Inspired by reading a 1967 coming-of-age novel, college students present vacant lot ideas to city officials
Presenting a Just Desserts concept for a candy store taking over a vacant lot, Tumwata Middle School eighth-grader Eva Owens didn’t miss a beat when Oregon City Economic Development Director James Graham , asked, “Have you spoken with the health department yet?”
“Not at the moment, but we hope so,” Owens replied.
It’s safe to say that the composure of these teenagers blew attendees to Tumwata’s Jan. 26 event to showcase concepts for the long-vacant lot at 12th and Main Streets. Other concepts city officials heard from middle schoolers included a fountain/time capsule inspired by the “Cyberpunk 2077” video game or a three-dimensional virtual model built through the computer application Minecraft.
Tumwata students Brayden Cervantes, Noah Ozbek and Lee Hillebrand came up with a concept combining elements of a skate park, a covered picnic area, a jungle gym and a community art wall with rules for acceptable types of graffiti.
Oregon City officials were indeed impressed with the students who presented in a science fair format with bulletin boards. City manager Tony Konkol said middle schoolers came up with “a lot of great ideas,” and Oregon City Urban Renewal Commission chairwoman Denyse McGriff promised the city would “seriously” consider adapting the suggestions.
Tumwata students found inspiration for their project in a book that features scenes of violence occurring in a vacant lot. Evan Howells, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Tumwata, taught SE Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” a 1967 coming-of-age novel about how strained teenage relationships can lead to war gangs.
The teacher raved about how an “authentic audience” pushed students to raise the bar for themselves higher than their most optimistic expectations for empty-field presentations.
“Seeing the kids take ownership of their ideas, presenting them with confidence, communicating politely and professionally, has honestly been the highlight of my year so far,” Howells said. “When I asked them to reflect on their experience and asked them why they put in the effort they did, many of them wrote that they wanted to do their best in front of real people. “
Over the past decade, Oregon City officials advertised the 12th/Main “opportunity” site, but would-be developers repeatedly failed. Next to the KFC restaurant, a storm line crosses the vacant property diagonally and heads towards a manhole in the building opposite, Isa’s Auto Repair. There is also a sewer line on the west side of the city-owned vacant lot that could make traffic access from McLoughlin Boulevard difficult for any potential new buildings.
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