Local Self-Reliance: Solving Urban Problems

Here's how four communities have creatively put resources to work and come up with common sense solutions to urban problems.

| November/December 1978

  • Sensible allocation of resources helped four communities start to address urban problems such as litter, housing shortages, and unemployment.

Most cities today face the problems of unemployment, hunger, housing shortages, and litter. Recently, however, we learned of four communities which have put their own resources to work and come up with "common sense" solutions to these very basic urban problems.

Food for the Pickin'

Tons of good produce rots unpicked in the fields and gardens of Oregon's lush mid-Willamette Valley every year, while in the same area many people (elderly folks in particular) don't get enough to eat. These hungry people and those surplus crops existed side by side for a good while until the Salem Community Food Store, a food cooperative in the valley, started bringing the two together.

The store, you see, puts "pickers" or "gleaners" in touch with local field, orchard, and garden owners who are willing to donate their "leftover" produce to anyone who'll gather it. The "farms" involved in the program range from large agricultural businesses—which often have several acres of surplus crops available—to home gardeners who've grown a bit more food than they can use themselves. And most of the pickers voluntarily "adopt" a senior citizen or handicapped person unable to get out into the fields and share the harvest with their adopted friends.

Last year some 60 pickers worked with 40 separate growers to bring in 16 tons of "waste" produce between mid-August and late fall. With increased participation and an earlier start, the cooperative hopes for even better results next season.

Land Trust Urban Housing

Housing shortages and soaring rents have made it nearly impossible for low income people to find decent homes in Washington, D.C. To help solve this problem, a group called the Columbia Heights Community Ownership Project took the good idea of land trusts one step further than it has usually been taken by setting up the first United States trust for urban housing.

The trust—which was formed in 1976—recently finished rehabilitating two buildings in Columbia Heights (a low-income neighborhood in the capital's northwest section). One of these structures will be a single family dwelling, while the other is earmarked to house six elderly people.

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