The future Mill and Midland parks side by side. COURTESY PORTLAND PARKS & RECREATION

The future Mill and Midland parks side by side.

Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) are continuing their expansion in east Portland with two parks getting facelifts and a brand new park being constructed, all of which had master plans approved at the City Council meeting on Nov. 8. Just on the heels of the openings of the Luuwit View park and refurbished Argay Park tennis courts and ahead of the long-awaited opening of Gateway Discovery, the master plans for Mill Park, Midland Park and the still-tentatively named Southeast 150th and Division Street Park (referred to at the meeting as D150 for brevity) are the newest fronts on PP&R head Amanda Fritz’s stated goal of remaking east Portland’s parks and recreation environment.

“We wanted to make sure that the community who would be benefiting most from these parks would be front and center for the community engagement,” said Fritz to the people who turned out to the David Douglas High School cafeteria for the meeting. With that, Fritz turned the floor over to PP&R Director Mike Abate, who introduced Items 1221 and 1222, the two master plans for the three parks (Mill and Midland share one), and got into the parts of the meeting everyone had turned out for.

The new park will come in part from the same funding—System Development Charges levied on developers throughout the city—that made Luuwit View and Gateway Discovery, the two-new east-side parks that just opened and will be opening this fall, respectively, possible.

Portland Parks Board member Jenny Glass speaks, flanked by Portland Parks & Recreation director Mike Abbate. COURTESY PORTLAND PARKS & RECREATION

Portland Parks Board member Jenny Glass speaks, flanked by Portland Parks & Recreation director Mike Abbate.

Jenny Glass, executive director of the Rosewood Initiative and board member of the Portland Parks Board and the East Portland Action Plan, was one of several speakers who helped present the plans. “East Portland community members desperately need clean and safe places to play and gather. And I think we all already know this,” said Glass before going into some of the many community engagement activities that have helped flesh out the master plans. “We are ready to work with you to secure funding to make these plans a reality in the near future.”

D150 is destined to cover a 7.5-acre plot of land PP&R bought in 2014 that is currently covered by little else than grass. When the park is complete, according to the master plan, it will feature a skate park, a “splash pad” water feature, a basketball court, a picnic area with a shelter, a playground, a nature area, a community garden, a flower garden, a sitting hill, an off-leash dog area and a large space on the lawn with a soccer field. It also calls for special walkways to access the park on all four sides. Once complete, the park will serve an estimated 2,800 households in the area.

Mill Park is 5.7 acres in size and sits next to Mill Park Elementary School. Currently it doesn’t feature much beyond walking trails and trees. The new improvements include a central lawn with space for sports and relaxation, a community garden, a playground with a water feature, a circular pathway, soft surface trails, a picnic shelter and new landscaping throughout the parcel. The circular pathway will link all entries and exits to the park and create an inviting round shape to the whole property. Mill Park is set to serve 2,215 surrounding households and become the main recreational feature in the area.

Midland Park is the smallest of the three projects, occupying 1.9 acres next to Midland Park Library. Like Mill Park, it’s currently completely undeveloped and will add several new features in addition to a landscaping makeover. Chief among the new features are a playground, a reading area next to the library, gaming tables and new benches along a paved pathway. Once the improvements are complete, Midland Park will serve 1,578 households in east Portland.

Both Mill and Midland parks were acquired by the city from Multnomah County in 1986. For the past 31 years, residents in the area having been hoping for the parks to become something more and provide more recreational alternatives to an area that can sorely use it. The landscape architecture firm Greenworks was consulted on both parks, and the stated goal of the master plan was to bring a balance of features to both. The presence of the community gardens, water feature and skate park in one (Mill), with more leisurely activities in the other (Midland), was very much by design.

Excitement and sentiments in the room ran high all evening, with the passing of all three master plans seeming a foregone conclusion from the start. During the community testimony portion of the evening, Commissioner Fritz took the time to exhort everyone in attendance to see the newly built Luuwit View park for themselves, so they can see the potential of what these three new parks will look like in a few years when they are complete.

Members from all over the community, including representatives from the sizable Vietnamese community that live nearby, came to the dais to speak about their experience and hopes for the new parks. There were some concerns voiced amidst all the positivity and community outreach. Craig Rogers, a resident of the area for more than 40 years, sounded a note of caution and pessimism, noting this wasn’t the first time he had heard grand designs for Midland Park. He noted how beautiful the area was, but he said that did not stop negative influences from taking over the space and making it unsafe. “Safety does not equate to beautiful,” Rogers said pointedly. “The park rangers need the tools to enforce standards,” he continued, echoing the concerns of many residents who live near the already completed new parks in east Portland.

Arlene Kimura, another east Portland resident, spoke about her concern that the parks might become a magnet for people without housing. “We cannot use the parks as a place for the homeless. We all know that. The anti-displacement strategies that are part of the East Portland Action Plan address that, but it takes all of us to work on it,” said Kimura.

At the end of the testimonies from community members, the board voted unanimously to pass and adopt the master plans and begin the next phase of development. During her words on the two parks after her aye votes, Fritz noted that the plans feature more languages than any she had seen, due to the involvement of so many different diverse communities in the planning process and the presence of bathrooms at all three of the new parks—a major point of conflict in the stated issues of displacement and accommodation to the community.

Brian Flores Garcia, a youth ambassador for PP&R and resident of east Portland, was one of the many community members who spoke at the event. A student at David Douglas High School, he expressed joy and unbridled optimism for the new parks while highlighting the ample community involvement in the planning process and his perceived ability to affect the outcome. “A lot of us here don’t have the time, or place or commitment to go out every time there’s a city council meeting, and I really appreciate that you did it here at my own high school,” said Garcia. “It means so much to have these things here and I strongly support the implementation of all these safe spaces for kids. Having a park that’s meant for you to play in means so much.”

This article was corrected on 12/16 as to the size and funding source of D150.