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Carrots and Old Town Chinatown

The are at least 3,000 residents and over 6,000 employees in this neighborhood. Some of the employees work for the City and have influence, but employees are not included in the membership of the neighborhood association as they are downtown. Businesses owners here also have influence and pretty much run our neighborhood association. Residents may join, but can easily be outvoted in any kind of "priority setting" activity.

So, there is the rest of us.

This post is about the lack of neighborhood serving businesses, including food, in Old Town Chinatown for the

rest of us - the 9,000+folks here don’t have a place to buy a fresh carrot. I addressed this state of affairs in 2014 and called the proposal, the "C-Zone."

The "C" is for carrot and the problem is lack of neighborhood serving businesses.

The C-Zone presentation (prezi and YouTube) was a proposal for a small footprint green grocer, Chinese style in partnership with the MercyCore NorthWest

Refuge Garden Program that supported growers by opening profitable direct market outlets.

At that time I heard the argument that this community cannot support neighborhood serving businesses until such time as there is “income balance” and people with more money move into market rate housing.

It took me a couple of years attending Land Use meetings to even get such businesses included on their official "retail strategy list." It also put an end to discussion and interest on the part of the Association's leadership in building community.

Back in 2008 in terms of the North end of the neighborhood, home to the C-zone, there was a North OTCT Redevelopment Strategy (2008) and part of an intent to be a "Welcoming Gate," “

Uses in THIS report included a "destination-type asian grocery store, to serve as a catalyst in retaining both the asian community and other district residents to shop within Old Town/Chinatown. Other recommendations including a Community Center dropped off the radar of our neighborhood business leaders and City staff.

No one mentioned this.

And, the argument that those of us who live and work here can't support any kind of neighborhood serving business is alive and well. I just heard it again just last week.

Maybe we need to hear about other smaller communities and how they support businesses that serve them.

Recently I read of a project reported as part of Wells Fargo's 2020 CSR Goals campaign entitled, Forget the city. These millennials are ‘rethinking rural.' It's about 22 year old Madeline Moore who moved to and then opened a bakery in Chinook, Washington, a 1-square mile spot in Pacific County with about 450 people - about a tenth of the people who live here.

“I knew I had a following that would support me,” Moore said. “It was 100 percent because of the community. They came out in droves to support me. A friend let me use kitchen space at a hotel, and another friend let me use a storefront for a year. I would not have been able to do what I did in a large city. It wouldn't have been financially viable.”

Well, it would be possible in this central city neighborhood of 10,000 with (1) at least 450+customers, (2) friends (3) storefronts owned by the City that have been vacant the entire time I have lived here (five years), (4) use of kitchen space such as KitchenCru, a shared use community kitchen and culinary incubator, and (5) a stack of businesses that are closed all day, only open early evenings into the early morning. Around the corner from me is a storefront that is a cafe in the morning and a bar/restaurant in late afternoon and evening. Two businesses sharing one storefront.

In 2014 when I began the campaign for neighborhood serving businesses my work did not emphasize alternative business models, leveraging social entrepreneurship and Central City Concerns’ social enterprises. I wasn't yet talking about an approach to all kinds of 'development' that embraces the principles of a Caring Economy. Yes, there is such a thing (video).

However, this year began with the re-positioning of the Old Town Chinatown as Portland’s Caring Community1 (website), based on housing and economics (see Guide to Housing Landscape).

Fifty-seven percent of the housing is dedicated to supportive care and shelters for the homeless. The major industry is healthcare, an industry that offers "middle-wage job accessibility."

Now I am talking about alternative business models in the C-zone and elsewhere in our neighborhood.

Anybody out there care?

Ruth Ann Barrett, Portland, Oregon, May, 2018


1.This may be news to many people who know Old Town Chinatown primarily as the "entertainment district" as much of the business development and marketing resources go to this sector of our local economy. I want that to change.

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