An Attainable Future for Hillsdale
Back in May, I wrote an addendum for our community's application to become a Main Street District. Hillsdale won the designation, and we are now scrambling to accomplish all those tasks associated with setting up what is basically a new, not-for-profit business. The application now resides in some file (or computer) at the Portland Development Commission, the overseer of Portland's three Main Street programs. But I believe my visionary conclusion deserves a wider readership so I'm putting it on display (with some minor changes).
It is a vision and an assessment of our community's ability to achieve it. It is also a draft. I hope others will comment on it and add to it.
Hillsdale — tomorrow and today
The year is 2015. The new tree-shaded, meandering sidewalks wind into the Town Center and are in constant use. The covered walkways in front of the stores are alive with ambling shoppers.
On Capitol Highway, motorists slow to admire the bustling Hillsdale Town Center and to ease into parking.
This is a place to spend time. Bicyclists have their own raised bikeway. A new crosswalk/speed table has been installed. The north and south sides of the Town Center, once divided by busy Capitol Highway, have grown closer — even intimate. The easy, slow and safe flow of traffic connects them as does the common “Mid-20th Century” theme and the pleasures the entire area offers.
New, consistent signage, with its crisp “Fifties” logo and clean “Gill” lettering, guides motorist and pedestrians alike. Those in cars know they can readily find parking. Hillsdale, no longer daunting and disorganized, is warm and inviting to all.
Most come to Hillsdale to linger and savor the place, to wander among the attractive, shops. Soon, they will come to the new pocket plaza and climb to the top of the landmark Hillsdale Tower. From its “Fifties” neo-futuristic eight-story pinnacle, visitors take in the sweeping views of the surrounding hills, the Willamette Valley, the Coast Range and Mount Hood.
Evenings in Hillsdale are vibrant. Vintage neon signs draw visitors not just from Portland but from afar. Hillsdale has become known for its boutique micro-cinemas. Regionally, Hillsdale has become a destination for film and food. After the films, patrons linger in Hillsdale’s coffee shops and restaurants.
The Farmers Market has become a Sunday celebration with concerts in nearby Wilson Stadium. An “artists’ row” has been added at nearby Rieke School, with proceeds supporting Hillsdale’s Education Fund and its excellent schools. The Fund is a part of the Hillsdale Community Foundation.
For all the fun Hillsdale provides visitors, it is still a place of business — the commercial and service core for the immediate community. The phrase “Hillsdale Has It” is more true than ever.
The Main Street storefront office recently expanded and is home to meetings that five years ago were scattered about the neighborhood. The center, staffed by volunteers, has a tool “lending library” and a “Green House,” the home for Hillsdale’s model sustainability program. Thanks to public/private solar installations and the local conservation program, Hillsdale is on track to becoming energy independent for its electricity. Plans are underway to tap geothermal energy as well. A new tower on the drafting boards will have a small but prominent wind-driven generator.
The Main Street Center also serves as a branch service hub for Neighborhood House. Hillsdale offers housing for the once homeless (The Watershed), for distressed families seeking new beginnings (Turning Point), and for those in need of public housing (Hillsdale Terrace). Because it helps so many, Hillsdale is known as “a home with a heart.”
At last, after more than 20 years of visions, plans and meetings, Hillsdale’s promise is becoming an exciting, trailblazing reality — and a model for others.
Back to the present
That’s the future. What makes such a future possible in Hillsdale today?
Because of its recent history, its “home-grown” civic institutions, its location and the opportunity provided by the Main Street program, Hillsdale is now poised to become a model for community sustainability, prosperity and creativity.
Geography has been Hillsdale’s destiny. Our commercial center nestles in a shallow bowl on the west slope of the Tualatin mountains. It is a natural transportation corridor and so three public schools, a library, homes and businesses have clustered here. Our environment has encouraged us to build a system of trails and to tread lightly and carefully on this fragile landscape. We know from experience that we are threatened by landslides, which don’t even require earthquakes to cause disaster. We have organized networks of communication to address that need and others. We are a community.
Out of this sense of community, we believe we can be a model for cooperation and sustainability. Others, including Metro, which chose Hillsdale as one of just nine regional 2040 Town Centers, and the City of Portland, which has helped us with plans, have repeatedly recognized our potential as well as our passion for this place.
Hillsdale — self-defining, self-made
Until 13 years ago, Hillsdale was little more than a name with a history. Capitol Highway divided us into two nondescript neighborhoods. Then we held an unprecedented election that determined that Capitol Highway would be at the very center of a new neighborhood and community — Hillsdale.
Once we put ourselves on the map, we created institutions dedicated to improving our newly defined community: The Hillsdale Neighborhood Association, the Hillsdale Alliance (a coalition of all Hillsdale groups), the Hillsdale Connection (a newspaper, now called the Southwest Community Connection), the Hillsdale Community Foundation (a 501 (c) 3 foundation that will serve as our Main Street “home”) and most recently the Hillsdale Bicycle Coalition.
The Hillsdale Business & Professional Association preceded the above, laid their groundwork has been strengthened by them. We also have strong ties to our PTAs, the Wilson Area Arts Council, Neighborhood House, Hillsdale NET (emergency team), SW Trails and the Hillsdale Branch library. Note that all of these groups, and others, have written letters of support for our application.
One of the first things we did after voting to become a neighborhood was put up “Hillsdale” signcaps and gateway signs proclaiming our existence to the 30,000 commuters traveling through our commercial center.
In the course of our evolution we have held three community-wide elections, which also helped define our identity. One was to found the new neighborhood, one to approve undergrounding utilities (which the City Council overruled) and one to get rid of a boundary overlap that had caused tension with an adjacent neighborhood.
Our efforts have made us well known to government entities, including Portland Public Schools, several City bureaus (particularly Planning and Sustainability and Transportation), Metro, Tri-Met and the Multnomah County’s library system.
Hillsdale's unrecognized diversity
Hillsdale is far from being a mono-culture; it . It has long been the home of Hillsdale Terrace, whose 60 units make it one of the largest public housing projects in the state.
Six years ago, our community welcomed the construction of the Watershed subsidized housing project in our target area. The building’s owner, Community Partners for Affordable Housing, felt so at home and welcomed that it established its offices here.
The Turning Point transitional housing project was welcomed here in the early ‘90s. Community leadership opposed its first ill-advised siting in a flood plain and forced the Housing Authority of Portland to place the facility nearer the commercial area and the heart of our community. Neighbors then lobbied the city to turn the flood plain into a nature park.
Neighborhood House, located in neighboring Multnomah Village, contracts to operate both Hillsdale Terrace and Turning Point. Two former chairs of the Neighborhood House board are members of the Hillsdale Main Street task force and the Hillsdale Community Foundation board.
Building on a chain of success
Our efforts at formulating and implementing key elements of our Hillsdale Town Center Plan have resulted in a series of successes. They include the popular Hillsdale Farmers Market (now starting its ninth year), an expanded HBPA Hillsdale Pancake Breakfast (now a 30-year tradition), The Hillsdale Community Foundation Used Book Sale (now in its fourth year).
We have formed a unique umbrella coalition of Hillsdale organizations, the Hillsdale Alliance. Precursors to the Alliance were the Hillsdale Vision Group and the Hillsdale Plan Steering Committee — both of which mastered the art of consensus decision-making.
Our school-parent community is highly organized. Rieke’s PTA, in cooperation with other Hillsdale groups, warded off school closure and is well on the way to “growing” its enrollment by 50 percent through targeted marketing and outreach to young families.
On the practical side, our rich experience has taught us the need for a realistic work plan and for a clear, rational path to implement it.
We have much left to do, as our application attests, but we are ready and capable of doing it with your help.
We believe that a Hillsdale Main Street organization and approach will be the vital next step in our effort to build a vibrant, model community, a thriving Metro Town Center and a strong, sustainable, local economy.
We are eager to build our future.