Thomas Cully Park - A Dream Realized

Several folks surveying an empty lot.

When the sun is out, the children of Portland’s Cully neighborhood transform parking lots into soccer fields. The neighborhood, which shines with cultural flare and ethnic diversity, still has concentrated poverty, and an overall lack of access to nature. In fact, Cully, in outer Northeast Portland, has the lowest income per capita in the City. Many of the streets are without sidewalks and streetlights, and many more aren’t even paved.

While the regional average for residents per acre of public land is about 780 Cully has over 2,780 per acre of public land. Most people in Cully agree that they need – and deserve – a park in their neighborhood.

“The story I keep hearing from parents and kids is that that they don’t have a safe place to play. Soccer balls fly right into Killingsworth St.,” said Tony DeFalco, project coordinator for “Let Us Build Cully Park!” 

“We have heard very clearly,” he says, “‘I want a place to play soccer and I shouldn’t have to walk on streets that are dangerous to get there.’”

Responding to the community’s need, Portland Parks Bureau purchased a 25 acre landfill in the Cully neighborhood in 2002 with the intention of turning it into a park. After years of open houses and design meetings, the City Council finally agreed on a master plan, featuring sports fields, walking trails and an estimated price tag of up to $18 million. Although the plans were approved, funding was not.

In 2010, a $150,000 Northwest Health Foundation / Convergence Partnership grant enabled Verde to develop the first stages of transforming the landfill into a flourishing community space called Thomas Cully Park. Verde works to build environmental wealth through social enterprise, outreach and advocacy.

“This funding builds on existing enthusiasm and transforms it from public will to the actual construction of the park,” said Defalco. “We will develop the ability to design and build the park, and have that be our community asset to transform the needs we have around health, and a place to gather as a community.”

The development of Cully Park’s master plan has been a collaborative effort between community members and a coalition of local groups. The planning committee has involved the community in all aspects of the development and construction, through surveys and other methods of engagement.

Several folks standing in an empty lot.

Seventeen organizations are currently part of the planning coalition, including Hacienda CDC, Native American Youth and Family Center, Rigler and Scott Schools, Department of Environmental Quality, and the Oregon Health Authority.

“We want to bring the community voice into all the design elements,” DeFalco says. “We want to draw from the community to find workers, to educate young people about the technologies that going into building a park, and to train people in the kinds of environmental technologies we’re going to have in this park.”

Phase One will include a community garden, walking trails, restoration of the north slope of the park to make it habitable for wildlife, a native plant gathering area, an off-leash dog area, a nature play area, a youth soccer field and basketball court, and a 40 car parking area.

“This is all a part of a larger Cully Ecodistrict called Living Cully,” Defalco says. The idea is to bring environmental investments to the neighborhood and build environmental wealth.”

“This is a replicable model for how to engage a community so the community is in charge,” he says. 

The first phases of the park are scheduled to begin in 2012, with subsequent activities occurring in 2013.  To follow the progress of the park, visit the “Let Us Build Cully Park!” website.