by Haley Savage
Just a few short years ago, Trainsong had a reputation as a neighborhood with a lot of drugs, gang activities, and hangouts for homeless people. While some of these problems still linger, the neighborhood is now being recognized for the hard work its residents have put in towards turning the community around.
Neighborhood residents have been busy volunteering their time and skills and beautifying the neighborhood. They have planted trees along their bike path, torn out overgrown bushes, cleaned up their park, and are working towards landscaping a newly vacant lot. These projects are just a few of the things the residents have done together. The newly reinstated neighborhood association and neighborhood residents have put a lot of effort into improving the look of the neighborhood in hopes that it will make it a more beautiful, welcoming place with less crime and a better reputation.
“The key word these last few years has been ‘collaboration,'” said Tom Musselwhite, president of the Trainsong Neighborhood Association. The neighborhood has collaborated with the city of Eugene, Friends of Trees, and other organizations over the past few years as they have worked to clean up their neighborhood.
The Start of a New Neighborhood
The dramatic shift in attitude in Trainsong neighborhood was partially due to good timing. Neighbors were getting frustrated with some of the activities in the neighborhood, including teenage gangs. At the same time, the University of Oregon invited community members to a series of forums on the neighborhood, put on by researchers at the University about health policy.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood was working with the city on a large neighborhood-planning effort. “We met with the city staff for six months,” Musselwhite said. “At the same time the city did a citywide neighborhood survey and finding out what people’s attitudes were.” These combined factors allowed residents to stand up and feel more comfortable discussing problems they perceived in the neighborhood.
Musselwhite said that people could post sheets with their concerns in the neighborhood, and those who agreed would put stickers on the sheet. This tactic allowed the newly-reactivated neighborhood association to see where residents concerns lay, and showed a lot of community interest in cleaning up and beautifying the neighborhood.
Cleaning Up Trainsong Park
In 2010, Trainsong neighborhood was granted a matching grant from the City, which had noticed the neighborhoods improvements. The grant was used to clean up Trainsong Park and resurface the walkway with bark chips, Musselwhite said. What used to be a park overrun with drug users and homeless people suddenly became a children’s park again.
Now kids are often at the park with their friends and families. There is a playground for the younger kids, and a baseball field and skate park for the older kids. The park is now a central location in the neighborhood and often hosts neighborhood BBQs and other gatherings.
Robert Farmer has lived in the neighborhood for a little less than a year, and he takes his three kids to the park to play. “It makes it more socially inviting,” he said of the park’s cleaner appearance. “Trainsong is a cool park.”
Trees for Trainsong
On Nov. 20, 2010, volunteers and community member kicked off their beautification project Trees for Trainsong. The neighborhood partnered with Eugene Tree Foundation, Friends of Trees, Union Pacific Railroad, City of Eugene NeighborWoods and Stream Team programs, and the Eugene Water and Electric Boards to start the multi-year project, according to a KVAL news report. Trees for Trainsong aims to plant hundreds of trees in Trainsong to improve the health of the neighborhood.
Trainsong is a largely industrial area and is next to the Union Pacific rail yard, leaving the air polluted. The hope is that these trees will serve as a buffer between the residential neighborhood and the rail yard, reducing noise and beautifying the view, the news report said.
Other trees were planted along the bike paths in Trainsong. Before the trees were planted, the bike paths were constantly overgrown with blackberries, making them nearly unusable. The neighborhood got together and trimmed the blackberries, mowed the area, and planted trees. “It’s our beautified ditch,” joked Musselwhite.
The project is not over. Only one tree has been lost since they were planted thanks to neighborhood volunteers who went out in the evenings once a week and watered them. Now the neighborhood is looking for volunteers to water the plants once every two weeks, as well as volunteers to help keep the blackberries under control, according to the Trainsong Neighborhood Newsletter.
Landscaping The Vacant Lot
The beautification projects haven’t stopped. Last month an old market, located on the corner of Roosevelt Boulevard and North Garfield Street, was razed. It is now owned by the City, which originally planned to simply put up a chain link fence around the lot. However, a Trainsong resident came forward and asked for permission to beautify the area, according to a KMTR news report. Mayor Kitty Piercy agreed after seeing the enthusiasm and dedication neighborhood residents had about the project. They now plan to landscape the lot and add small plants.
The project has not yet been finalized, but, according to the Trainsong Neighborhood Newsletter, the City Public Works had their landscaper make some possible designs. The goal is that, once the design has been decided, volunteers will help landscape the area and will help with the upkeep and gardening it will require. Residents hope the lot will become a beautiful entrance to the neighborhood.
Fixing OR 99
This summer and last, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been busy fixing Highway 99 between Roosevelt Boulevard and Garfield Street. Due to heavy use, the concrete panels deep in the road gave way. The decision was made to replace the entire road, from the bed up, according to an ODOT spokesman. This will ensure the quality of the fix and make the new road last longer. Two lanes must be closed at a time in order to do this, but businesses along the stretch are still open.
An ODOT news release said to expect lengthy delays and use alternative routes. It’s an inconvenience, but the repaired roads will be a significant improvement to the neighborhood. Neighborhood residents have been lobbying for the improvements on the road, which they often use on their commutes, and visitors of the neighborhood use on the drive in. The new roads will make it safer and easier to drive and may encourage people to visit the areas businesses.
Tim Fox has lived in the neighborhood for two and a half years. He does not use OR 99 often, but thinks that fixing the roads within the neighborhood would be beneficial. “Our roads are bad,” he said, and adds that it would be an important next step in the beautification of the neighborhood.
The Impact on the Neighborhood
Musselwhite said that the changes going on in the neighborhood have helped bring people together and get them talking. The neighborhood residents come from many different backgrounds and have varying world views. “There’s been some low key conflict, but healthy conflict,” Musselwhite said. “The outcomes I’ve seen so far have all been constructive.”
The perception of the neighborhood has been the home of gangs and a troubled neighborhood, Musselwhite said, but the perception is slowly changing. He said one of the most surprising things he’s seen is the number of people who haven’t heard of Trainsong. However, he said that the neighborhood used to be forgetten, but has slowly been making a name for itself. “The City has paid a lot more attention to us since we reactivated the neighborhood status,” he said. Fox also said that the beautification projects can benefit the neighborhood. “It can keep the less desirable elements away,” Fox said, “like little gang boys.”
While the changes are still happening and impact still growing, Musselwhite said he believes that people notice change and see the little improvements. The beautification projects are just one step in the improvement of the neighborhood and its perception. “It makes the place look better, more attractive,” Fox said.
Road construction on OR 99 continues for the second summer. The construction will take place between Roosevelt Boulevard and Garfield Street, restricting travel on Sixth and Seventh avenues. Construction began last summer and construction workers repaired the road through late September, then came back to finish the work this summer. The job requires workers to tear out the entire road because the concrete panels underneath the asphalt need replacing due to heavy use. Construction will focus on one lane at a time, with crew and equipment taking up a second lane, leaving one lane of traffic in each direction.
The decision came after the panels underneath the roadway gave way. Instead of repaving the street over the panels, they decided to start from scratch so they wouldn’t give way again in just a short period of time. The broken panels don’t come from a lack of maintenance, said an ODOT spokesman in a KMTR news report from the beginning of construction last year. Instead, he said, they come from such heavy use. The news report stated that about 24,000 cars use that stretch of OR 99 every day. Businesses along the stretch are still open for business, though some with multiple entrances have been reduced to one entrance. ODOT said that those who are travelling that stretch of OR 99 should prepare for delays and consider alternative routes, including Seneca and Chambers streets. Construction crews are expected to finish the work on OR 99 this October.
West Eugene’s Trainsong neighborhood has an area of 1.42 miles. Its borders include OR 99 and Northwest Expressway, and its main roads are Roosevelt Boulevard and Bethel Drive. A 2009 profile of the neighborhood said it has a population of 1,802. The median household income in the neighborhood is $25,139, compared to $39,650, the city median. 34.7 percent of the population in the neighborhood is below the poverty level; the 17.1 percent of the city population is below the poverty level.
Trainsong is largely industrial. It is home to many manufacturing companies, including local vegan chocolate company Chocolate Decadence and local brewery Oakshire Brewing. There are several scrapyards and construction companies of varying specialties. The Union Pacific Railroad lies parallel to Bethel Drive.
St. Vincent de Paul has a service station on OR 99, and the American Red Cross has a location on Bethel Drive. The Looking Glass Youth & Family Services Station 7 program, an emergency shelter for runaway and homeless youth, resides in Trainsong directly on an LTD bus route.
Trainsong Park has a playground, skate park, baseball field, and walking path. Residents of all ages spend time in the park playing, skating, walking, racing electric cars, or just hanging out with friends. The park often hosts neighborhood BBQs and other gatherings, and serves as a central location in the neighborhood.
Bethel Community Church is the home of neighborhood association meetings and various other neighborhood social gatherings. It also hosts Baby University, a group parenting education and family support program. The neighborhood also offers after school programs for older youth.