Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Nov. 29, 2022

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Fourth Plain Forward project looks to past to plan for future

Historians strive to combat gentrification, community displacement

By , Columbian staff writer
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Chlovena Byrd and Owen Ratliff, friends for 30 years, look at exhibits before the "Fourth Plain Forward: Building Community" presentation began.
Chlovena Byrd and Owen Ratliff, friends for 30 years, look at exhibits before the "Fourth Plain Forward: Building Community" presentation began. (James Rexroad for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

By looking at Fourth Plain’s past, historians are identifying ways to combat gentrification and community displacement along Vancouver’s international corridor.

The Fourth Plain project, part of the Clark County Historical Museum’s Clark County Stories series, highlights people who lived in the district since the mid-20th century. The virtual exhibit, available in the fall, is an attempt to showcase the corridor’s robust stories to embolden the work done by nonprofit Fourth Plain Forward, historian Katie Bush said.

“We can use (history) to show the through line of government neglect … and ensure that the community has tools in their arsenal to fight against this continued displacement and say our community matters (and) our community is important,” she said during the project presentation on Thursday.

Although the presented information was preliminary, Bush said it’s essential to relay the historians’ findings to increase community engagement with the Fourth Plain project.

The Fourth Plain corridor project area stretches between Interstate 5 and Andresen Road, contains five neighborhoods and is home to more than 150 businesses that sell everything from fresh tamales to vintage knickknacks. That’s not all, though. There are also auto shops, beauty studios and insurance offices.

Paul Burgess, Fourth Plain Forward director, said the organization was birthed after Portland State University graduate students identified disparate health outcomes and high rates of poverty along the corridor. In the students’ 2015 study, they also found that most businesses in the area served and reflected those who lived there. The corridor, commonly referred to as the city’s International Business District, is home to the highest percentage of Latinx, Asian and foreign-born residents in Vancouver.

To combat systemic marginalization, the city of Vancouver and community partners set forth to create a plan that would spotlight minority-owned businesses and upgrade infrastructure.

Since Forth Plain Forward’s inception, C-Tran’s bus rapid transit system and affordable housing units have been introduced to the area. Those who drive through the area will catch glimpses of colorful murals of Mexican folk dancers, natural landscapes and multinational flags. People who decide to walk along the street will catch wafts of seasoned meat or fried bread.

It’s a lively artery and is only expected to evolve, but there are still concerns of gentrification. It’s a legitimate concern that’s substantiated by the area’s history, the latter of which historians are hoping can steer the area’s future developments in an equitable direction.

“We feel this is a way to connect you to the area and to a larger, broader narrative of Clark County and Southwest Washington,” Bush said.

Population growth, those who stayed

Defense industries boomed in the 1940s during World War II. To keep up with the demand for war vessels, Kaiser Shipyards employed a large workforce to maintain its operations, Bush said.

Vancouver’s population ballooned from an estimated 44,000 to 85,000 in four years as people came from different regions in the country to work in Southwest Washington and northwest Oregon.

Labor was abundant but the rural areas lacked the capacity and infrastructure to accommodate the hordes of people flocking to the small cities. With the influx of outsiders coming in, there was also a noticeable cultural shift.

In response, the Vancouver Housing Authority was created in 1942 to provide temporary rental housing and units to meet the demands of the growing workforce and their families. During the World War II era, the Vancouver Housing Authority provided 12,000 units to residents. After the war ended, employees were laid off — shipyard employment decreased by nearly 30,000 — but many workers still wanted to stay.

Simultaneously, the housing authority was disassembling the wartime housing and few public units remained.

The city was aware of its low housing inventory, but nothing was built to accommodate workers or soldiers returning from duty, Bush said. By the 1950s, most public housing was replanted into subdivisions, taken apart or sold to private owners.

In the ensuing decades, urban renewal only increased the negative impact housing has on communities of color and low-incomes households, she said. Harmful zoning and planning codes that were established back then to segregate marginalized groups and exclude them from homeownership and wealth building still exist today.

By bringing attention to the history of development, such as along Fourth Plain, there is still hope for the community’s growth.

“(Those laws) still affects how development happens today and what goes on,” Bush said. “So those things I think are very important and still impact development and how cities are shaped and continue to grow today.”

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