticides, herbicides and petrochemicals.

“They actually found that there was no contamination concern,” Niemi said. “It’s surprising, but we’ve done a lot of good research and found out that it should be safe.”

The garden will take up about a fifth of the park on the north side. Community access will be on the south.

I just don’t see any down- side,” Looney said. “So many people live alongside the hill, and they just don’t have any sun.”

Looney walks her dog at the park — the other use most requested by survey respondents — but rarely sees anyone except for a neighbor who scrawls a morbid tally of moles he and his dog have killed along the highway wall.

I think it would be huge for the community,” Munro said. “I know when I went to high school here, I would see that there were community meetings in the community center and I thought, ‘This isn’t a community, this is just a couple of stores on the side of the highway.’ I didn’t realize until this year that [U.S. 30 widening] kind of destroyed the community.”

“I really need that, the sense of knowing who I’m living around, and having relationships with them,” she continued. “I think there’s a lot of interest in the garden, so that would be really nice if we could work together outside and have picnics and do stuff there.”

This article appeared in the NW Examiner.