Split from Harney Heights, Maplewood grapples with crime

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Gunshots are the neighborhood's occasional soundtrack, gang initiations its frightful live-action programming. In comparison, the graffiti eyesore that lingers on Maplewood's buildings, benches and storage containers is a minor inconvenience.

Robin Steeley wants to let her children play outside, but the realities of the neighborhood dictate they stay inside. "For us, it's terrible," said Steeley of the crime problems Maplewood faces. "It's life-and-death stuff. It's not like a car prowl. You can't let your kids play in the front yard."

Members of the Harney Heights Neighborhood Association voted in April to split into two groups — Harney Heights and Maplewood — as a way to better account for the different socioeconomic realities they faced.

Residents of the Maplewood Neighborhood Association — Harney Heights' former north side — live below a bluff near Fourth Plain Boulevard. The area consists largely of renters and has been a haven for gangs and violence. About 2,500 households make up Maplewood.

In contrast, the south side of Harney Heights, located on the bluff near Mill Plain Boulevard, features more homeowners and less violent crime.

"The period of breaking apart was very painful for everyone because we were all so close-knit but our problems were so different," said Steeley, who organizes the neighborhood association's newsletter.

Maplewood's problems have not disappeared since the separation, but there is plenty of potential, too.

Maplewood is near downtown, Clark College, both freeways and seven miles from Northwest Portland, neighborhood resident Derya Ruggles noted.

Ruggles spoke about Fourth Plain revitalization during the neighborhood association's meeting Thursday.

She envisions the area becoming more pedestrian friendly, encouraging a sense of safety and community pride. The criminal misdeeds of a small percentage of the neighborhood's residents cast a negative light on the community. It's time for that to change, Ruggles said.

"The good people, the nice people, the benign people are the majority," she said. "They're holed up in their house. They don't want to engage."

The first Maplewood meeting had 22 participants. The second had nine.

The key to drawing more participation depends on who you ask — alerting people to the new meeting schedule (third Thursday every month), reaching out to the elderly and circulating the newsletter, leaders say.

These steps are being made and will continue to be made, Chairwoman Cynthia Powers said. The fact that the Maplewood Neighborhood Association exists -- it's the 65th such association in the city ‚ is a major achievement. Next up: The neighborhood will participate in the national Night Out Against Crime program Aug. 7.

"We're off and flying now," Powers said.

Now, if only Steeley's kids can play in the sun.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.