30 October 2006

Alberta Street Racial Lines

photo: Mark Washington/Portland Observer

By Sarah Blount/The Portland Observer
African Americans much less happy with street

Black businesses and organizations are less happy with their non-minority counterparts when it comes to opinions of Northeast Alberta Street.

Portland State University professor Daniel Sullivan has just completed a study compiling the opinions of the changes on the street known for new residents, art galleries, restaurants and storefronts.

Among all people, there was a general sense the neighborhood is losing its diversity, especially longtime African American businesses and organizations.

Sullivan, an associate professor of sociology, evaluated responses from 88 businesses, churches and non-profit organizations on or near the thoroughfare between Northeast 11th and 30th Avenues.

He said he chose to study the street because, unlike most neighborhoods in Portland, it is racially and economically diverse.

Most disagreements over the changes on Alberta fell along racial lines.

"What really surprised me is it seems like I expected a lot more disagreement," Sullivan said. "It seems most people like what's going on, except African Americans."

He found that many white respondents embrace the idea of diversity, but feel nothing can be done about it. Some even lament the fact that few of their clientele are African American.

"Many of us here would love to keep the multicultural element," said one artist surveyed, "but it's controlled by economic forces."

A concern for 60 percent of respondents was affordability. Renters and art studio operators feel the most vulnerable to displacement, regardless of race.

Black respondents tended to believe that there are more problems on Alberta than do other races. For example, 64 percent of black respondents state that "police not caring" is a problem, compared to only 28 percent of other respondents. Seventy-nine percent of blacks surveyed see racial tensions in the neighborhood as a problem, compared to only 45 percent of those questioned from other races.

Although most respondents liked the Last Thursday art walks, African Americans were half as likely to view it positively.

Sullivan is careful to say his study was not an effort to promote particular change, but rather an attempt to reduce biases among businesses and organizations of different ethnicities, many of which he found do not communicate with each other. He stresses the importance of discussion among everyone with a stake in the neighborhood, and offers a few practical suggestions to preserve and enhance racial diversity along Alberta, including hiring a racially diverse staff from the neighborhood, offering products and prices that attract a range of residents and advertising in diverse venues.

Another less obvious suggestion concerns dogs in gentrifying neighborhoods - Sullivan found some respondents are uncomfortable or intimidated around dogs, whether tied to poles on sidewalks outside of businesses or on adjacent patios. A dog's presence, even if well behaved, is unwelcoming to those passing by who are forced to make contact.

This is Sullivan's second study, following a focus on gentrification among Alberta neighborhood residents. After a month spent talking to a random selection of about 185 neighbors, he found many participants liked some of the changes, but were uneasy about others. He was surprised to find only a quarter of those surveyed expressed significant concern about the dramatic rise in housing costs and decreasing racial diversity.

"I thought more people of color would say they don't like the changes because this is an area that has had a large concentration of minorities and cultural institutions," Sullivan said about his first study.

Sullivan notes that Alberta will likely evolve rapidly over the next five years, especially concerning racial diversity, and that business and organizations can play an important role in influencing these changes.

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