Living Cully – Building a Park & a Lasting Legacy

Joanna Gangi

Creating a healthy, safe and vibrant community starts with dedicated residents who are committed to lasting change. The Cully neighborhood in Northeast Portland is rich with culture and diversity, yet it is one of the most underserved communities in Portland.

In a city where there is a plethora of parks and ample green space, the Cully neighborhood severely lacks access to this basic service. A team lead by Verde has been working to bridge this environmental justice gap and bring a much-needed park to the community with the Let Us Build Cully Park coalition. Once complete, the Thomas Cully Park will include a community garden and a safe place for children and adults to play and enjoy.

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Recently, the International Living Future Institute and founding sponsor Interface launched the first Legacy Project and teamed up with Verde* to transform a run-down public right-of-way into a safe, beautiful and refreshing green space. The Cully Adopt-a-Spot plot sits adjacent to the Thomas Cully Park and helps frame the park’s entrance to be an accessible area for residents to enjoy. The Legacy Project team worked with the Cully neighborhood residents over the course of four months to make this transformation possible. The process included three public workshops with the largely Spanish-speaking community to listen to their concerns, develop ideas together and design lasting solutions. Many of the residents expressed their desire to make this a safe and enjoyable walking path, as it is a highly utilized area and borders a busy roadway. The community modeled their vision for the space, and the passion was contagious to the design team as they included the residents’ ideas to the composition of the space.

The collaborative planning process culminated on May 24, when members of Verde, Interface, The Institute, Cully residents and volunteers rolled up their sleeves and spent the day planting and building the Cully Adopt-a-Spot. Interface was integral in the process by sponsoring the event and will continue to sponsor the project through completion. Dozens of shrubs and trees were planted in the ground. A walkway was constructed through the middle of the space to provide a safe and accessible avenue to local businesses. And a wall was built to border the busy roadway. All of the materials used were compliant with the Living Building Challenge materials Red List, which helped inspire the design team to seek certification, making it the second park ever to attempt the Living Building Challenge.

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Neighborhood families and children of all ages participated in the work party and were very excited to see the space transforming before their eyes. Children were enthusiastic to take part as they dug, filled wheelbarrows and watered the new shrubs. One child said, “This is like a work party, work isn’t fun but this is fun!” Another child stated, “I never came here before; it was gross and there were people here that we didn’t want to be around. It was scary and now it is so pretty!” Numerous people honked their horns in support as they drove by— showing that this not only effects the Cully residents but also effects people who would have never thought to look at this site before. It seemed that everyone involved, from young to old, knew the importance of investing in a community that lacks certain services like access to nature. As the walkway began to take shape, the newly formed pocket park portrayed a positive sense of community in the Cully neighborhood. The residents were all committed to making their home beautiful. And working together really proved that transformation is possible with a community-led effort.

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What was once an overgrown lot filled with weeds is now a beautiful, well-lit pathway, complete with a curving steel graphic wall and colorful landscape design filled with plants. The Cully community is a shining example of dedicated residents who care for their neighborhood and are committed to growing a healthy and vibrant community. The engagement of all involved parties is a testament to the potential for seemingly small community initiatives to serve as a catalyst for positive change.

*Verde is a Portland-based non-profit that serves communities by building environmental wealth through Social Enterprise, Outreach and Advocacy.

Author Joanna Gangi is empowered by the fantastic beauty of nature residing in Seattle where she works at the International Living Future Institute as the Editorial Director of Trim Tab.

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