By Alex Zielinski
Something’s in the air in northwest Eugene’s Trainsong neighborhood, and it’s not environmental pollutants from the nearby railroad yard.
The smallest neighborhood in town, with a neighborhood association less than two years old, is slowly developing into a structured and successful community. Known mostly for its high home renter rate (86 percent) and its pollution from nearby railroad and trucking businesses, the neighborhood still has a ways to go.
But the future looks bright.
“There have been some significant changes since I moved to Trainsong three years ago,” said president of the Trainsong Neighborhood Association, Nicole Sharette, adding that she moved to the area for cheaper housing and more yard space.
Sharette estimated that around 500 people out of the neighborhood’s 700 households have participated in last year’s events and meetings, set up by the recently revitalized association. Operation Clean Sweep and Celebrate Trainsong are two of these successful events.
Although the neighborhood has 34.1 percent of families living below the poverty line, Sharette doesn’t see this as a threat to the area’s well-being.
“Poor people are capable of making a healthy community without making more money, “said Sharette. “I prefer to think of the socioeconomic status of our residents as a contribution to our lovely diversity.”
Despite an April assault in Trainsong Park, the neighborhood’s crime rate is relatively equal, if not lower, than the town’s other areas. Sharette said that when crime does occur in Trainsong, it seems to attract heavy coverage.
Susamma Maddux, manager of the neighborhood’s B & R Market and Deli for 11 years, said she has only faced an attempted robbery once.
“He didn’t get any money, thanks to me,” said Maddux. “My neighbors are good people, I feel safe working here by myself everyday.”
However, the neighborhood isn’t perfect.
“The major issues here are environment disadvantages,” said Sharette. “We lack access to healthy food and lifestyles and are exposed to chemicals from J.B. Hunt and the railroad wash yard.”
According to a January study by Oregon Public Health and Department for Environmental Quality, the fumes produced by groundwater contamination from the nearby Union Pacific Railyard does not affect the indoor air of Trainsong homes. However, measures are still being taken to block the groundwater’s pollution, as it could lead to health issues.
Union Pacific Railroad trains in the neighborhood.Courtesy of Oregon.gov.
In addition, Seneca Sawmill Company is planning on building a new biomass plant within the neighborhood’s boundaries. While Lane County Air Protection Agency issued an air permit to the company last October, Oregon Toxins Alliance appealed the issuance the following month, deeming the potential power plant a major pollutant.
The streets of the neighborhood also lack city attention, according to Sharette. Many of the neighborhood roads are more gravel than pavement, as the city has neglected maintenance.
“Traveling is not safe in the neighborhood and it’s not because of crime” said Sharette. ” We have a lack of sidewalks, poor street conditions, and a lack of lighting.”
Local resident Eli Howell agreed, calling the area “overwhelmingly sketchy.”
“I don’t feel safe on the streets any time of day,” said Howell. “It’s scary to think of kids walking home from school or riding their bikes along here.”
Living on the edge of environmental dangers, the community now relies on community cooperation through the neighborhood association to regain control of the significantly impoverished area. While it may be a slow process, the area shows clear signs that it is on the road to recovery.
“Trainsong is truly a groovy neighborhood with tons of great potential,” said Sharette.