James Jackson, a 98-year-old resident of Portland, stands outside a predominantly African American church in Cully on Christmas Day, 2016.

Stake Your Place

The Cully neighborhood of Portland offers a glimpse at the complex racial, ethnic, and economic factors at play in a community trying to resist the forces of gentrification, displacement, and change.

When Eli Spevak started a company in 2006 focused on building affordable, community-based housing in the Cully neighborhood of Portland, he knew right away what he wanted to call it.

“Orange Splot,” Spevak said, reaching for a children’s book nearby. “It actually had a big impact in how I think about housing.”

In The Big Orange Splot, published in 1977, a homeowner named Mr. Plumbean lives on a “neat street” where all the houses look the same. One day, a seagull drops a bucket of orange paint onto Mr. Plumbean’s home, leaving a giant mark. His neighbors demand that he cover it up but he ignores them. Instead, Mr. Plumbean’s adds a hammock, installs a massive clock tower, and even paints a lion on the front of the house. Soon everyone around him starts making their homes as garish as his. One adds Roman style columns; another puts a giant balloon on top. In the end, all of the houses look different and the book closes with the residents collectively declaring: “Our street is us and we are it. Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.”

For Spevak, who has worked on affordable housing in Portland since 1994 (in 2014, he received a prestigious Loeb Fellowship from Harvard’s School of Design for his work), the book perfectly captures his philosophy towards inclusive development as well as his hopes for the future of Portland's housing market.

“Why can’t we create housing that is both unique and accessible?” he said. “Maybe people will take to it, if they try it.”

Spevak is part of a growing group of developers, community-based organizations, church leaders, urban farmers, and business owners who are actively working to decrease the effects of gentrification on the Portland neighborhood of Cully.

Eli Spevak is the founder of Orange Splot, a company focused on creating affordable housing. Spevak is standing in the center of one of his latest housing development projects in Cully.

 

Located in the uppermost Northeast corridor of the city just south of the Portland International Airport, Cully was the last area annexed into the City of Portland in 1985. Its namesake, Thomas Cully, was born in England in 1810 and moved to Portland after a brief stint as a ranger in Texas. Before his death in 1891, Cully had amassed 640 acres of land in North Portland. However, some members of the Native American Youth and Family Center believe the name Cully erases the Native American roots of the area. The Neerchokikoo Indian Village once thrived in what is now Cully, and NAYA takes exception to the idea that Cully was a deserted area before Thomas Cully arrived.

What continues to set Cully apart, though, is how different it was and still is from the rest of Portland. Even after its incorporation into the City of Portland in 1985, the Cully neighborhood retained its large plots, wide open fields, and unpaved roads. Today the farming culture that once dominated Cully is quickly disappearing, and when urban planners speak about Cully, they often do so to point out the stark disparities between Cully and the rest of Portland. Cully has come to symbolize—correctly or not—the one area in Oregon where neglectful city policies have created an area with two particular characteristics: staggering inequalities and a mostly non-white residential population.

According to the 2010 US Census, Cully is the most racially and ethnically diverse area in the entire state of Oregon: almost half of Cully residents identify as people of color. The rest of Portland, comparatively, has 28 percent residents of color. According to a 2013 study written by several community-based organizations, “Not in Cully: Anti-Displacement Strategies for the Cully Neighborhood,” median income in Cully is $10,000 lower than it is for the rest of Portland. Cully residents also pay a greater portion of their salary toward rent: about two-thirds of renters in Cully pay 30 percent of their salary toward rent, compared to half of Portland residents who do the same. Around 20 percent of Cully residents live in poverty, compared with a regional average of 9.9. Only 24 percent of Cully residents live within a quarter mile of a park, compared with a regional average of 49 percent.

Cully is also home to a large Latino population, many of whom are undocumented. According to the City of Portland, an estimated 22 percent of Cully residents do not speak English at home. In addition, the area has a sizable Somali population, many of whom now live in the affordable housing units originally built for Latino residents. Some of the Somali residents are new to the US, while some Somali families moved to Cully because they were not able to find housing in other parts of Portland due to housing discrimination and have had better luck with Latino and Asian landlords in Cully.

When people think of the gaps between the haves and the have-nots in Portland, the usual picture that comes to mind are the rows of homeless residents in downtown’s upscale Pearl district. An equally damning image are the streets of Cully, many of which are filled with all residents of color, some of whom are undocumented and live in cramped apartments with ten or twelve people in units designed for four.

But the efforts to improve Cully might be too little, too late. Down the street from Spevak’s office, a sprawling mansion recently sold for more than $700,000; on the opposite side, a homeless man lives in his van. Sandwiched in between is Spevak’s most ambitious project yet: a sixteen-home multigenerational, solar-powered garden community on two acres known as Cully Grove, completed in 2013. Spevak wanted to show that it’s possible to develop high-quality housing that is affordable, environmentally friendly, and beautifully constructed. Some of the units in Cully Grove have Orange Splot touches, including one house with a giant fish sculpture on the side—a nod to the children’s book.

Today Spevak is building another cluster of affordable homes in Cully but he acknowledges that his work is becoming increasingly difficult, as home prices continue to rise and as the City of Portland copes with a housing shortage. “I am optimistic, for sure,” Spevak said. “But I do see all the changes coming and I am not sure how much we will be able to push back. I am trying, though. A lot of us are. We all know what happened in Albina and Mississippi. ”

**

It is a comment I heard again and again from community leaders, residents, church pastors, and affordable housing advocates in Cully: we are trying to learn from Portland’s past mistakes.

In the neighborhoods west of Cully known as Albina and Mississippi, the African American population has dwindled from 70 percent to 30 percent in less than two decades, Willamette Week reported. In 2011, the Oregonian did an analysis of the 2010 US census data and reported that “of the 354 census tracts in Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties, 40 became whiter from 2000 to 2010.”

Although Portland as a whole is becoming more diverse, especially with the growth of the Latino community, the city is actually becoming more racially segregated. But this data can be viewed from another angle, too. According to the American Community Survey, a division of the US Census Bureau, Portland is still more integrated than cities with greater diversity such as Washington DC, Atlanta, and Miami.

Still, the demographic shifts are staggering and have contributed to the reputation of Portland as the city where gentrification has most reached its "fever pitch." That’s the phrase the comedian W. Kamau Bell used to describe Portland on his CNN show, United Shades of America. The rapid changes across Portland have motivated a cross section of people in Cully to fight back so that their neighborhood does not go the way of Mississippi and Albina.

Every Tuesday evening, the staff at Living Cully host a public forum where Cully residents meet with community leaders to talk about their neighborhood concerns. The event is held in Cully at a place that once housed the notorious strip club, the Sugar Shack. The space has been turned into a community center run by Living Cully.

 

Nowhere is this more evident than with Living Cully, the community-based organization started in 2010 by Habitat for Humanity Portland, Hacienda Community Development Corporation, Native American Youth and Family Center, and Verde. The purpose of Living Cully is to help create jobs, expand safe and affordable housing options, and combat displacement. The Hacienda CDC is the biggest community partner in this group, managing nearly four hundred affordable housing units that serve about two thousand residents. But what makes this consortium so unique is its approach to development.

The Living Cully Ecodistrict Coordinator, Tony DeFalco, describes the group’s work as “reinterpreting sustainability as an anti-poverty strategy.” DeFalco, who in 2016 received the prestigious Community Leader of the Year Spirit of Portland award, and Living Cully are viewed as trailblazers because they consider the creation of parks and urban farms as anti-poverty initiatives that can create jobs and uplift residents of color who have been historically disenfranchised in Oregon.

Living Cully’s ambitions represent, in many ways, a new approach to community engagement. Early NGO intervention in the area mostly involved building affordable homes, such as the rows of publicly funded Section 8 units managed by the Hacienda CDC. But Hacienda and groups like it began to realize that providing affordable units should also be coupled with income-generating initiatives and began shifting its focus towards creating jobs and supporting entrepreneurs. Its most visible project is the Portland Mercado, a marketplace that opened in 2015 in the Foster-Powell neighborhood of Southeast Portland that offers affordable retail and commercial space for Latino-owned businesses.

As of now, the Hacienda CDC is still arguably the most prominent building in Cully, with its new multimillion dollar office equipped with a massive mural, a convenience store, and mini soccer field. But it is the building across the street, the new Living Cully headquarters, which has been capturing all the headlines and accolades as of late.

In June 2015, Living Cully purchased a massive run-down strip club for $2.3 million opposite the Hacienda CDC’s office. Anna Gordon, the outreach coordinator for Living Cully, was there when her organization took possession of the strip club known as the Sugar Shack. “There were mattresses on the floor, small private rooms with Jacuzzis, mirrored walls—it was a bit intense,” Gordon said. Cully residents tell me the Sugar Shack was more of a brothel than a strip club, with women imprisoned as trafficked sex slaves. In 2015, two of the owners of Sugar Shack were convicted for running a prostitution ring, as well as for tax evasion.

Today the space still contains many of the remnants of its former self—the mirrored walls, the plush red carpet, the black and white tiling. Volunteers have spent weekends tearing down stripper poles, pulling out the leopard print wall paper, but the space is still largely dilapidated and as a result, unused. The main office of Living Cully consists of a small desk, a couch, but not much else.

Gordon said they have big plans for the space, though what it will eventually become is still unclear. It could be a series of food carts or it might be a commissary kitchen, where cooks could prepare their food for their food carts. It could be something entirely different, too. “Ideally, this will one day become a community center, where people can work, hang out, and learn, but it’s going to take a lot of funding,” Gordon said.

Gordon, who lived in Panama and is fluent in Spanish, is focused on spending as much time as possible right now listening to the residents of Cully. Each month, she hosts a forum at the Living Cully headquarters called CHAT, or Cully Housing Action Team. At a recent meeting, a few weeks after the election of Donald Trump, a Cully resident passed out flyers in Spanish about the changes that might happen once he is sworn into office.

“He could deport all of us,” the person said, who asked that I do not include her name in my article because she is undocumented. “But just because we do not have papers, it does not mean we do not have rights. I learned that in these meetings here.” When I asked her to name a specific lesson she learned at these meetings, she said, “Talking to a lawyer if a landlord threatens an incorrect eviction.”

Victor Johanson, a resident of the Oak Leaf Mobile Home in Cully, talks about the need for stable housing at the weekly Living Cully meeting.

 

At the CHAT meeting, Gordon, along with her Living Cully colleague Cameron Herrington, stood off to the side as residents discussed a wide range of concerns about Cully. One person, Victor Johanson, spoke about the need to build sidewalks in the area, given that only 34 percent of Cully streets have sidewalks.

Johanson, who uses a wheelchair, lost his ability to walk after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He lives in the Oak Leaf mobile home park, which was purchased by Living Cully after securing a loan from Portland Housing Bureau. Residents had spent much of 2016 working with Living Cully, the housing bureau, and others to negotiate with the Oak Leaf owner to not sell the property to a developer. Johanson’s rent is $460 a month, a staggeringly low amount for a single home anywhere in Portland. The purchase by Living Cully, which has since contracted with St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County to manage the property, means that Johanson and the twenty-five or so other families who live there will not have to relocate.

Part of the reason Johanson said he attends the CHAT meetings is because he is able to gain a broader picture of the housing crisis in Portland. Johansen, who is white and does not speak Spanish, added that Living Cully has also helped him understand issues of race.

“It is tied to housing. I didn’t see that before but coming here makes me realize how much race plays a factor in what gets funded and what does not get funded by the city,” he said. “I also learn a ton here about other communities. It’s great.”

For Gordon, who lives in Cully, these types of forums are at the core of what Living Cully does. “It’s really where we learn what is the pulse of the area and what people’s concerns are,” she said.

A few weeks later, Gordon and Herrington organized a traditional Mexican posada, the ritual re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for a lodging in Bethlehem, performed just before Christmas. Most of Cully’s Mexican residents are from the state of Yucatán and each year a select group visit houses in Cully as part of the posada.

Living Cully has embraced this tradition and on a foggy night in mid December, a crowd of about eighty gathered together to celebrate the posada. Off in the corner, a group of children cut small pieces of paper and pasted them together in various geometric shapes.

“These are 3D snowflakes,” said six-year-old Khadija, whose parents were born in Somalia. Her brother Omar, aged nine, stood nearby wearing a loud Christmas sweater.

“I love these gatherings. My kids—they feel like everyone else here. No one makes comments about their hijabs or about their names. I couldn’t be happier,” their mother said, who asked that I do not include her name in this story.

Gordon estimates that of the four hundred affordable housing units run by the Hacienda CDC in Cully, about a dozen belong to Somali families. Within Cully, there are several housing complexes where all of the residents are Somali. At the Hacienda CDC’s office, the walls of the entryway are decorated with photos of Somali families, a testament to the demographic shift in the area as well as the Hacienda’s commitment to serve this community.

A few days after the posada, I arranged with a family I had met there to visit an apartment complex in Cully where all of the families are from Somalia. But the night before my scheduled visit, I received a call from a man who lives there. As a young man, this person lived in a refugee camp in Kenya and his face lit up when I told him my parents grew up in neighboring Tanzania. However the celebratory mood he felt after the posada had all but disappeared.

“A Somali woman in Portland was grabbed by her hijab and forced to say ‘I love America, I love Trump,’ before the man would her go,” he said, his voice trembling.

He conceded that her story might have been made up or exaggerated but he told me he believed it was plausible, especially given Trump’s victory.

It was hard not to agree with him. During the three months I conducted interviews in Cully, I saw confederate flags in the area on at least two separate occasions. Confederate flags, of course, can be spotted elsewhere in Oregon and in the US and there is nothing exceptional about Cully that makes it more predisposed to overt symbols of racism. But this person, along with many other Somalis I interviewed in Cully, view these flags as a wall some white residents are building between themselves and the area’s residents of color. He said it terrifies him to be in proximity to white people who feel so unashamed to admit their racial prejudice.

The tragedy, he said, is that living in Cully has changed his life as he has found acceptance among Latinos that he never really felt either in predominantly African American areas or in predominantly white areas of Portland. He no longer feels this way.

“Would it be ok if you do not come to visit us tomorrow? It’s better that people do not know where we live,” he said.

***

Pastor Paul Grossman speaks to members of his predominantly Spanish-speaking congregation about the fears they are experiencing since November's election.

Part of what makes improving Cully so challenging is that often the people who are trying to improve the area cannot afford to live there themselves. This is the case with Pastor Paul Gossman of the Trinity Lutheran Church in Cully. When we met in November, Gossman had just moved from Seattle to lead the Spanish language services for the congregation. The move to Portland was disorienting for a number of reasons.

“For one, Portland is not really built around the water like Seattle is,” Gossman said. “But the other thing is that I tried to find an apartment in Cully but I could not afford anything.”

He found a nice two-bedroom condo a few blocks away from the church but the rent, Gossman said, was “well over $2,000.” Today he lives a few neighborhoods away and has struggled to get a pulse of his congregation’s concerns as a result of not living next to the other church attendees.

Of the half dozen church services I attended in Cully, Gossman’s sermon was the only one that made direct reference to Trump’s win. “We are all nervous. Go ahead and say it. We should not hide this fact. We are nervous. For lots of different reasons. But we can’t fight something unless we talk about it,” Gossman said in Spanish. Over cookies and coffee afterward, Gossman sat with about ten area residents speaking about everything from food to the Seattle Seahawks to Trump’s proposed deportations.

“About half of the Latinos here are undocumented. They are frightened and for good reason. I never promise I can help them. But I always listen,” Gossman said. “The thing is—it doesn't sound good that I am trying to uplift an area and I myself can’t even afford to live here.”

Things are quite different at the Hmong church nearby. Portland has a Hmong population of around 3,600 people, many of whom fled to the US as refugees from Southeast Asia. Unlike the other churches I visited, most of the worshippers at the Hmong church were young, in contrast to the decidedly older congregations I saw at Cully’s other churches. Many of them are US citizens.

Paul Hang, a twenty-six-year-old Hmong American, said he comes to the church only partly for religious purposes. “It’s really about seeing my friends and being in the Hmong community.” Like most in the church, Hang does not live in Cully and has not lived there for years.

“This is not a neighborhood I would really recommend to people,” Hang said, looking around to make sure no Cully residents were within earshot of himself. “It’s not really safe.”

Many Hmong residents once lived in Cully, partly for its affordable rents, as well as its diversity. Today most have moved out to Gresham. The church’s pastor, John Yang lives in a house next door to the church but does not venture out often.

“It’s not the safest area. I have heard gunshots here before, sure,” he said.

Part of the reason for the violence, some Cully residents told me, is that there is a palpable tension between what Cully was once like and what it is today and one of the solutions, some say, is to make Cully residents feel like they are part of Cully.

Stacey Givens, the founder of Side Yard Farm and Kitchen, stands in the community garden that she built and runs.

Stacey Givens is the founder and director of the Side Yards Farm and Kitchen, an urban farming project close to Eli Spevak’s office. The farming sector jobs that once dominated Cully have all but disappeared, and today urban farms like hers are the exception, not the norm. She pointed out that if people volunteer on her farm, she will give them fresh produce for free. One of the biggest misconceptions people have about urban farming, she said, is that it is an elitist pursuit done only by white people. Givens, whose mother is a Greek immigrant, pointed out that with rising grocery costs, urban farming is a way to create jobs, to curb food costs, and to promote a healthy lifestyle.

That Givens can operate her sprawling farm is largely thanks to her landowners, who still live on the property and have sort of adopted Givens as their honorary daughter. But Givens knows that Cully is changing.

“Cully used to be this place where you could get by on a little, where you could come up with an idea for an urban farm and just do it, even without a ton of money,” Givens said.

One of the effects of the changing demographics is that ethnic groups in Cully often find themselves pitted against other each other. Often this takes on the form of violent clashes and gang activity but it comes out in other ways, too.

After I interviewed Givens, I walked to a corner store in Cully to purchase a bottle of water. The man behind the counter was South Asian and after we spoke about our shared ethnic roots in India, he and I spoke about the changes he has seen in the area.

“If I can be honest, black people have left the area and more American people have moved into the area. It’s good for our housing prices here,” he said. Like like many other immigrants in Cully, he asked that I do not use his name.

Before I could ask a follow-up question, he continued speaking. “Let me tell you. For years, our homes [in Cully] were worth nothing and people were selling drugs on the street right and left here. Today, at least I don’t have to be ashamed to tell people I live in here and I can thank all the American people who have moved here for these changes.”

By American people, I asked him in Hindi, did he mean white people?

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Who else would I be talking about?”

***

Retired Oregon State Senator Bob Boyer and his wife, Judy, stand outside the church they attend in Cully.

 

Retired Oregon State Senator Bob Boyer, who is African American, said that Cully’s African American population has always been relatively small and now he sees it getting even smaller. Boyer is in his late seventies and spent much of his childhood working on shipping yards and boxing in fights at night to earn extra money. For him, the biggest change he has seen in Portland is that African American residents like him can now own land. 

“There were only very few places where African Americans could buy land in Portland. I never tried to buy land here in Cully but I can tell you, I was denied in lots of neighborhoods in this town,” Boyer said.

When Boyer meets new residents in Cully, his advice is always the same: buy as soon as you can. “It’s what I tell everyone I meet,” Boyer said. “Stake your place in this area, otherwise people will push us out of here, too. I have seen it before. Believe me.”

Thai Nguyen, the owner of Cully’s famous Mexican restaurant Angel Food and Fun, believes the friction between groups in Cully is often overstated but he has witnessed it himself. Nguyen came to the US as a refugee from Vietnam in the 1980s and eventually started a Vietnamese pho restaurant in Cully. He thought it would be a sure hit, given the large Vietnamese population in North Portland. But many Vietnamese told him they did not like the idea of coming to a predominantly Latino neighborhood to eat Vietnamese food because they thought the area was “unsafe.”

So Nguyen closed his restaurant, conducted research on the Cully neighborhood, and realized that although there was a large presence of people from Mexico’s state of Yucatán, there were not any Yucatán-style Mexican restaurants in Cully. A few years later, Nguyen recruited chefs from Yucatán and started Angel Food and Fun. (The “fun” in the name refers to the pool hall and bar attached to the restaurant, which Nguyen runs and staffs.)

When chefs in Portland are asked about their favorite place to eat in the city, Angel Food and Fun is almost always on the shortlist. Nguyen is tickled by the accolades he has received and is also a bit surprised, given the restaurant’s low prices, its use of paper plates, and its low-budget décor. But Nguyen does not announce or brag that he is the owner, and when customers offer him compliments, he instead deflects them to the restaurant’s Mexican staff.

“When I started my own business, I kept thinking, ‘What do I want?’ But then I stepped back, listened to what people wanted, and I did that instead. That’s when I succeeded in Cully. I never imagined I would start a Mexican restaurant that people would love but then, I never imagined a lot of the things that have happened in my life,” Nguyen said with a wide smile.

Thai Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee, is the owner of Angels Food and Fun, one of Portland's most-celebrated Mexican restuarants. The restaurant is primarily run by his business partner, Manuel Lopez, and Nguyen runs the adjacent pool hall.

**

Today Cully is seen as a sort of culinary destination for the rest of Portland. Michael DeMarco is the district manager of the Our 42nd Avenue, a public-private initiative to improve businesses along the neighborhood’s western border. In an October 2016 article, the Portland Mercury declared 42nd Avenue as Portland’s new “Restaurant Row.”

For DeMarco, the way to improve Cully is to provide incentives to businesses that hire locally. Much of the investment coming into Cully, he said, is needed and long overdue, such as the improvement of roads and sidewalks. (The street adjacent to Angel Food and Fun, for example, remains unpaved.) But DeMarco believes businesses in Cully can do better to keep jobs in Cully itself.

DeMarco is careful about which new businesses his group lets into Cully’s 42nd Avenue corridor. He pointed out that in parts of Portland, it has become “retail store after retail store.” The key, he said, is to have a wider range of businesses in Cully and not just upscale restaurants and coffee shops.

Like many I interviewed, DeMarco is not a fan of the term “gentrification.” His concern is that there are “many definitions of gentrification and often when people discuss these issues, it’s hard to get a sense of what each person means by the word gentrification.”

However Lisa Bates, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, believes the term should be used. She defines gentrification as “when a low-income group is pushed out by a higher-income group.” Bates is also critical of the way Cully has tried to market itself as somehow distinct from the rest of Portland.

“I think in some ways, people in Portland are comfortable in talking about gentrification in Cully because the people of color who live in Cully are viewed as ‘new residents’ who can still be ‘saved,’” Bates said. “But when you talk about gentrification in other parts of Portland—like the Albina and Mississippi areas—you have to confront this state’s ugly history of institutional racism and you have to talk about black people, which this city doesn’t really want to do.”

Bates sits on a number of citywide anti-displacement initiatives and in 2012, she was contracted by the City of Portland to write a report about gentrification and displacement in Portland.

“I think in a few years, Cully is going to have a lot of things it now lacks, but I am wondering what the talking points around Cully will be then,” Bates said. “I think the initiatives to improve Cully are important but I wish they would situate the issue in a broader racial justice framework, which I am just not seeing.”

Writers Ben Parzybok and Laura Moulton sit with their two children. They are long-time residents of Cully and decided to move to the neighborhood, in part, because they wanted their kids to be exposed to the area's diversity.

 

For Cully residents Laura Moulton and Ben Parzybok, both of whom are white, the issue absolutely comes down to race, at least in part. They moved to Cully about a decade ago and decided not to bus their children out of Cully, something they say many white parents have done.

“I have heard white parents say they don’t want their kids in schools with Latinos kids. On one level, it’s hard to believe but on another level, it is not hard to believe,” Moulton said.

Moulton and Parzybok are a sort of celebrity couple. She runs a widely praised mobile library that provides books for homeless residents and Parzybok is a celebrated novelist, whose last book Sherwood Nation, dealt in part with housing. Both of their children study across the street at Rigler Elementary School.

A few days before I met them, the local Portland station KOIN reported that an eight-year-old boy brought a knife to Rigler and threatened other students. “I know there are issues at the school, but I still think on the whole, our kids are getting a better experience at Rigler,” Parzybok said. He pulled out a picture of his son, Cohen, standing with Cohen’s best friends, both of whom are Mexican. Cohen is fluent in Spanish, as is his sister, and Parzybok and Moulton believe the exposure their kids are getting to communities of color is one of the reasons they love Cully so much.

“I hear a lot of white parents elsewhere in Portland say they want to move out of Portland so that their kids can be exposed to more diversity. But they don’t have to leave. It’s in Cully, at least,” Moulton said.

For the two of them, Cully is special because it still encourages experimentation in the arts and social planning, something that is not happening elsewhere as much, given the rising cost of housing across Portland, Moulton believes. “People keep saying Portland is changing, or that the Portland we once knew is gone. I don’t really think so. It’s still here in Cully. But I think people don’t think this looks like the old Portland because let’s face it, Cully is not white,” Moulton said.

For others I interviewed, the remarkable thing about Cully is that its diversity presents Portlanders with a glimpse of what the city will look like in the next fifty years. This was a comment I heard echoed at the predominantly African American Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Cully on Christmas Day. The church was built in 1919 and was tragically destroyed in a fire in 2007 (arson and foul-play have been ruled out as a cause).

James Jackson, a ninety-eight-year-old African American resident of Cully, has lived in Portland since the 1940s, when he moved to the area after a white farmer recruited him from Arkansas. After the Christmas Day mass, attended by about two dozen people, most of whom were in their sixties and seventies, Jackson overheard me speaking with the church goers about gentrification and conditions in Cully today.

“Come on now, we have bigger concerns to worry about,” Jackson said. “I have seen much worse and besides, the only thing we should be talking about right now is what is for Christmas lunch.”

Comments

1 comments have been posted.

thank you for this article... a deeper look at an issue that generally receives simple platitudes hope it is shared across a wide audience including those with power in city government and among business/developers who appear to think in microcosms of immediate impact. perhaps the two authors can present at City Club?

Jann Lane | July 2017 |

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