This Week's Curator: Sam Stuckey, Architect and Mill Park Neighborhood Association Board Member
Sam Stuckey is a native Portlander, who grew up in the Alameda/Irvington area and moved to the Mill Park neighborhood a little over a year ago when he and his wife were lucky enough to buy their first home.
"My day job as an architect keeps me busy (too busy sometimes), but when I’m not designing buildings I try to spend as much time exploring my new community. Growing up in an “inner” Portland neighborhood, it’s almost embarrassing how little I knew of East Portland when I moved here. I’m still discovering new restaurants, food carts, local businesses, and parks.
"I’m also a board member with the Mill Park Neighborhood Association. I started attending meetings as soon as I got to the neighborhood and it has been a great way to establish roots and create a deeper connection to my neighbors."
Tell us about your neighborhood. What are the ups and downs of it?
Mill Park is a relatively small East Portland neighborhood, located between Stark and Division Streets to the north and south, and between 112th and 130th.
Statistically, there is a big difference in the average Mill Park resident and the rest of the city. Incomes are lower, families are bigger, backgrounds are more diverse, more languages are spoken. Being surrounded by actual diversity has been a refreshing change in a city that often feels so homogeneous.
Challenges come from the lack of infrastructure and businesses. We don’t have enough sidewalks, many roads are unpaved, bike lanes are unprotected, and our nearest grocery store just closed. There doesn’t seem to be the political representation to make East Portland anyone’s priority.
For example, Mill and Midland parks have had renovation plans approved nearly a year ago, but no funding attached and no follow through to this point. Planning to install public trash cans has been ongoing for 9 months or so, but no action yet. It’s hard not to feel like the city’s last priority when seemingly simple changes move so slow.
What are your favorite East Portland things to do and places to go?
I’m still learning the area and trying new places which is the most fun part of moving to a new area!
Bridge City Taproom, La Osita, Chai Thai, Level Beer, East Glisan Pizza, and Chepe’s are my favorites so far.
This summer my wife and I hosted a Portland Pickles player in our home and spent a lot of nights watching baseball games at Walker Stadium in Lents Park. The atmosphere at Pickles games on a sunny summer night is as good as any sports game as I’ve been to in Portland.
What do you think people don’t know about East Portland that they should know?
This is easy to answer from personal experience. Mainly that East Portland IS Portland. Growing up in an “inner” Portland neighborhood 82nd Ave. always felt like the edge of the city. Since moving to Mill Park I’ve been blown away by how much bigger this city is (socially and culturally), and how much more it has to offer than I ever realized.
It works both ways as well, because since moving the city feels geographically smaller than it ever has. I was particularly worried about what living in Mill Park would do to my daily commute downtown. Thankfully the MAX gets me to work faster (and cheaper) than driving ever did. There are parts of East Portland that are still isolated, but Mill Park’s proximity to Burnside, Stark, and Division (and their transit options) have made not driving in East Portland a possibility for me. I never would have imagined that before.
What do you think would be most helpful for people in East Portland?
Expanding these transit options and increasing non-car infrastructure can only help to improve the quality of life for East Portlanders and improve connectivity to the area from the rest of the city. It’s easy to get downtown, it’s still hard to get anywhere else. Additionally, walking to bus and MAX stops invariably takes you along (and across) major “stroads,” which is a horribly unpleasant, if not dangerous, walking route.
How do you think your Portland matches up with the Portland you’ve seen in media?
The media isn’t terribly inaccurate in its portrayal of Portland, it’s just incomplete. The ‘Portlandia’ Portland is real, but it only captures a small slice of the people trying to make it in this city.
What keeps you up at night worrying?
I’ve got a family of raccoons living under my house and they’re loud at night... can’t wait to get them out of there.
Homeownership has been an adventure for my wife and I in the last year. Leaking roofs, creeping bamboo, and a leaky faucet have a tendency to distract from bigger picture projects and causes that I’d like to spend my time on. And I’m comfortable. It’s not lost on me how these challenges become mountainous hurdles for families living in much more precarious financial situations. My roof might need to be replaced, but I have a roof. My neighbors in tents across the street have bigger things to worry about.
What gives you hope?
Portland is a city that values community and has always had a taken a local DIY approach to community building. I’ve met amazing people through the neighborhood association and in other advocacy channels that are working to make Portland as safer, greener, more affordable, and more accepting place. These people give me hope.
Why did you agree to participate in this project?
I’ve seen many friends (including myself) move east in the last year. It is and was a relatively scary leap, simply because I had no point of reference for life east of 82nd, let alone east of I-205.
I’d like to open a window into my life in East Portland and do a little to break down any perceived differences between “real Portland” and East Portland.
You can find Sam on Twitter and Instagram at @stuckeyduck. You can meet him in person at Mill Park Neighborhood Association meetings, local sporting events (Go Pickles!), or e-scootering around the neighborhood.