Build Gateway Green: Building a New Crowdfunding Model for Public Projects

Kyle Curtis Facebook

The thirty acres located between Interstates 84 and 205 on Portland’s east side aren’t exactly the easiest to access. This chunk of land is only publicly available via the I-205 multi-use path, with the Gateway Transit Center to the south serving as the most convenient access point. As you use the path to cross I-84—with the Red Line MAX regularly rumbling by—you can see half-empty malt liquor bottles and flattened cardboard, tell-tale signs that indicate this space provides a night-time sanctuary for some of Portland's homeless. However, all it takes is just to look a little closer, and you can see an overlooked aspect of this area: its potential.

Admittedly, it might currently be difficult to imagine this site serving as a destination park area that attracts families, bike riders, and nature lovers. Yet that is exactly the purpose that will be served by the Gateway Green project, a long-proposed plan to turn these acres into East Portland's largest park. And now, as the community organization tasked with overseeing the future development of Gateway Green is set to undertake a month-long crowdfunding campaign, what was viewed as a crazy idea just a little less than a year ago is now one step closer to being a reality.

The idea of developing the Gateway Green park space is the shared brainchild of local developer Ted Gilbert and Linda Robinson, a longtime community organizer in East Portland. Gilbert and Robinson both served on the Gateway Program Advisory Committee, and were seeking a project to collaborate on that would be both unique to the Gateway area and also serve as a positive reflection on all of East Portland. Gilbert was the one to initially focus on the acreage between the two freeways, and with Linda’s assistance convinced ODOT to transfer the property over to the City of Portland for use as a potential park site, completed this past summer.

Unique to Gateway, Positive for All of East Portland

The initial discussion between Gilbert and Robinson about a potential Gateway Green project happened eight years ago. Ever since, according to Robinson, an “evolutionary process” occurred which has resulted in the park on the verge of becoming a reality, driven by the desire to do something with the unused chunk of land. Robinson is a self-described parks advocate who has sought to improve the paucity of parks in East Portland for over twenty-five years. “There is an obvious shortage of parks in East Portland, both passive nature spaces and active park spaces,” says Robinson. “Developing a park space at Gateway Green addresses a very necessary need in East Portland.”

Robinson’s plans don’t just end with a developed park space between I-84 and I-205. “The ultimate goal would be to have a connection with Rocky Butte, which was separated when [I-205] was built.”

Oregon Solutions designation

Gateway Green was designated an Oregon Solutions project by Governor Ted Kulongoski in 2009. Formed by John Kitzhaber during his initial stint as Governor, the purpose of Oregon Solutions is to help identify stakeholders and build collaborations that leverage resources and integrate programs into sustainable community projects. Oregon Solutions negotiates both the commitments and, if necessary, the sacrifices from all parties involved--which helps avoid a potential future derailment of a proposed project, which would waste both time and resources. The initial role that Oregon Solutions played was that of a convener, resulting in a declaration of cooperation signed by over twenty community stakeholders.

The current phase that Oregon Solutions is pursuing is the use of Gateway Green as a testing ground to develop a crowdfunding model to catalyze community participation in a public works project. Although the concept of crowdfunding—in which individuals pool together and leverage small contributions—can be traced as far back to the Statue of Liberty, there has been an explosion in recent years of online crowdfunding which allows small donors to help contribute the financing of a project. With the Internet’s ease of connecting like-minded strangers miles apart, crowdfunding is tailor-made for the digital age. Such websites as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have popped up to provide the tools and resources for a successful campaign.

Typically, such online crowdfunding campaigns are to raise small-scale amounts to complete an artistic project, such as an album or film. The Build Gateway Green campaign is seeking to raise $100,000, the projected amount of funds necessary to cover design costs for the proposed park space. Efforts to collect at least $100,000 represent just one percent of crowdfund raises, which suggests that a successful Build Gateway Green campaign could set the mold for publicly funded campaigns. (Full disclosure: I have been assisting both Friends of Gateway Green and Oregon Solutions lay the groundwork for the upcoming campaign.)

“Oregon Solutions is experimenting with new ways to involve citizens in public projects,” explains Bev Stein, the Director of Oregon Solutions. “If we are successful with Build Gateway Green, we hope to create a national model for civic crowdfunding!”

Oregon's Kitchen Table

The Build Gateway Green campaign will kick off on September 5th and run until October 7th. Prior to this campaign, Oregon Solutions collected information about what potential users would like to see the most at the completed Gateway Green park. This information was collected through Oregon’s Kitchen Table, a project of Oregon Solutions that provides a platform for statewide public engagement, which thousands of Oregonians have all ready used to share their thoughts on such issues including healthcare choices, county services, and statewide values and beliefs.

By combining the extra step of using the Oregon’s Kitchen Table platform to help inform the crowdfunding campaign, Oregon Solutions has developed a two-step approach to maximize public involvement for the Build Gateway Green campaign. “By connecting Oregon’s Kitchen Table to crowdfunding, citizens are at the center of the project from start to finish,” says Wendy Willis, who oversees Oregon’s Kitchen Table. “We are excited about the combination of public input and crowdfunding. Together, they give citizens a way to say “yes” to what they want in their backyard.”

Help Build Gateway Green, and help build a new model for involving citizens in public projects!

In their materials, both Friends of Gateway Green and Oregon Solutions refer to the potential park site as East Portland’s “hidden treasure.” The Build Gateway Green campaign page on IndieGoGo will become active on Thursday, September 5th, allowing the opportunity to make a donation and help this treasure become less hidden and shared throughout the Metro area. And a donation to the Build Gateway Green campaign is also a donation to the establishment of a new model for public involvement!

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