Introducing our Inaugural Curator: Community Connector and Leader Sarah Iannarone.
Sarah Iannarone is the Associate Director of First Stop Portland, a program she helped develop in 2008 while a doctoral student in the Nohad A. Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University. Her areas of expertise include social equity, urban placemaking, climate action planning, and sustainable development. Her research explores how urban planning polices and best practices move from place to place.
In addition to her work at PSU, Sarah advocates locally and globally on sustainable urban planning and development efforts. She is co-founder of the Arleta Library Cafe, a small business promoting fair labor practices and urban agriculture in her neighborhood. She currently serves on the boards of the Halprin Landscape Conservancy and the Arleta Triangle Project; the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation Bicycle Advisory and Budget Advisory Committees. She has been actively advising local planning processes including the City of Portland Comprehensive Plan Update (Mixed-use Zone Project and Better Housing by Design) and the Portland Development Commission (now Prosper Portland) Strategic Plan.
In 2016, she ran for mayor of Portland, which helped expand the conversation in that race to include issues like racism in policing and urban development, post-carbon cities, and community-led solutions to housing and homelessness.
Tell us about your neighborhood. What are the ups and downs of it?
In 2003, I moved to the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood in SE Portland, which was then called Felony Flats and/or Methlehem, depending who you asked. Despite the derogatory monikers, I saw it as a place that was rich in amenities and social capital, including the Mt. Scott Park & Community Center and the Holgate and Woodstock libraries. There is an itty-bitty business district on SE 72nd & Harold, where my partner and I opened the Arleta Library Café in 2006, so residents could access quality food at a fair price in a welcoming environment. My neighbors and I built the pocket park at SE 72nd & Woodstock, the Arleta Triangle Project, to calm traffic, beautify the neighborhood, and create a positive identity for the community. Today, the neighborhood is one of the hottest in the city, boasting vibrant business districts on both Woodstock Blvd. and Foster Road (including the new Foster Streetscape improvements, which have been 14 years in the making), the Portland Mercado, and lots of new housing – both market rate and subsidized/affordable.
From April 2017-June 2018, I lived at SE 148th & Powell. I learned more in my year residing in deep East Portland than I’d imagined possible. East Portland is a place that is rich in so many ways—socioeconomic, political, ethnic and racial diversity; access to nature including parks like Powell Butte but also giant Douglas Fir trees on every block; and a range of housing options w/ access to transit. The downside of East Portland is the lack of political power and capital investment that leaves whole swaths of Portland’s residents vulnerable to unsafe roadways, lack of mobility (pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, sure, but also transit connectivity and even things like bike share or streetcar, which simply don’t exist there), housing instability (high percentage of renters), vast food deserts, and lack of representation in local government processes.
What are your favorite East Portland things to do and places to go?
- Hiking or trail running on Powell Butte
- Attending community events at Rosewood Initiative
- Visiting the Jade District, including the Night Market at PCC Southeast and Fubonn Shopping Center
- Happy Hour at Portland Mercado including Portland’s best sangria at Barrio and all the amazing food choices (too many to list—just go and see for yourself)
- The community garden at SE 148th & Division, where immigrant and refugee families grow SO MUCH food
- Working on the Arleta Triangle Project with my neighbors
- Walking the streets and making new friends with my canine ambassador, Sir Francis Bacon
What do you think people don’t know about East Portland that they should know?
East Portland is a great place with amazing people that gets the short end of the stick financially and politically. While officials often treat East Portland as a problem to be solved, we more accurately should be thinking about East Portland as an opportunity to innovate around sustainable ideas such as community land trusts, community solar, and ecosystems services as well as creative anti-displacement policies to protect vulnerable populations. If Portland gets East Portland right, we will be seen as a global leader in both central city and suburban redevelopment, which is good for our reputation and economy. East Portland isn’t Portland’s backwater—it’s our bright future and we need to embrace it.
What do you think would be most helpful for people in East Portland?
Transform the auto-centric arterials to boulevards for people (including high frequency bus service on all the major E-W and N-S streets) along with effective renter protections and anti-displacement policies to ensure vulnerable populations get to enjoy the improvements.
How do you think your Portland matches up with the Portland you’ve seen in media?
There are as many takes on Portland as there are voices to air them. The most important thing to me about any potential contradictions in "Brand Portland" is ensuring that the best our city has to offer accrues to everyone regardless of their zip code or W-2. I really despise the idea of downtown Portland developing as an amenity-rich playground for tourists and elites while working class people In East Portland struggle to cross streets.
What keeps you up at night worrying?
Preventable death in our streets: namely, pedestrians and cyclists being killed by motorists and black people being killed by police.
What gives you hope?
The power of community.
Why did you agree to participate in this project?
I love Portland like a pig loves corn—can't get enough of it—and East Portland is such an important part of who we are as a city and community. It's where a good portion of newcomers to the area will be residing in the future. I want people to develop an appreciation for the beauty and value of East Portland so they fight to protect it and put in the hours necessary to ensure opportunity for the Portlanders who want to live, work, and play there.
Find Sarah this week (July 16th-22nd) as our Inaugural Curator on Twitter @eastpdx, and after that, follow her @sarahforpdx. She tweets about urban issues and local politics. You can email her at email@example.com.