Think Outside the Box for Our Blocks
A Student-Led Placemaking Effort
In the Parkrose High School (PHS) library on a sunny May afternoon, staff, partners, and members of the community gathered to watch 15 student leaders present their proposals for a placemaking project aimed at increasing awareness and reducing gun violence in the neighborhood. Members of each group shared their personal motivation to reduce gun violence in Parkrose, and how their research into placemaking informed the choices they made for their proposed designs. They shared plans for new basketball courts, free library kiosks, memorials for those lost to gun violence, and other ideas inspired by their takeaways from the previous eight weeks of conversation and learning.
Think Outside the Box for Our Blocks (TOBOB) was an eight-week a collaboration between The Pathfinder Network, Elevate Oregon, Historic Parkrose, and the Portland Bureau of Transportation. The idea which would become TOBOB began in 2021, when Portland artist and activist Lillyanne Pham founded Youth for Parkrose, a creative placekeeping program for teens of color in the Parkrose neighborhood. In their time together, Youth for Parkrose identified a need to create more opportunities for youth-led placemaking projects that could be designed to reduce gun violence in the area. In 2022, TPN mentor and facilitator Victor Trillo began operating the PATHfinder Club at Parkrose High School, an after school support club for youth impacted by incarceration, deportation, and detention. As Victor and Lillyanne collaborated on more youth-focused projects and opportunities throughout the year, they eventually decided to collaborate with Elevate Oregon to identify youth interested in working on a placemaking project to be implemented by PBOT.
Back in March 2023, 15 PHS students from The PATHfinder Club and Elevate Oregon gathered for the first time to learn about placemaking and how it could be implemented in our communities. Throughout the next eight weeks, they would welcome guest speakers representing Village Building Convergence, Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), City Repair, Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, local activists and organizers, people with lived experience of gun violence, and more voices from across the community. Student leaders also discussed what safety looks like to them, and what they wanted to see and create in their own neighborhoods. From there, they worked as teams to begin developing plans to transform an intersection in their neighborhood that they identified as being ideal for reducing incidents of gun violence, reclaiming the space in their neighborhood,and promoting community empowerment.
As each group of student leaders presented their projects at the showcase in the library, they were cheered on by community leaders, mentors, placemaking experts, and their peers. “I am proud of all the kids who decide to use their voices to help tackle the ongoing problem of gun violence in our community,” said Anthony, an Elevate Oregon Mentor, “It is inspiring to watch them collaborate and brainstorm ideas and strategies to help address the root of gun violence among their peers.” Students also reflected on the experience and its impact; “A lot of people don’t talk about gun violence, and don’t really think about the way it affects families,” said Amori, a PATHfinder Club Member, “It was nice and important to be in a space where we all had something in common and a cause we could all do something about.”
This project is one of many collaborations between The Pathfinder Network and our community partners, in line with our PATHForward 2026 goal to Illuminate the Path by fostering partnerships in our communities that increase the visibility and impact of our programming. We are so grateful to Parkrose High School, Elevate Oregon, PBOT, Historic Parkrose, Lillyanne Pham of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, Village Building Convergence, and the other incredible partners who made this project possible. As PHS Principal Molly said, “this project was such an incredible opportunity for our students to be a part of the solution, to advocate for their community, and for their voices to be heard.”