Starting in early April, community members across greater Portland began sharing their ideas for parks and nature projects in Metro District 4, Washington County’s northern urban strip from Beaverton to Forest Grove. When the idea collection ended, 120 submissions for playgrounds, dog parks, wetland habitat, beaver crossings and more were shared with Metro.
Metro has worked with other park providers in the area to take those ideas and turn them into project concepts that you and your neighbors will get to vote for. After two rounds of voting, the Metro Council will award funding to the projects community members chose.
This two-step – collecting ideas from community members and then asking community members to vote for their favorite idea – is the heart of the Nature in Neighborhoods community choice grant program. It’s a new grant program doing its work in a new way. For this first round of grants, up to $2 million will be awarded for projects with budgets between $10,000 and $250,000.
The program is possible because voters chose to invest in nature when they passed the 2019 parks and nature bond measure. Voters made racial equity central to the bond and the community choice grants. When we asked for ideas, we worked to reach people of color, folks in low-income neighborhoods and Spanish speakers to make sure their ideas were in the mix. We did this because these communities have often been left out when governments ask the public about their hopes and ambitions for their neighborhoods.
Here is a rundown on the ideas that were submitted, who shared them, how and why Metro vetted the ideas, and, most importantly, what you can do to vote and advocate for your favorite parks and nature ideas.
Collecting the ideas
What types of projects did folks dream up?
So, so many different ideas. Enrique suggested covered play areas. Nic and others suggested trail extensions. Pocket forests and micro parks showed up several times, including Rachel’s idea for “Micro parks with ice cream?!” Native plant and pollinator friendly gardens were suggested many times, with possible locations across the district.
Who shared the ideas?
Anyone in the region could share ideas, but most came from folks in Metro District 4. Anyone 11 or older could submit an idea.
Wait, kids shared ideas?
Oh, for sure. And they are amazing.One is from Alexis who suggested Friendship Camp, a place where “Kids share stories and have fun. Kids can come with their cousins. Kids make new friends.” Even if Metro can’t run a camp, it would be great to see a new place Alexis can visit with their cousins and make new friends. Of course, the kids weren’t only thinking of playgrounds. Sonali, who’s in the fifth grade, wants to see a big forest with grassland so that wildlife has space to thrive. Sonali didn’t have a specific place in mind, but there are several projects they could vote for that meet their vision.
Who can vote?
For the first vote, anyone 11 years and older in District 4 can vote. For the final vote, anyone 11 years and older across greater Portland can vote.
11-year-olds can vote?
Yep. This isn’t an election, so we thought we’d bring in some of the region’s most dedicated parks and nature lovers: kids. It’s a great opportunity to introduce young people to the democratic process, from presenting an idea to voting for it to watching that advocacy and care become something real in the world.
Why is this only in District 4?
This is the first time Metro has done a project like this. To give it the best chance of succeeding, we focused on one part of the region.
Turning ideas into projects
How Metro took the ideas and made them into projects you can vote for
After folks in the region shared their ideas, Metro and staff from other park districts in District 4 went to work taking the ideas and turning them into projects you can vote for. The first step was vetting them to make sure they could be funded by the 2019 parks and nature bond.
When Metro asked community members to imagine parks and nature projects, we didn’t put any restrictions around what ideas we’d accept. We didn’t want to limit folks’ imaginations and have them not share a fantastic idea because they worried it wasn’t the “right” kind of idea. There are, however, limits on what the grants can fund. The big one is that Oregon law says bond money can only be used on projects that result in a physical thing that belongs to a local government. Basically, that means the money can be used to buy land, build structures and give nature boosts through big restoration projects. The money can’t be used for a youth program or to host a festival, to name two ideas that came up a lot. The projects also have to meet the racial equity and climate resilience criteria voters approved in the bond. But we aren’t just sweeping aside the ideas that didn’t meet the criteria. Youth programs and festivals are fantastic ideas. Metro has grants for programs like nature classes; other park providers have different priorities so they can fund community celebrations; and Metro is sharing what it learns with other governments and parks and nature organizations so they have an even better idea of what sorts of projects community members want to see in their neighborhoods.
Community design workshops
All of the ideas that meet the criteria then go to a design workshop. Community members, including those who shared ideas, work with park designers to take the ideas and give them more details so that others can better see the project concept. Most of the project ideas submitted are short descriptions. Often, the description is explaining why the idea is a good one. Staff can help interpret the goal of the idea into a design. Some ideas want a specific thing, but don’t have a specific place for it. One idea was for water play areas like those on the waterfront in downtown Portland. For this, staff might be able to identify parks with the water supply the fountain needs, or that have the right sanitation system already in place, or what it would take to bring those to a park that doesn’t have them. Other ideas are very clear about what they want and where they want it. Leif, for instance, “would like the Rock Creek trail that runs through Orchard Park to Wilkins Road to extend south to Baseline Road.” Ben knows of a culvert with a big drop that he says makes beaver hike over the road to move up the stream. What these ideas need is technical expertise to clarify what the project would look like and what it might cost. The ideas workshops help find these details. With those specifics added, the projects head to the vote.