The value of community involvement in local parks

"Even if you don’t go to a park every day, you can still recognize the value that it has." - Gary Maffei

Our board chair, Julie Vigeland, recently sat down with Charles Jordan Circle member Gary Maffei to learn why he supports public parks. 

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Tell us about your upbringing and how it’s influenced your relationship with parks.
Well, I’m a native Portlander—I grew up in Southeast Portland—and our closest park was Mount Scott. I used to spend all summer there. As a child, I remember that the parks system was a center for the neighborhood. We couldn’t afford to go to the beach or to the mountains or on vacation, but we could walk over to the park and have a picnic or play on the playground. I also used to do Little League in Lents Park. My brother did the Babe Ruth league for high school and my dad was a coach.

What has your relationship with parks been like as an adult?
For 20 years of my career, I lived near Council Crest, and I’d go for walks there. We’d take the dog out for runs because there were beautiful hills for playing fetch—the ball would just keep going and so would the dog! In my career years, I was on the City League for tennis, so we played in all the city parks: in North Portland at Peninsula Park, at Grant Park, up at the Rose Garden tennis courts… It was lots of fun.

In your view, what makes parks important for cities?
It’s a gathering place for the neighborhood, especially the parks that have community centers. The community center at Mount Scott had a roller rink in the basement that we used in the winter, and of course the pool opened in the summer for all the kids. The park near where we live now has the farmer’s market and movie nights in the summer—they have a man-made hill where people put their blankets out, and a big screen so everyone can watch the movie.

How can we make parks more accessible for Portlanders in every neighborhood?
I think it’s important to promote the use of existing parks, and also maintain the existing parks so that people want to use them. Maintenance isn’t as exciting as big new projects, but it’s necessary so that parks and sports facilities don’t fall into disrepair. The Parks Foundation has a unique position where you can really advocate for maintenance within the parks, or even for a bond measure to make improvements.

Do you know of any parks advocates who are doing inspiring work?
Any civic leaders that are in love with Portland are going to be in love with the parks—I mean, who isn’t? Even if you don’t go to a park every day, you can still recognize the value that it has. Anybody who’s donated to parks is supporting parks.

You’ve mentioned a number of parks. If you had to choose a favorite, which would it be?
I’d say Mount Scott. I grew up there—20 years of my life was spent in that park, whether that was hanging out with friends, swimming in the summer, or bicycling there. As an older person, my favorite has been Gabriel Park, because I play tennis there. I’ve spent so many evenings playing tennis there, with friends or in the League.

Parks Building Community

Som Nath Subedi, Parks for New Portlanders manager, accepting a 2015 Spirit of Portland award with Commissioner Amanda Fritz.  To find out more about how you can get involved, contact Som Nath Subedi at or visit the  program’s website .

Som Nath Subedi, Parks for New Portlanders manager, accepting a 2015 Spirit of Portland award with Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

To find out more about how you can get involved, contact Som Nath Subedi at or visit the program’s website.

According to a recent report by the City Budget Office, roughly 15% of Portlanders were born in countries other than the United States– that puts the Rose City right in line with about 50 other large U.S. cities. Unfortunately, for many of our newest Portland citizens, parks and community centers are literally a foreign concept.  That is where one of Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R)’s newest programs, Parks for New Portlanders, steps up to welcome immigrant and refugee families into our public park spaces and programs.

The Parks for New Portlanders program started about a year ago to help immigrant and refugee families engage with and to utilize their city’s parks and recreational programs via PP&R.  Since its inception, it has conducted soccer and basketball tournaments which cater to immigrants and refugees, along with culturally-specific community gatherings in Portland’s parks.  The program also hired seven Community Youth Ambassadors to help organize culturally-specific recreational activities for their communities.  In the Parks for New Portlanders Program’s first year, it attracted youth and families from around 40 countries and their disparate cultures, gaining important momentum for this year’s goals. The program made a welcome video in 10 different languages watched by 50,000 people last summer.

Why is culturally-specific programming in parks and recreation so important? Parks are one of a handful of places that belong to all citizens, and are one of the hallmarks of America’s democracy.

“Our community lives, eats and invests together. They are our valued partners, rather than just some needy population,” says Som Nath Subedi, PP&R Program Coordinator for Parks for New Portlanders.  “Parks for New Portlanders is a way for our city’s immigrant communities to connect to their new home. It shows them that even though they are newcomers, that the city and all it offers belongs to them.  City activities belong to them.  City resources belong to them.   We believe in recreation and access for ALL Portlanders. And PP&R is leading that effort.”

Regardless of economic status and backgrounds, people come to parks to be social and to meet neighbors, celebrate with family, to exercise and take needed respite from worries; to connect with nature.  However, if parks and recreational activities are an entirely new concept, it can be difficult to access or enjoy these public gathering spaces.

“Many refugee families come from very difficult and dangerous circumstances to start their new lives in Portland.  Parks can help with the healing process and show them that they are welcomed in their new home,” adds Subedi. “This program bridges the recreational gaps and provides opportunities for access to Portland Parks & Recreation services and activities.”

Subedi knows this experience first-hand. He immigrated to the U.S. in 2008 after living 20 years in a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal after being forced out of his native country of Bhutan. As he said in a recent Oregonian article, when he first came, “Daily life was very unpredictable. From using a bus to grocery shopping, and being unemployed and trying to find a job, made each day overwhelming for us. We would easily become lost on big crowded streets filled with cars and big buildings. Anxious and tired, we realized that we had no idea how complex living in America would be." Som hopes his work with PP&R will help new families integrate and flourish in Portland.

This coming year the Parks for New Portlanders program hopes to expand its programs to reach even more families.  The Portland Parks Foundation looks forward to following this program’s successes and supporting our local parks that are the center of our communities.  To find out more about how you can get involved, contact Som Nath Subedi at or visit the program’s website.