Suburban Black Poverty in East Portland: The Role of Transportation in Making Ends Meet

Steven Howland, Portland State University


Portland has faced a mass displacement of Black households from the historically segregated area of Albina through various phases of urban renewal, urban deterioration, and gentrification. A substantial number of them have moved to East Portland, a suburban segment of the City of Portland that was unincorporated county land prior to the 1990’s. As Black people have left Albina, the roots of Blackness there have eroded from the area as businesses and churches catering to them have also closed as a result of lost patrons. In this study, Steven Howland interviewed 27 low-income working-age Black people with children with the sample divided between Albina and East Portland. 

Through easier transportation (including a higher rate of car ownership), better and stronger social support networks, and a higher density of nearby destinations, Albina residents could get around faster, easier, and accomplish more in a day. East Portlanders struggled far more. Clustering of destinations around the western edge of East Portland put those destinations out of reach for most of them. Support networks for people in East Portland featured a lot of friends and family that had also been displaced, but their ii networks there were under-resourced. They often had to turn to their network living in Albina for their more critical needs like childcare, but it took a lot more effort to utilize. Overall, the cultural rootedness of Albina appeared to be eroding as more and more Black people left and were being replaced by high-end shops, restaurants, and White people. Safety concerns on transit was leading to huge declines in willingness to use transit. While East Portland has had a lot of investments in road safety, it is the distance between destinations that has really hurt their ability to survive. As East Portland continues to grow with more low-income people of color, more attention needs to go to the urban development of the area to make life a little easier for them.


The results from this study supplement knowledge of a critically underrepresented population group in current transportation data, at least in Portland. By using interviews to capture rich data from low-income Black populations, we can get a better idea of where they are trying to go, why they are going to these places, and how racially impactful demographic changes in the region (gentrification) may factor into their decisions and options. At the same time, this study helps us better understand their transportation decision making, the issues they face in the modes that they use, and why they do not use particular modes or services. While some results have commonality with other demographic groups as we currently understand them, the race specific issues that come up from this study serve to benefit planners and policy makers in making transportation systems and decisions in a more equitable manner.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
August 20,2020
UTC Grant Cycle:
Natl Dissertation Fellowship Fall '16
UTC Funding: