UPDATED 12/6/2011

In a forlorn storefront, hidden behind the shadow of the Village Square strip mall it abuts, many see an empty commercial space that exemplifies the surrounding neighborhood’s neglect. To others, however, the future site of the Rosewood Cafe is a sign of hope that heralds the change to come in a neighborhood better known for drugs and crime than coffee and community activism. The future cafe, which also serves as a community center, police contact space for neighborhood residents, and outreach point for at-risk youth, is the product of over two years of community involvement in the Rosewood Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to making the Rosewood neighborhood a safe and desirable place to live.

Often overlooked because of its position along the Portland/Gresham border, Rosewood encompasses parts of Portland’s Wilkes, Centennial, and Glenfair neighborhoods, as well as Gresham’s Rockwood. The 15-block area centered around 162nd and East Burnside has seen better days, but many in the neighborhood see better to come. The Rosewood Initiative is a collaborative effort between neighborhood residents, AmeriCorps community organizers, business owners, apartment managers, and city and county employees. The primary goal of the Rosewood Initiative is to make the neighborhood safe for all to live in and enjoy, and the efforts of those involved have galvanized the community. The work of the Rosewood Initiative does not go unnoticed, whether it be its role in pushing the city and TriMet to test the calming effects of classical music at the 162nd/Burnside MAX station, or attracting at-risk youth to the cafe space on Youth Nights, where they’ve established their own rules of conduct.

The Rosewood Initiative has its challenges, however, and most of its success has come from volunteers in the community, donations and a strong relationship with the city, county, and police department. It has raised money through rummage sales and scrap metal drives and leaned on the leadership of community organizers from AmeriCorps. On a recent Wednesday, the Rosewood Cafe, with its exposed wiring, barely able to keep the cold out, hosted a monthly community meeting in which Portland State architect students presented their vision for the potential redesign of Village Square, the commercial plaza at 162nd and SE Stark that houses the cafe space. The meeting, led by AmeriCorps worker Jenny Glass, highlighted the PSU students’ efforts to redesign the plaza, focusing on adding aesthetic street lighting, creating athletic fields and park space, as well as making transit stops safer and more accessible.

As much as the Rosewood Initiative has accomplished in its two years, the community’s greatest success still lies in front of it. In October, Mayor Sam Adams introduced the city’s Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative (NPI), which aims to provide technical assistance and seed funding for community-driven, self-help economic development in selected neighborhoods. The city identified Rosewood as one of six proposed NPI areas, creating an opportunity to access grant money and assistance from the Portland Development Commission (PDC) to assist with, among other things, community outreach, planning, and fundraising. With a Monday, November 21 deadline to apply, Rosewood and its organizers are positioning themselves to take their grass roots efforts to the next level. Originally an effort to tackle crime and public safety issues, the Rosewood community’s efforts have become a movement. And if the neighborhood is awarded a grant and becomes an official NPI area, it could become an economic engine, too, reshaping the community bit by bit.

UPDATE 12/6/2011: The Rosewood Initiative is one step closer to full participation in the city’s Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative (NPI). In a show of good faith, as well as to assist in their initial planning efforts, the Portland Development Commission recently awarded the Rosewood Initiative $10,000 as seed money to continue business district organizing and visioning through January, 2012. This will further help the Rosewood group meet requirements for full recognition as an NPI district. The Rosewood Initiative must meet certain benchmarks by February 27 for full participation in the program. Similarly, the Parkrose neighborhood received the same grant to assist in their efforts to participate in the program.