Mark Robben, 67, grew up in a house next to Creston School and played in Creston Park with his three siblings during the 1960s. Forty-four years ago he bought his current house, which backs up to the park.
Now he and his wife Janine live in that house, have raised three children there, and have five grandchildren – all of whom love the park and playground.
"I've lived here 37 years, and from my point of view, the park is the most-enjoyable it's ever been," remarks Janine. "Watching the new playground being built during the height of COVID, when we didn't know when or if kids would be able to play on it, was hopeful. Now that's it built, it's full of parents and kids, from first thing in the morning until dusk every day."
The park and playground improvements were made possible by a Parks Replacement Bond passed in 2014 by 74% of Portland voters. The portion of the $68 million bond that was designated for Creston Park was augmented by a contribution from Portland's one-time fee "System Development Charges".
The plans for the improvements have been formulating for some time. Janine attended the community gatherings that were held in 2018 to get public input. Designs were shared, leading to an open house at which 87% of the participants agreed that the proposed final playground design and community gathering spaces looked as if they would create a welcoming, safe, and usable space for all ages and abilities.
Tanya McCoy, who has lived near the park for 28 years, says that at first she thought it would be a shame to replace its more natural "woodsy" climbing structure with one made of plastic. But, since the installation of the new rose-colored plastic structure, she's changed her mind – she now thinks it provides enjoyable swinging and climbing for all ages, from very young children to teenagers – and it's safer than the old one.
Other park improvements installed during the COVID-19 pandemic are an ADA-accessible pathway from the S.E. 43rd Avenue parking lot to the playground, and a new ADA drinking fountain and benches. The playground surface now has a rubberized safety coating.
The park is one hundred years old, and Mark Robben says his cherished and most fun park memory was in 1962, after the Columbus Day Storm. "There were branches and trees down everywhere, and kids were out there all the time, making [wooden] igloos connected by tunnels. There was no power for close to two weeks, and it seems the parents had no problem with us being outside having fun."
Because the new playground is the third one installed in his lifetime, he was skeptical that this new one was necessary. "But this park now gets unbelievable use, with hundreds of people every day, and that makes it safer. In the 1980s there were lots of drugs in the park, and houseless people were camping in tents." He says that is not much of a problem now. And many park users pick up litter while there.
Janine Robben goes into the park twice a day to walk their dog Rufus and to pick up trash, litter, and recyclables, while enjoying the grandeur of the hundred-plus-year old chestnut, purple flowering empress, and Douglas fir trees. She says there is occasional graffiti on the tops of garbage cans, but those responsible have left the playground alone, seemingly out of respect for it. All the park's many visitors seem grateful for these improvements made during the pandemic.
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