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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-7529

1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

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The Arboreal Legacy of the Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project

By Dave Hedberg, Urban Forestry Community Service Aide II

"You are the key to improving your neighborhood."
---Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project, 1962

Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project Block Leaders, March 1964. City of Portland Archives, A2010-003.2405.

Join Dave Hedberg, Urban Forestry, and the Humboldt Tree Team for a Walk & Talk
on the Arboreal Legacy of the Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project

When: 9:00 - 11:00 am on Saturday April 1, 2017
Where: UNITE Oregon |  700 N Killingsworth St, Portland, OR 97217

Register Here! 

Often, history fails to recognize the significant contributions of seemingly average citizens. However, every day you see plenty of artifacts that represent the work of dedicated citizens—Portland’s 218,000 street trees are excellent examples. In 1961, a self-organized group of Albina area residents made a lasting mark in their neighborhood when they created an organized and well-planned tree planting program.  This small group of citizens gave birth to the Neighborhood Tree Team and inspired generations of citizen leaders in Portland's urban forest. Their work, which many of us continue, should not be forgotten.

Albina Neighborhood Improvement Program, March 1964. Note the Tree Program on the board. City of Portland Archives, A2010-003.2388.

Concern for trees was only a small part of the overall Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project (ANIP). In the 1960s, the Albina neighborhood was suffering from a serious lack of city investments, poverty, and lack of green spaces. Urban renewal projects, like Memorial Coliseum and Legacy Emanuel Hospital, had displaced citizens in the African American community. Prejudicial lending not only limited African Americans to buying homes in the Albina area, but also restricted their access to credit for home loans, repairs, and even business loans. Albina residents worried that their neighborhood was next for demolition.

The grass-roots Albina Neighborhood Improvement Program started addressing the decades of disinvestment. Led by the Reverend Cortlandt Cambric of Hughes Memorial Methodist Church and co-chaired by Reverend T.X. Graham of the Portland First AME Zion Church and Father Mell Stead of Immaculate Heart Catholic Church, ANIP secured federal funding for much-needed improvements like neighborhood streetlights, street trees, sidewalks, general home maintenance, alleyway cleaning, and the creation of DeNorval Unthank Park. Dozens of Block Group Leaders managed the various projects while even more volunteers took to action by helping their neighbors cleanup and beautify Albina.

Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project planted over 500 flowering cherries in March 1964, especially along N Kerby and N Height streets. City of Portland Archives, A2010-003.2402.

In 1962, the ANIP Tree Program Sub-Committee, consisting of the Rev. F. J. Crear, Mrs. Robert Kutch, Mr. Herbert Lewis, and Mr. E. H. Thiel, designed and led an innovative tree removal and replacement program. Applying for their own funding, the program removed large-form trees from the small, narrow 3.5 ft. planting strips. They replaced these trees with a mix of Incense Cedar, Japanese maple, Dogwoods, Birch, and mostly Kwanzan flowering cherry. They secured support from Portland General Electric and Logger Jacks Tree Service for the stump grinding and auguring for the new cherries, which nursery owner Glen Handy supplied from Boring, Oregon. You can still see many of the spectacular flowing cherries when they bloom every spring. 

In 1964, the Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project’s flowering cherries came from Glen Handy’s nursery in Boring, Oregon. City of Portland Archives, A2010-003.2397.

The program, which also included pruning work parties, was so successful that it grew over the years, expanding the number of trees pruned, removed, and replanted to over 500 in 1964 alone! Other neighborhoods like Woodlawn, Humboldt, King, and Irvington were inspired by ANIP’s Tree Committee and began forming their own tree planting programs with funding from the federal Model Cities Program. These 1960s and 1970s citizen-led plantings, in part, inspired the creation of the Urban Forestry Commission and Urban Forestry. 

An Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project street tree pruning, December 1961. City of Portland Archives, A2010-003.2304.

With dozens of Neighborhood Tree Teams working as stewards of the Urban Forest today, many have forgotten the historical legacy of the extra ordinary Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project. In essence, you can see ANIP’s legacy across the city. As you walk down the street enjoying our urban forest, remember that these trees are artifacts of citizens like yourself! 

Albina Neighborhood Improvement Project tree planting January 1963. City of Portland Archives A2010-003.2364.

Want to know more? Or, do you have a story about tree plantings in the greater Albina area? Please consider sharing it with us! Register for the free upcoming Tree History in the Humboldt Neighborhood on April 1. We will share stories, explore the past and present efforts for beautification in the neighborhood, and take a short walk to see some historic trees. 

Register Here!

For more information, or if you have something you want to talk about, contact:
Mason Wordell
Tree Plan Coordinator & AmeriCorps Member