Public Engagement and Civic Culture

State and city planning goals addressed by the actions recommended in this section:

  • Neighborhood Livability
  • Civic Engagement, Public Participation and Collaborative Implementation

Contents:

Civic culture is a vital part of creating a green and resilient neighborhood and can help facilitate just about every positive action we can think of because people are thinking about what is good for the community. State and local planning goals put a high value on public involvement. Public involvement and civic culture are closely allied.

Civic culture, as used in the Green Paper, is where involvement in public affairs is a normal, ongoing part of life. The River Road and Santa Clara Neighborhood process can be a huge boost to civic culture.

River Road has a rich culture of conscientious people who care deeply about the environment and their neighborhood. However, most of this is hidden on secondary streets, in peoples’ homes and backyards.

If there are more businesses and amenities that create public space, the neighborhood culture could surface in public and attract more participants. The River Road Corridor could become a catalyst for civic culture to manifest in a shared community space.

Furthermore, if wayfinding to and from the Ruth Bascom Riverfront Trail System is enhanced to the point where it can be seen as part of the River Road corridor it would contribute to a more pedestrian friendly River Road.

Here are a few thoughts on civic culture.

  1. There is widespread appreciation among people that the public realm is important for the well-being of people and the natural environment.
  2. There is widespread participation in community affairs, not only with governmental concerns but with all manner of organizations – formal, non-profit, business and ad hoc – that exist to improve the well-being of people and the natural environment. These entities can be called “allies” of civic culture.
  3. Civic culture can grow by using “assets,” which can be thought of as physical things such as built infrastructure (even if it needs to be repaired), programs such as a neighborhood association or church youth group, or natural things such as good soil and water.
  4. A healthy community mindfully cultivates civic culture. The River Road and Santa Clara Neighborhood Plan can cultivate a great deal of civic culture through the process of its creation and implementation.
  5. Civic culture is accountable. The same values that build civic culture also build an economy that serves civic culture.
  6. Finally, civic culture generates a powerful feedback loop. Below are a number of topics that are included under the Civic Culture heading. Actually, the entire Green Paper is about building a green civic culture.

 

Citizen Committees

Many of the ideas and actions described in the Green Paper require a good deal more work and research to go from great idea to plan to implementation. These citizen committees are great examples of building civic culture.

The River Road and Santa Clara Neighborhood Plan process already calls for the Citizen Advisory Committee and other support committees. As part of their responsibilities, they can assess the green and resilient proposals and ideas from the public and manage the research needed to explore how public input might be moved forward as part of a refinement plan.

Such research could include assessing green and resilient projects already in action in Eugene and elsewhere and locate the code that applies that might be modified to facilitate desired public and private initiatives and investment.

These committees could also research which ideas deserve incentives and how those incentives might be designed.

Further below under the heading “Community Resources,” and “Allies and Assets” one can see mention of many projects, places and actions in Eugene that already show what many of the green and resilient ideas look like on the ground. Good models exist and it would be best to use them to create more success stories.

Committees could also call on senior citizens with interest to help with research. Neighborhood associations could also help with research.

Neighborhood Associations

Neighborhood associations (NA) are perfectly placed to be a critical participant for creating green and resilient neighborhoods and civic culture. NAs can reach residents of their neighborhood with important information. They can organize educational events, programs and potentially influence the City. They can help facilitate matching grant projects that advance community goals.

Neighborhood associations can be viewed as the base of the civic culture pyramid.

The River Road Community Organization plays a big part in Sunday Streets and cooperates with the City in the Greenway.

Note: Numerous members of the River Road Community Organization were core participants for organizing the 2015 Northwest Permaculture Convergence at the River Road Recreation Center. The event included over 35 presentations, an Expo, six site tours and more. Over 700 people attended to learn about creating green and resilient homes, neighborhoods and communities!

University of Oregon and High Schools

The University of Oregon has many programs that have interest in mindful community development such as Design Bridge and The Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living. Green and resilient projects in River Road, Santa Clara and elsewhere in Eugene could be great project collaborations between the neighborhoods and individual students or student groups.

Cameron Ewing, co – author of the Green Paper and UO architecture student, is already engaged with a group of Baby Boomers wanting to create a small “baby boomer co-housing” project in River Road. This kind of relationship can be extremely valuable. Even high school students could be mentored in green and resilient projects.

Community Resources

Here is a very brief list of useful community projects, places and groups that all have valuable experience and models that can help point the way towards a more green and resilient community. Research committees could add to this list.

  • East Blair Housing Co-op
    East Blair is a great example of what block planning can do. Residential density makes for open space elsewhere. Depaving of a parking lot. Shared amenities. Community house made available to the neighborhood. Edible landscaping.
  • The Filbert Grove in River Road
    The filbert grove is on public property in the. The 65 trees were overgrown with black berries and ivy. This is a great example of City – Citizen collaboration for restoring the grove. The grove is becoming an important food source and it build a sense of shared responsibility.
  • Common Ground Garden
    Neighbors in Friendly Neighborhood worked with the City to turn an unused street right of way into a highly popular neighborhood garden. The garden brings many people together with work parties, work shops and neighborhood events.
  • Grass Roots Garden
    Grass roots garden is a great model and community resource. The three acre garden is on property owned by the Episcopal Church. Food goes to the food pantry, there are workshops, work parties, plant sales.
  • Communities of Faith
    Communities of faith have an enormous potential to help bring about a more green and resilient neighborhood and community. They have a built in social cohesion and they also have a built in set of social ideals that fit perfectly with living more green and resilient. Many places of worship have underused parking lots that might be depraved and turned into gardens.

Neighborhood matching grants can be used for purposes that support a green and resilient neighborhoods and communities. Common Ground Garden in Friendly Neighborhood used such a grant for building a tool shed and stocking it with garden tools. They also used a grant to install an information kiosk that helps put out news about greening the neighborhood.

Notable Green and Resilient Sites in Eugene

These sites are early pioneers of green and resilient design. They can be helpful in pointing the way forward.

In the River Road Neighborhood:

  • Jan Spencer – suburban property with many green and resilient (GR) features
  • Dharmalaya – ¾ acre property with many GR features and Vistara, a partner property to Dharmalaya, that hosts a huge garden and frequent educational programs
  • Front yard gardens – scattered all over town, contribute to safety and community building

Elsewhere in Eugene:

  • Matt Lutter and Jessica Jackowski – suburban property with many GR features
  • Duma Community – large cooperative home with many GR features
  • Maitreya Eco Village – acre + property with many GR and block planning features
  • Walnut Street Co-op – two combined properties with many GR social features
  • Tiny home communities – Several in Eugene pioneering low cost, low eco-footprint housing.

 

Allies and Assets – Tools and Partners

Here is a compilation of various ideas and suggestions mentioned above. The list includes well known entities and programs and how they can help bring about a green and resilient community.

  1. Include green and resilient concepts as a core priority of the River Road and Santa Clara Neighborhood Visioning process as it refers to land use, planning, development, traffic and open space
  2. The City and neighborhoods work with existing city programs and jurisdictions such as
    1. EWEB – Incentives for customers to buy solar hot water heaters, heat pumps and insulation
    2. Neighborhood Watch – Instruct Neighborhood Watch to promote front yard gardens
    3. RRCO – Work closely with the city with a greater focus on green and resilient collaborations
    4. River Road Parks District – Provide space for public meetings and trainings regarding green and resilient education
    5. City volunteer programs – Assist with neighborhood green and resilient initiatives on public property
    6. City Parks and Recreation – Work with neighborhood to explore green and resilient design on public property
    7. City planning – Dust off “Block Planning” as a valuable land use redevelopment tool
  3. The City could appoint a neighborhood committee to develop these ideas further
  4. Non city entities with public safety and well being interests that can be great companions for in implementing green and resilient ideas (Note: there are many others):
    1. Food for Lane County
    2. School Garden Project
    3. Lane County Farm and Food Coalition
    4. Red Cross
    5. Eugene Tree Foundation
    6. Sierra Club
    7. OSU Extension Service

The city has MUPTE, the Multi-Unit Property Tax Exemption, which is a tool for encouraging certain kinds of residential development in the downtown area. To qualify for tax breaks, a developer must include a certain amount of affordable housing in their development plan. This is a great concept which boils down to: do something positive for the public good and receive a benefit to the business like a tax break.

This same principle could also be applied to encourage green and resilient features to home improvement and commercial projects. There is nothing new about financial incentives, EWEB has had incentive programs for years to encourage insulating homes; installing solar hot water heaters, heat pumps, energy efficient windows and other resource saving home improvements. Some energy saving investments can lead to state and even federal tax credits.

Sharing Economy

Sharing economies have big implications for civic culture. Sharing resources and tools is a great ideal but difficult in real life. Our culture is very individualistic. A green and resilient culture and economy would likely include sharing as a far more important community value.

There are many benefits to sharing as a new way to conserve resources and money for taking care of important needs.

Not all forms of economic expression require money. Sharing, barter and trade can all help take care of needs without money changing hands. Sharing and cooperation deserves to be an important consideration within the realm of economics.

Tool share libraries such as in Friendly Neighborhood and Portland are a growing phenomena.

Neighborhood associations are perfect to take a leading role in creating a more green, resilient and cohesive community. There are more assets and allies in any neighborhood than one might think.

A popular and practical set of community goals can bring people together. The neighborhood plan and process can become an unprecedented catalyst for making River Road and Santa Clara better places to live in all kinds of ways.

Note: RRCO is the River Road Community Organization, a city affiliated community group that meets once a month, has an elected board, invites public participation and works to make River Road a better place to live.

 

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