Healing Social Wounds through Environmental Design

The creation of public spaces to celebrate cultural heritage and facilitate positive interaction between diverse community groups is an effective way to create healthy communities.

In Portland, Oregon is a project that aims to do just that. The Portland Development Commission and the Albina Neighborhood Association are working together on a 2 million dollar renovation project for Dawson Park.

Prior to renovation, the park was the heart of what was once a predominantly African American neighborhood. Albina suffered first from neglect, then from numerous insensitive urban renewal projects, and more recently has become in danger of losing its historic identity through gentrification. Residents want to use this park as an inclusive gathering space for the community, and see the park-remodeling project as a way to help preserve Albina’s rich historic past.

Landscape Architecture Firm 2-Ink Studio developed a design for the park, which will lie adjacent to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center and the brand new children’s hospital. The PDC hopes that the creation of this new park will bring together a fragmented community in desperate need of a more livable neighborhood.

Design proposals were formulated after discussing with local residents the desired attributes of the new park features. A large majority of residents wished to incorporate a water feature into the final design. This water feature is estimated to cost around $300,000 upon completion. Despite a public budget shortfall Nick Fish, commissioner of Portland Housing Bureau and Portland Parks and Recreation Department, will seek private and grant funding to ensure its construction comes to fruition.

Dawson park was incorporated in 1921; named in honor of Reverend John Dawson, an advocate for city improvement and child welfare in the 1920s. The park currently houses a gazebo that was constructed in 1978 to showcase the 120 year-old cupola salvaged from the Hill Block Building. This building was once an anchor of the Albina Commercial district and a gathering place for African American residents.

$25,000 has been set aside by the Parks and Recreation department along with the Regional Arts council to include an art feature that will describe the community’s history. Final plans for this art project have not yet been settled upon. Project manager Sandra Burtzos believes the ground breaking for the renovation could begin as early as fall of 2012.