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The Skanner News – Kidz Outside festival aims to create community space in George Park

Mat RandolThe Portland Parks system comprises over 11,600 acres. Two of those acres meant the world to local emcee Mat Randol.

“The first place I made friends was at the park,” Randol said. The Skner to grow up across from George Park in St. Johns. “I remember being young and counting on my hands to see how many friends I had made here, and I passed 100.”

Randol’s childhood home has since been replaced with condos, but the park remains a nostalgic anchor amid gentrification.

But even as the anchors go, the park leaves something to be desired, Randol admits.

“I recently returned to the area in 2020,” he said. “I thought, man, what are they doing with this park? This is the closest park to my house.

“I’m taking my son there, he gets bored there after five minutes.”

So Randol teamed up with Donovan Smith, a writer and activist who started the Gentrification is WEIRD! movement as a multimedia platform for black voices. Together they created the group Friends of George Park to amplify black and Latino voices as they pushed for park renewal.

“I think it makes for a safer community when you have an active park for kids that gets families out and about,” Smith said.

Randol and Smith point out that the park is near Roosevelt High, George Middle School, and Sitton Elementary School, but lacks public restrooms and important community amenities.

“It’s a place where people come together as a community,” Randol said.

“They should be proud of their park.

“They should be proud of what’s happening in the neighborhood. I think it’s just something that could bring people together on a massive scale.”

“I think with this park there’s an opportunity to look at park development a little differently too,” Smith said. “The city is already on a mission to create what they call ’15 Minute Neighborhoods’ where there’s a walkable park in every neighborhood in Portland, and that’s great, we’re all for those things, but what can happen is that St Johns will continue to gentrify and exclude people.

“So by the time they get to developing this park, you’ll be talking to a very different group of people.”

To further engage the neighborhood in the project and show the city just how important George Park is, Randol and Smith are launching the first annual The Kidz Outside festival on August 26 – and it’s planned to be an evening of vibrant local performances, titled by Randol and featuring 12-year-old rapper J Prodigy. Nikki Brown Clown will be in attendance, and since most area schools are back on August 30, the event will be giving away free school supplies to attendees.

“This event is a way to let people know that this is still your neighborhood, this is your park to speak out on,” Smith said. “We are going to bring this vision to life.”

A gathering place

Efforts to revitalize George Park were slow at first, admit the co-founders of Friends of George Park. The early days of the COVID pandemic impacted their initial effort to survey the community about what the park was missing.

donovan smith 2022Donovan Smith“Neither of us had ever worked on park development before, so this is definitely new territory for us,” Smith said.

They managed to distribute a survey via Facebook, text messages and word of mouth.

“We make sure that really black and brown people are front and center to give their voice to what you want to see happen in this park – not just black and brown people, but people who are really from the neighborhood, people that could even have been moved out of the neighborhood,” Smith said.

“A lot of people said they wanted to see basketball courts there, or more lighting around the park,” Randol said.

“A lot of what we’ve been hearing is that people aren’t spending time in George,” Smith added. ” They would like. People say “I spend less than 30 minutes there on average” or “I don’t go there at all”. I would go there if there was something for me or my children to do. I think that’s the most important thing: how do we make it something that’s really for kids and families?

“How can we make it a place that also reflects the identity of the neighborhood? How can we make it a place that truly reflects St. Johns? We want to hear from people about it. So we hope to continue outside of this event to deepen our engagement and hear from people about what it might really look like, and ultimately present a full-fledged vision to the city and work on fundraising to implement it.

Open to everyone

Other Portland Metro parks had been renovated with new play structures and inclusive play equipment that often included interactive instruments. Randol became uncomfortable with the bark dust groundcover in George, seeing it as potential for injury and also seeing it as an obstacle to accessibility. Newer parks have moved to soft-falling rubber in the play areas, which provides an even floor and a more forgiving surface.

“The ADA component to that is definitely a (consideration),” Smith said. “If we rethink this, let’s make sure more people have access to it.”

They had conversations with the city, they said, and conducted a site visit with representatives from Jo Ann Hardesty’s office and the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

“We realize this is going to be a foundational situation, we’re going to have to be the leading voices, we’re going to have to continue to be the voice of the community and push to create a vision for this park,” Smith says.

Their early efforts earned them recognition as the 2021 U.S. Bank Park Champions, awarded by the Portland Parks Foundation.

“As artists, volunteers and advocates for change, they have worked on a number of projects focused on including communities of color who have traditionally been excluded from placemaking and stewardship events,” said the foundation by announcing the award.

Randol and Smith hope the attention will provide more support for a new George Park.

“Ultimately, we envision this becoming an annual event,” Randol said.

“Little by little, people will be able to come to George Park and see their vision heard.”

Smith agreed.

“I have a newborn, and I’m excited that when she’s a little older, I can take her to the park and run her around this place we helped design,” he said. declared.

The KIDZ OUTSIDE Festival will take place on Friday, August 26, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The event is for all ages and free. For more information, visit their Facebook event page.