Metro’s parks system will be truly successful only if everybody in the community feels welcome in the outdoors and can reap the health rewards and other benefits of nature.
Thanks in particular to money from the 2013 levy, Metro is providing more nature programming to underrepresented communities, planning more inclusive parks, working to support more minority-owned, women-owned and emerging small businesses – and more.
Communities of color, low-income residents and other underrepresented groups have traditionally faced barriers to accessing nature. In the first year of the levy, a new effort called Partners in Nature piloted projects with several groups to co-create relevant programming tailored to each community. These programs provided guided opportunities for diverse community members to enjoy the outdoors, introduced young people to potential careers in conservation, and nurtured a growing comfort and passion for nature.
In November 2015, 23 community organizations submitted letters expressing interest in partnering with Metro through the Partners in Nature program. New partners include a range of culturally specific groups, such as Centro Cultural, which is working with Metro to support Latino community engagement in Washington County for the Chehalem Ridge access plan, and Sista Sistah, which is holding a new run-walk event on the Glendoveer Nature Trail designed to attract African Americans.
These new partnerships join three multi-year partnerships with Self Enhancement, Inc., Latino Greenspaces and Unite Oregon (formerly the Center for Intercultural Organizing) that began during the pilot phase.
Another initiative called Connect to Nature is contracting with Verde, a community-based organization, to develop a new approach to designing parks that are welcoming to diverse communities. It’s getting a tryout starting in 2016 as Metro and the city of Gresham launch an effort to plan for the long-term future of the East Buttes area.
As part of the planning effort, Verde will engage diverse communities to identify nature-based activities and facilities, ensuring that underserved communities can better access nature. The team, led by Verde, includes community organizations and a landscape architecture firm.
To create a new model, Verde will work with the Native American Youth and Family Center, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, and the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization to identify a handful of local leaders to connect with community members. The local leaders will receive stipends to learn about the parks planning process, bring members of their communities to the table, and engage them on the types of features and activities they would like to see, as well as overcoming barriers to access. Design workshops will help incorporate that input – and solutions – into the ultimate plan.
Metro is also working to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded across all areas of its work, including contracting. About half of the money from the 2013 levy is focused on restoring and maintaining parks and natural areas.
Metro made a concerted effort two years ago to make sure the contractors hired to help complete this critical work include as many minority-owned, women-owned and emerging small businesses as possible. As a result, Parks and Nature has awarded contracts to 31 businesses, and 17 of them are minority-owned, women-owned or emerging small businesses.
Metro, Verde team up to diversify ranks of restoration experts
To most people, large-scale ecological restoration of a natural area seems intimidating. It requires meticulous preparation of the land, site-specific calibration of equipment, identification of plants already at the site and those to replace them, and more.
In short, implementing large-scale restoration is better left to the experts. But how does one start on the path to become an expert?
“The best way is to do it and be guided through it,” says Jonathan Soll, science and stewardship manager for Metro Parks and Nature.
Starting in summer 2015, Metro and Verde teamed up to restore a 50-acre forested wetland at Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area dominated by invasive reed canarygrass and other stubborn weeds.
The partnership helps to diversify the ranks of restoration experts by providing training to landscape crews with Verde, a nonprofit based in the Cully neighborhood of Northeast Portland that works to boost environmental wealth for low-income and minority residents.
The project involves a crew of Metro natural resources scientists and restoration experts from Mosaic Ecology working with the Verde landscape team.
“The crew was excited to learn all the steps a project requires from beginning to end, like plant identification, proper equipment use, how to prepare for the day, and also the business side, like project management, problem-solving and how to deal with the client,” says Ricardo Moreno, Verde’s landscape program manager.
Money from the 2013 parks and natural areas levy is helping Metro create new partnerships with community organizations to provide people of color and low-income residents with training in environmental fields.
The partnership with Verde also aims to create long-term economic opportunities for Verde’s landscape team members.
“We want to draw connections and have good alignment of highly skilled crews doing something good for the environment, while making a good living, particularly people of color and low-income residents,” says Alan Hipólito, executive director of Verde. “Some crew members are very interested in restoration as a career and may start their own business or become part of a high-skilled restoration crew.”