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East Of 82nd: Kids Seek Parks And Places To Play

Today we wrap up our series,”East of 82nd.” We’ve explored what’s available for kids in this neighborhood. Where can they find fresh food?   How safe is it for them to walk in their neighborhood?  Now we look at where kids can play in East Portland.

Stephanie Alvarado lives in a large apartment complex in outer Northeast Portland. The eleven-year-old shows me where she and her brother typically play.

11-year-old Stephanie Alvarado says that this is the main play area at her apartment complex.

11-year-old Stephanie Alvarado says that this is the main play area at her apartment complex.

Amanda Peacher/OPB

“We have this park right here but it’s not really a really good park. It’s this kind of little field, and that’s where they play soccer,” Stephanie says.

There’s some dilapidated playground equipment, a patch of grass, and an asphalt area where kids bounce basketballs. A few  young boys are entertaining each other by riding bikes through mud puddles.

“There’s not really that much you can do there ‘cause we had swings, but then they started breaking them, and it’s not that fun.”

Stephanie’s mother says that a couple of months ago, her son, Stephanie’s younger brother,  fell and cut himself on a piece of sharp metal on the broken playground structures.

The park is not safe Rosa Hernandez, Stephanie’s mother, says.

The apartment complex owner says he has plans to fix up the playground when weather allows. For now, Hernandez says it’s the only option for outdoor play for her kids. 

“The jungle gyms  are not finished and even more than it being a park I tell them it is a danger.  The jungle gyms are dangerous because parts have fallen and kids have hit themselves on the pieces.  The kids don’t have any other place to go.  They can not play in the parking lots.  Even more so in the summer time because they told us if the kids are playing the parking lots they would kick us out of the apartment.”

Most of the kid residents at Melrose Apartments play in this small, private park owned by the apartment complex.

Most of the kid residents at Melrose Apartments play in this small, private park owned by the apartment complex.

Amanda Peacher/OPB

But the closest city park is a mile away. And if Hernandez wants to take her kids there, it’s a production.

“Children can not go by themselves and if my son does go, he wants other kids to go with him.  He doesn’t want to go alone, he wants other kids.  Sometimes it is hard for just one mother to go and take five, seven, eight kids.”

There are nearly 12,000 acres of parks in Portland. A little more than 1,700 of those park acres — or just about 15 percent — are located East of 82nd Avenue.

Jeff Milkes is looking at what to do about city park space in the neighborhood. He’s the Southeast and East services zone manager for Portland Parks and Recreation.

“The issue in East Portland is that there are quite a few areas where citizens don’t have ready access to a park,” Milkes says. 

Citywide, more than 20 percent of Portland residents live more than a fifteen minute walk from a park.

“Most of the lack of access that we have is in East Portland.”

That’s in part because of the way neighborhoods East of 82nd Avenue have changed.  In many areas, what was once farmland is now apartments. New parks and playgrounds haven’t been added at the same pace as residential developments. 

Affordable rent attracts many  low-income residents to this part of the city.

Arlene Kimura is an advocate for more green space and resources in East Portland. She says too many kids in East Portland spend their summers indoors.

“In the inner part of Portland, I think there’s a lot of pride in ‘your park.’ We don’t have that, because we don’t have as many parks.”

So Kimura and a group of other citizens asked the city about providing more outdoor resources for East Portland kids. Kimura knows about a city effort called Mobile Playgrounds.

It’s a Parks and Recreation program that provides games, crafts, and kickball equipment all summer — usually in city parks.

So Kimura wondered, “If it’s truly mobile, does it have to be at a parks site?”

East Portland may lack developed parks, but it does have plenty of patches of space near apartment complexes, as well as empty fields next to churches and schools. So, Kimura and other East Portland advocates worked with the city to adapt the Mobile Playgrounds program.

Twice a week, the mobile playgrounds program comes here to Eastgate station, an apartment complex near 120th and Burnside. Seasonal employees show up with a van full of fun activities.

Xander McPherson says he likes being a role model and hanging out with kids at his summer job.

Xander McPherson says he likes being a role model and hanging out with kids at his summer job.

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone/OPB

Some children are jumping rope, some are working on crafts, a few are throwing footballs. The program is scheduled to visit  19 different locations in outer East Portland this summer.

Several are churches and apartment complexes — places where there are kids, but not necessarily parks.

Twenty-year-old Xander McPherson is a seasonal employee for the Parks and Recreation department. He’s turning a jumprope for the kids at Eastgate.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re out here is to kind of bring those parks to these kids who may not have bus or transportation to the nearest park, so it’s our job to be the mobile playground.”

The city would like to build more parks. Portland owns 132 acres of undeveloped land east of 82nd Avenue that could potentially be turned into parks or community centers. But for now, there’s no money in the city budget for these projects.  To build new parks east of 82nd, the city says it would need an influx of taxpayer dollars.

So in the interim, the parks department is bringing parks to people.

Back at Melrose Apartments in Northeast Portland, Stephanie Hernandez says she’s looking forward to lots of things about summer.

“I like hanging out with my friends, I really enjoy that. Hanging out with my mom, helping her, sometimes playing with my little brother in the park.

This summer, the little makeshift park where Stephanie plays will be a bit more fun for a few hours each week. The mobile playgrounds program started there Wednesday.

Sources for this story came to OPB via our Public Insight Network. Voiceover in the audio story by Pat Kruis. Translation provided by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone. 

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story incorrectly reported the percentage of Portland residents who have ready access to a park. 20% of Portlanders live more than a fifteen minute walk from a park.  OPB regrets the error.

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