Five years after Williams Avenue project controversy, ride will trace history of gentrification

Five years after Williams Avenue project controversy, ride will trace history of gentrification

Image from Saturday's event flyer.

Image from Saturday’s event flyer.

Five years ago today Portland resident Michelle DePass stood up at a meeting for a transportation project on North Williams Avenue and changed the course of local and national cycling politics forever:

“We have an issue of racism and of the history of this neighborhood,” DePass said. “Until we address that history and… the cultural differences we have in terms of respect, we are not going to move very far.”

One month earlier, the Williams project had already been delayed to address tensions between long-time residents of the adjacent neighborhoods on one hand, and city planners and advocates who wanted to redesign the street to make it safer for bicycling on the other. Controversy around the project led to community forums and national media headlines. The Williams Avenue Traffic Safety Project has since became a case-study in the complex and emotional intersection of transportation and gentrification.

A ride on Saturday offers Portlanders an opportunity to continue to learn about how urban planning impacts existing communities.

Gentrification is WEIRD! is a free event hosted by the non-profit Community Cycling Center (with sponsorship from Metro) that will include a bike ride and discussions between community members and participants.

Here’s more from the event description:

The Ride will begin at the Bike Repair Hub in New Columbia and will travel to Vanport, where community members will share stories, history, and, most importantly, HEALING.

Gentrification is the major talking point of the city today — but for many communities here, it has been a reality for far too long.

Activist Laquida Landford partnered with Ignorant/Reflections and Community Cycling Center to create a bike ride to tie the deep history of the lost city of Vanport to the gentrification of today.

Borrowing its namesake from a popular design produced by local clothing line Ignorant/Reflections, Gentrification is WEIRD! – The Ride will include live performances, guest speakers, food, and informational booths from an array of community organizations.

There will be live performances by Poetic Justice crew, poetry by Llondyn Elliott, and DJ Ryder will be spinning.

Event organizers say Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler will be there to field questions from Donovan Smith, co-organizer of the event and owner of Ignorant/Reflections.

North Portland’s pace of change hasn’t slowed down at all since the Williams project controversy was front-page news. In fact, given the number of cranes and construction projects I see on my daily north Portland commute, it has probably sped up. These changes always have impacts on people who live nearby, and their stories are often left untold. Saturday’s ride will be a valuable opportunity to hear those stories and to gain a deeper understanding of gentrification and the systemic racism that’s inherent in much of our urban planning practices and policies.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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