Metro’s community investments directly support community nature projects through Nature in Neighborhoods grants and money to local parks providers.
Community investments fuel a variety of projects: restoration, nature education, outdoor experiences, land acquisition, capital improvements, visitor amenities and more. Altogether over the last 25 years, the public – through Metro – has invested more than $90 million to support a broad range of community nature projects across the region, helping to preserve land, restore habitat, expand access and more.
Nature in Neighborhoods grants through the 2006 bond measure and the 2013 levy provide money for community organizations, nonprofits, watershed councils and other groups. No Nature in Neighborhoods grants were awarded in the 2017-18 fiscal year, since all of the grant money from the bond measure and levy had been previously awarded.
Starting in early 2018, Metro accepted applications for nature education and outdoor experiences grants. The Metro Council awarded $800,000 to 14 projects in summer 2018, using money from the levy renewal.
Less than 1 percent of the $44 million that directly supports local park providers remains to be spent from the 2006 bond measure.
Grant to Depave transforms parking lot at M&M Marketplace into greener, urban plaza
It’s hard to find a parking spot at Hillsboro’s M&M Marketplace on a Sunday afternoon as a constant stream of cars rolls past the bright blue warehouse. The artist Frida Kahlo, represented in a row of colorful portraits, gazes down at cars gliding past a new patio of permeable pavers, where women make pupusas and a man turns pollo asado on a large grill.
At the market’s main entrance, founder Jaime Miranda points at rain gardens along the front of the building planted with native red osier dogwood, rushes, sedges and shrubs.
“It used to be a swamp right here,” he explains. “Some winters, water would flood right into the building. Now these islands absorb the water.”
The rain gardens were installed by local nonprofit Depave as part of a project to transform the busy parking lot into a greener, urban plaza. The work was largely paid for by a $30,000 Nature in Neighborhoods grant from Metro in 2016.
Miranda, who was born in Mexico and moved to Oregon as a child, opened the business with his sister in 2000. The two wanted to give their parents and the wider community an opportunity to start small businesses without onerous leases and huge overhead costs. They rented a former industrial warehouse and opened the weekend market with a dozen vendors.
Now, more than 70 vendors sell food, goods and services from densely packed stalls. Customers can get clothes altered or made, photographs taken, or jewelry, watches and computers repaired. Occasional dance, wrestling or mariachi performances and regular events connect customers to information and services, including a health fair.
“It’s not just a business, it’s a community hub,” says Eric Rosewall, former executive director of Depave.
Depave’s mission is to engage communities to improve overpaved places and reconnect urban landscapes to nature.
“We try to work with underserved communities who suffer disproportionately from the burdens of pavement,” board member Ted Labbe said. Large expanses of asphalt cause urban heat islands that are bad for the environment and human health.
Retrofitting the parking lot involved excavating asphalt and building rain gardens to mitigate flooding and to filter pollutants from storm water. Volunteers laid a patio of permeable pavers, planted street trees around the perimeter, installed a pergola over an outside seating area and added an extra entrance to the lot to improve traffic flow. Artists were also commissioned to add to the existing murals.
Partners included Clean Water Services, the City of Hillsboro, and the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District.
Miranda gets emotional when he looks at the paintings reflecting the experiences of many in Hillsboro’s Latinx community. But like the labor to transform the parking lot, “when there’s a group of people, it doesn’t feel so heavy.”
Nadaka: a nature park in the neighborhood
Over several years, Lee Dayfield built an innovative coalition of public and private partners and led an extensive community-driven effort to acquire the land that became Nadaka Nature Park. Friends of Nadaka then made the site accessible to all its Rockwood and Wilkes East neighbors.
In 2009, Metro contributed one third of the purchase price of land with a $220,000 capital grant. Now, that land is the front door of the park, with a community garden, a nature-based play area, a picnic shelter and a restroom.
Additional voter-funded Nature in Neighborhood grants from Metro supported early forest restoration efforts and helped pay for visitor improvements. But it takes more than land acquisition and development to build a truly successful park. Nearby residents have to use its facilities, feel welcome there and care about it. To that end, Metro has awarded grants to programs aimed at welcoming diverse community members to the park and giving them access to nature in their neighborhood.
The Rockwood town center about half a mile from Nadaka’s southern entrance is one of the poorest, youngest, most diverse and most dense town centers in the region. About 17,000 people live within one mile of the park.
The acquisition of the land on Northeast Glisan Street in 2009 and the unlocking of the southern part of the park “doubled the number of people who had access to the park and tripled the number of people of color,” says Jim Labbe, formerly an urban conservationist at the Audubon Society of Portland.
In 2012, another Metro capital grant of $238,805 went toward implementing the master plan for the park, which included the community garden, walking paths, a meadow area for gatherings and a nature-based playground.
A 2014 Metro grant focused on tapping into education and social service programming from eight organizations and integrating them into the park’s activities. Monica McAllister, program coordinator at the park, regularly teaches environmental classes in the community rooms of nearby affordable housing buildings. The SUN program at H.B. Lee Middle School has regular activities at the park, Audubon employees lead bird walks through the forest, and there are nature walks for toddlers, gardening classes and field trips for English language learners.
The organization People-Places-Things, which teaches English, has made Nadaka into an outdoor classroom.
“We aim to teach cultural skills as well as English,” says Patrik McDade, the founder and executive director of People-Places-Things. “It’s about introducing people to local geography and institutions. We take learners out of the classroom and into the real world. Field trips to Nadaka involve listening to the birdsong, smelling the sap, touching the bark of the trees. It’s about naming the world.”