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Forest Park advocates seek to'green up' nearby industrial belt

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The contrast couldn’t be starker.

There’s Forest Park — the largest forested, urban, wilderness park in the United States — and right along its east side a strip of factories, container bays and chemical storage tanks.

As part of its “Getting Green to Work” project, the nonprofit Forest Park Conservancy recently led a survey of businesses in the Northwest Industrial District. Students from Portland State University’s Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning program interviewed more than 29 businesses, non-profits and academic institutions. They also received 81 survey responses.

The work is part of a 20-year Greater Forest Park Conservation Initiative, designed to protect and restore Forest Park for future generations.

“We’re really interested in how many people are interested in green infrastructure and who think air pollution is a concern,” says Renee Myers, Forest Park Conservancy executive director. “Greening the industrial area is part of this larger initiative.”

You might not expect people dependent on heavy industry to care, but Myers says those in the Northwest Industrial sanctuary are concerned about their neighborhood park.

Fifty-eight percent of those canvassed responded, which she regards as a high proportion. In fact they were quite welcoming.

The survey found the local businessmen and women have a relatively weak familiarity with green infrastructure. Businesses do not want more regulation. They want to see a return on investment on things like street trees and swales, and they want to know who’s going to maintain them.

What the business leaders want most is better stormwater management and increased transit options. What concerns them most is poor air quality, land contamination and bike/pedestrian safety.

Myers, who moved here from Montana four years ago, calls Forest Park the lungs and kidneys of Portland, in that it exports clean air and water.

Forest Park is recognized as part of a wildlife corridor that links Portland with the Pacific Ocean via the Coast Range. The conservancy also wants to see better connectivity closer to home, between Forest Park and the Willamette River, to provide links for habitat.

The Forest Park Conservancy is applying for funds to get street trees planted all over the industrial zone. And it’s trying to build bridges to industrialists.

“We’ll make phone calls and build relationships,” Myers says. “We’ll have individual meetings with them, but these projects take time.”

Along the way, the Forest Park Conservancy hopes to raise its own profile as high as that of Tualatin Mountain itself.