​Community Leadership

Chris Tanner is Chair of the Sullivan’s Gulch Neighborhood Association and long-time resident of the neighborhood. She has a background in nursing and administration. DJ Heffernan, also a Gulcher with a background in land use planning, chairs the Land Use and Transportation Committee. We talked with them about living in Sullivan’s Gulch, and the challenges and opportunities that face their community.

Chris and friends at the Women’s March on Washington Jan 21, 2017.

Chris and friends at the Women’s March on Washington Jan 21, 2017.

Chris Tanner

We moved to Sullivan's Gulch in 1989. We fell in love with the 1903 house, not really knowing much about the neighborhood.  Because we were planning to have kids, we wanted good schools and we wanted to be close to downtown with good public transportation. What we discovered after we got here was a neighborhood with progressive people who really look out for each other.  

Our three story home characterizes the transition from Victorian to Portland Square. We have done many cosmetic changes over the years.  Our first big remodel was to convert the 3rd floor attic space, which had 16' ceilings, to a livable space, adding a bathroom, a large walk-in closet, new windows and lots of insulation.

Chris T working.jpg

A good friend of ours taught us lots during the process—wiring, plumbing, sheetrock, paneling, framing, insulation, laying floors—all of which has come in very handy in this 100+ year old house. Our other two big projects were replacing the front porch, making it large enough to sit on, and a complete remodel of the back of the house—kitchen, bath, laundry room and adding a large deck and covered porch.

We've also made many landscape changes, getting rid of the grass that was very difficult to grow in the front yard shaded by huge maples, and the back yard. We planted native species in the front so it's very low maintenance. In the back we have what feels like a small farm.

Over the years we’ve seen lots of great restaurants spring up along Broadway and we now have access to a variety of grocery stores. Our kids have grown and left, but there's a new generation of youngsters in the neighborhood now, which is wonderful. Right now, our attention is focused on the huge amount of development around the perimeter of the neighborhood.  

The first time I served on the Board was in the early 90's after our first child was born.  I wanted to get to know more neighbors, and work to make it a safe place for kids.  I joined the board for the second time in fall of 2015. I wanted our neighborhood to have an emergency plan, so I joined the board to get that started.  We now have an active Neighborhood Emergency Team, with 6 trained NET members and other volunteers working on developing our plan.

Portland neighborhoods can receive Emergency Training through the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. Above, NET members use cribbing to lift a one-ton concrete slab.

As board chair I’ve been surprised at the level of commitment of our Board members. Many devote hours each week to studying land use issues, to improving our neighborhood communication, to taking on projects to enhance safety and livability. The challenge is working through disagreements about issues in which people are really invested, really care. I think this is common issue with which most neighborhoods struggle.

Before I retired I held an administrative position working with over 200 employees across the state. Having people accountable to you because you're the "boss" is very different from working with volunteers whose major accountability is to their neighbors. I don't get to just tell them what to do—but that never really worked in my job either.

One of the things I found incredibly important when working as a manager is doubly important in working with volunteers—that's the belief that everyone comes to their work with talents which they would like to share. Our job as leaders is to discover what those gifts are and help put them to use.

For anyone who gets involved in the work of community building and leadership, I have found the qualities I rely on the most are open-mindedness, leadership skills, the ability to run a meeting, and thick skin.

Proposed development, such as this project at NE 15th and Multnomah in Lloyd Center will impact the Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood as well

Proposed development, such as this project at NE 15th and Multnomah in Lloyd Center will impact the Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood as well

Like other close-in neighborhoods, we are dealing with very rapid increases in population density—with related issues—too many cars, not enough parking, lots of new people in the "hood" (how do we welcome and engage them?).  

This is also an opportunity.  We have a very progressive board and land-use committee who want to develop innovative solutions to these issues, while attending to our commitments to the environment and social justice. To me, this is the most exciting work!


DJ Heffernan

DJ moved to Oregon in 1976 after living in Africa for 15 months. He settled in Salem and worked in planning posts for the City of Salem and several state agencies. After earning an MBA in 1989 he began a consulting career. Since moving to Portland in 1994 he has continued consulting on land use and infrastructure planning. His firm is DHC Planning.

When we asked DJ why he moved to Sullivan’s Gulch, the answer was nearly poetic: “I met a beautiful woman with whom I share a lovely house.”

From there, he followed up with things we hear from other Gulchers.  “I love the diversity in Sullivan’s Gulch and all the amenities that come with living in an urban setting close to the central city.”

We’ll let DJ take it from here...


I became involved with the Land Use and Transportation committee after a friend recommended I talk with Chris Tanner. We met and I liked the idea of using my skills to help the neighborhood confront the many challenges we face living in one of the fastest-growing urban areas of the country.

The biggest challenge in community leadership is helping the community you represent manage change in a way that is not threatening. Change is hard!

DJ is an avid cyclist (3rd from left)—and he also referees rugby matches.

DJ is an avid cyclist (3rd from left)—and he also referees rugby matches.

The missing amenity most of us would like to see in this midst of all the new development is a park! A real park in the heart of our neighborhood would be a terrific addition. I think we're the only neighborhood in the city without one.

Sullivan's Gulch is relatively dense compared to other city neighborhoods—certainly in the top quartile—and that trend is likely to continue. Our challenge on the Land Use and Transportation committee is to focus on the quality of new development while working to preserve the beautiful homes we have and to work on place-making so that we remain a great neighborhood to live in.

The Multnomah Street protected bike lane was designed as a temporary project which may become permanent. The rendering on the right is one proposed change to NE Broadway.

I love the local business scene along Broadway from 15th to 24th. What can we do to help the businesses in our trade zone thrive? More walk-in customers from new development will help but it is important that those new customers instinctively feel they belong to this place and have a role to play in shaping its identity.

Read more about the proposed  Sullivan’s Gulch Trail Concept Plan .

Read more about the proposed Sullivan’s Gulch Trail Concept Plan.

The mindset that says  “I'm in—now lock everyone else out,” is not realistic and not healthy. We need a mindset that says: “Sullivan's Gulch is a great place to live. Welcome. Do your part of keep it that way. Here's how you can contribute.”

Click for details on the approved  20s Bikeway Project , a north-south bike route through the 20’s blocks, including Sullivan’s Gulch.

Click for details on the approved 20s Bikeway Project, a north-south bike route through the 20’s blocks, including Sullivan’s Gulch.

I think the list of things following that statement is what the neighborhood should focus on, even if some of the change we see taking shape makes us uncomfortable. Done right, we will see our livability enhanced even as our overall density increases, relative to what we have today. We're not going to stop change—so how do we as a neighborhood direct that change to improve our quality of life?

D. Larson, Editor