March 17, 2016, Next City
It may sound a bit like the episode of Parks and Recreation on “the beautification of the pit,” but in Portland, Thomas Cully Park is being developed on the site of an old construction pit through a partnership between the city, which owns the property, and a coalition of sixteen other nonprofit organizations. The name of the effort is the simple “Let Us Build Cully Park.”
The city of Portland acquired the sand mine and landfill in 2000, with plans to build a park on the site, but budgetary constraints and development delays left the site untouched. Verde, a nonprofit working to bring environmental and recreational programs to low-income Portland neighborhoods, was also involved in the planning process and eventually brought sixteen other groups into the process. In 2007, the nonprofit groups began fundraising and grant writing to work toward getting the funding necessary to clean up the landfill and construct the park. One estimate put the price tag at $20 million.
When Portland’s city council handed over fundraising duties to Let Us Build Cully Park, it also authorized the nonprofits to design and construct the first phase of the park. Verde’s founder and others have listed multiple benefits of and uses for the planned park. Cully as a neighborhood is among Portland’s most diverse, and when plans began, it was located a half-mile from any park or naturalized space. Verde plans to use its own contracting company, providing jobs to low-income workers. TERRA.fluxus, a Portland landscaping firm, is working with local K-8 students to create gardens. Other community groups have made plans for cultural displays and activities recognizing local residents’ Latino and Native American heritage.
As of February, the coalition of nonprofits along with the city had raised about $6 million toward Cully Park; they estimate an additional $3 million will be needed. Portland’s parks and recreation department will contribute $1.25 million to the project. Some of the funding comes from a $500,000 grant issued by the National Park Service’s Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program, which was started last year to assist cities in constructing and enhancing parks in urban areas.—Lauren Karch