Rockwood, Gresham seemed to have insurmountable problems. Gang violence. Joblessness. Poverty. It sounded hopeless to many. Last year, I started designing a building project there, and ended up on a journey of discovery that exposed me to many of the root causes of Rockwood’s problems. I talked to people who lived in the community, I walked the streets, I talked to police and social workers. I went to the flea market. Almost everything shy of closing down la Macareña club on Friday night. I'm an architect, not a social worker. How could an architect help solve public safety issues? Shouldn't we send in policemen with handcuffs instead of me with pencil and paper? But as I listened, some fairly familiar patterns started to arise. Maybe the potential solutions were not that difficult to see. And maybe a little more reliance on following the path where common sense and personal experience leads us will open our eyes to a solution.
I grew up in a house with my own bedroom, two supportive parents, three warm meals a day and three siblings. I biked to school every day. My mother didn't have to work, so she was home after I finished school. In the afternoon, I'd usually play games with my neighbors, or do homework until dinner. Afterwards, our whole family would gather around the television and watch the ‘Addams Family’, or ‘Car 54 where are you?’, or ‘the Green Hornet’.
The children of Rockwood never have known this way of life. Many of their families are broken up, single parents work far away, mothers aren't there to greet children after school. They live in dank rental apartments that are overcrowded. Drunken neighbors yell under their windows in the middle of the night. Gang members prey on children with little to do after school and no parental supervision.
The solution starts with a home: a stable, warm, nurturing home for both the children and adults. Other key parts of the solution include increasing family income through education and job training; and building a strong, inclusive, supportive Community, where residents can socialize and look after one another.
With a concerted effort, soon Rockwood’s children can come home after school and not meet a gang recruiter, but rather a parent at home. Or they can go to a community soccer field filled with friends and neighbors.
by Stuart Emmons
The Oregonian Blog, April 15, 2008