The Jade District: East Side, Redefined

By Randy Gragg April 2, 2014 Published in the April 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

Since the Vietnamese joint HA & VL opened near SE 82nd Avenue and Division Street eight years ago, everyone from local chefs to Bon Appétit has rated its soups among the best—anywhere. Nearly every day, says co-owner Peter Vuong, the restaurant’s daily supply of no more than 100 bowls disappears by noon. But when he tried to stay open evenings, nobody came. 

With funds from the city’s new Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) hopes to change that by giving 12 blocks of SE 82nd an identity that will put it firmly on the cultural (and culinary) map: the Jade District. It’s one of six new districts the PDC hopes will represent a fresh chapter in the city’s 55-year history of urban renewal. With only $1 million to spend (compared to, say, the estimated $164 million planned in the nearby Gateway Urban Renewal District), the aim of the Jade District, according to APANO’s Duncan Hwang, “is to better the life of those who live there.”

Since 1990, the neighborhood around SE 82nd and Division has grown twice as fast as the city as a whole—while becoming far poorer. The area’s Asian population doubled, the number of Hispanics more than tripled, and African American residents increased sevenfold. The Harrison Park School, where 72 percent of the students are of color and 85 percent receive free or reduced-price lunch, grew so fast officials had to convert locker rooms into classrooms, covering up the urinals. 

The Jade’s first projects will be a series of elegant new light-pole banners, design-ed to define the district’s 12 blocks, and a community garden on the Harrison school grounds. This spring APANO hopes to lay the groundwork for an Asian night market, possibly in the parking lot of the Fubonn Market. 

APANO’s Diana Pei Wu, a recently recruited community organizer who once lived in Oakland, points out that her former city’s International District brings in as much tax revenue as the city’s toniest shopping areas. “There’s a huge opportunity in the Jade District to reflect the community,” she says. “The businesses are already here. It’s just a matter of making the neighborhood feel better. But it’s a long-road thing.”

Change is already happening, at least for HA & VL. Sales, says Vuong, are increasing dramatically.

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