[Posted Saturday, January 14, 2023]
The Portland Parks & Recreation Department announced on December 21 that the public swimming pool in Hillsdale has been officially renamed Ida B. Wells-Barnett Outdoor Pool. The facility now once again shares the name of the high school on whose campus it is located.
In January 2021 following a public renaming process, Portland Public Schools changed the name of the high school located in Hillsdale from Woodrow Wilson to Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School. The change from Wilson to Wells affected only the high school and not the pool, which is owned by the City’s parks department.
The parks department began its renaming process guided by PP&R policies in April 2022. The committee charged with renaming the pool is also tasked with renaming A Park, formerly named Custer Park.
In an earlier grassroots effort to rename the pool, a Hillsdale-based committee conducted a process of outreach and voting, with the name Hillsdale Pool emerging as the top choice. Mark Ross, public information officer for PP&R, said in an email that the City’s official naming policy calls for a specific process requiring a committee of stakeholders, appointed by the parks director, and citywide outreach. “Because the pool is a citywide asset with unique features for a public outdoor pool, PP&R’s engagement strategy was focused citywide, as opposed to just Southwest Portland.” He added that Hillsdale Pool was considered along with all other suggestions submitted by the community.
Following the citywide outreach process, the committee selected the new name, which was subsequently approved by parks director Adena Long and Commissioner Carmen Rubio. Mayor Ted Wheeler has since shuffled bureau assignments, putting Commissioner Dan Ryan in charge of PP&R (among many other changes).
So why didn’t the name Hillsdale Pool make the cut? The press release announcing the decision provides a few justifications for the choice of new name. Said Commissioner Rubio, “'This is the first Portland Parks & Recreation facility or park on the west side to honor a woman of color, a historic and significant step. This has been a gratifying start to a process of renaming some sites and facilities to better reflect our community’s values and inclusiveness.'”
The press release continues, “It was very important to committee members that Ida B. Wells-Barnett be honored similarly to other PP&R facilities where the pool, park, and adjacent school all share the same name (such as Grant Pool, Park, and High School and the former Wilson High School and Pool). As a woman of color, the committee reasoned, Ms. Wells-Barnett should be given the same honor as white male leaders.”
The choice of Wells over Hillsdale as the new name, laudable in its goal to honor a woman of color, overlooks longstanding efforts by neighborhood promoters to create a sense of place and define Hillsdale's identity, which is still often confused with the city of Hillsboro. It also misses the opportunity to fix the vexing situation that arises every summer as confused patrons call the high school with questions about the pool.
Adopting the name Hillsdale for the pool could have accomplished at least three useful tasks in one swoop: differentiate the pool from the high school and eliminate confusion over what agency operates the pool, help the public locate the pool, and support the local community's goals to create a sense of place for Hillsdale in the City.
Two hundred and seventy-three names were suggested in the City’s process. As with the independent committee’s process, the name Hillsdale Pool was suggested more than any other (72 times in the City’s official process, 241 times in the earlier unofficial process). Ida B. Wells-Barnett, or variations thereof, was suggested 35 times in the City’s process, and 61 times in the independent process.
Other names suggested include Thrillsdale (11 times), Ida B. Wet, Crow’s Lunch, Wilamut, Barack Obama, Vera Katz, and Cady Stanton.
82 people suggested that the pool be named for Doug Brenner, an alumnus of Wilson High School who died in 2016 and was a member of his high school swim team as well as aquatics director in the course of a 30-year career at PP&R.
The parks department’s naming committee will continue to meet to propose a new name for A Park. Former city commissioner Amanda Fritz unnamed Custer Park on SW Capitol Hill Rd before completing her final term on the council. Since that time, the park has been known as A Park, pending the official process to choose a new name.
The most-suggested name for A Park in the outreach process was Raz Park, after the Raz family who previously owned the land where the park is located as well as considerable additional acreage in the area. The name Capitol Hill was the runner-up in terms of number of times suggested.
Many indigenous names were suggested in the outreach process for both facilities. Noted Ross, the parks department spokesperson, “The naming committee has expressed support for selecting a name that honors the Indigenous community.” The committee is expected to finalize a list of possible names this month that will then be used to engage with Indigenous community members and tribes to identify a finalist.
New signage completing the name change to Ida B. Wells-Barnett will go up before the start of the 2023 summer swim season.
Opportunity missed or significant improvement? Let us know what you think.