Greening A Neighborhood Planning Process

Reader Contribution by Jan Spencer
article image

People at a monthly neighborhood meeting share ideas for creating a more resilient neighborhood 

Creating A Green and Resilient Neighborhood Plan

Here in Eugene, Oregon, our neighborhood association, the River Road Community Organization [RRCO], has an unprecedented opportunity for greening the neighborhood.

First. What is a neighborhood association [NA]? Many cities have neighborhood programs. That means, the city has staff and budget to help support NAs in the city or town’s identified neighborhoods to address the issues of the neighborhood. That could be traffic, land use, the environment, crime. Those who participate help set the agenda.

Typically, a neighborhood association has a public meeting once a month. There is a board and various positions and committees depending on how active or large the group is. An NA has a charter, can be a non profit, have a website, newsletter, facebook page or other tools to reach out.

In some cities that don’t have a neighborhood program, people have taken initiative to create various types of neighborhood groups independent of the city. A neighborhood association is not the same as a home owners association although they might have similar interests. A crime watch neighborhood group can also address issues similar to a neighborhood association. Certainly, any group of neighbors can form any kind of association they like to address issues important to them.

A neighborhood associations is an invaluable tool and asset for empowering people for making where they live a better place. Check with your city to find out if it has a neighborhood program and if so, find out what neighborhood you live in and when/where the NA meets. Attend a meeting. Invariably, there is a warm welcome for people who come to meetings and participate.

Neighborhood involvement is the base of the civic pyramid. Its a great way to meet neighbors, improve communication skills and learn how the city works. You don’t have to move to live in a better neighborhood.

Six months ago, our NA and another next to us, Santa Clara, were invited to partner with the city to help craft a neighborhood plan. This neighborhood plan [NP] is intended to be a document that will help guide decision making for a 20 year period in the neighborhood regarding land use, transportation, open spaces, economic development, the environment, quality of life, resilience and many related topics and issues.

The content of this neighborhood plan must be consistent with existing state and city planning goals. Cities and states have planning goals which are aspirations relating to land use, economics, the environment, public participation [and more] the city or state would like to move towards over time.

Eugene has a new planning document for the entire city. The process with River Road and Santa Clara is the first neighborhood plan in Eugene, to be created based on the new city planning document.

When I read the State of Oregon and City of Eugene planning goals and documents, I was amazed to see so much positive content calling for walkable neighborhoods, addressing climate change, reducing the need for automobiles, restoring the environment,

Cover page for Eugene’s City Comprehensive Plan

Both the city of Eugene and state of Oregon have goals to encourage walkable neighborhoods, restore the natural environment, reduce dependence on cars, mitigate climate change, build community cohesion and much more.

This planning process provides the neighborhood with a remarkable opportunity to create a plan for how our neighborhood evolves into the future in terms of land use, transportation, economic development, open space and resilience.

Given the familiar trends in economics, social and environmental conditions – local to global – this is a big deal! The neighborhood plan can go strong on green and resilient actions both at home and commercial scale, turning nice but general goals into real world action.

Already, in River Road, there is an increasing number of people taking initiative to live more green and resilient. These initiatives, mostly at the residential level, provide an idea of what a green and resilient future can look like.

Many green and resilient features, such as those shown in the photo could be encouraged by the neighborhood plan.

People are trading grass for food production, planting edible landscapes, turning south facing patios into passive solar spaces, taking out pavement, installing rain water catchment and on site storm water management, putting in front yard gardens, collaborating with neighbors, building accessory structures and much more. These actions serve several important functions.

1] They make homes and surrounding neighborhood more green and resilient.

2] They support city and state planning goals.

3] They are actions in the real world we can point to that clearly show that we want the neighborhood plan to encourage.

Based on real life experience and local actions mentioned above, advocates of strong green and resilient actions have made efforts to educate and mobilize friends and neighbors to participate in the planning process.

We have written a 35-page “Green Paper” that explain in considerable detail whats at stake historically and how and to participate in the planning process. We have set up green and resilient public information displays at community meetings, written a guest opinion in the local paper, organized site tours – all to to show and tell what these green and resilient actions can look like and how they can inform the planning process and the eventual neighborhood plan.

For more detail, here is a link to the Green Paper and guest opinion.

The neighborhood plan can also encourage green and resilient commercial development.

Changes can be made to land use regulations at commercial scale that support city and state planning goals such as those mentioned above. Regulations, fees, building inspections, systems development charges, taxes are a large part of a commercial project. Reducing costs for the kinds of outcomes we want will encourage green and resilient development in regard to parking, landscaping, site location, building materials, project design, transportation and more.

The map shows Eugene’s neighborhoods. River Road and Santa Clara are in the northwest part of Eugene.

One of the most exciting aspects of this planning opportunity is that the River Road and Santa Clara neighborhood plan can become a model for other neighborhood plans. Other cities and neighborhoods making plans can benefit by River Road and Santa Clara’s efforts to have strong green and resilient content in this neighborhood plan.

This is the first of several blogs describing this neighborhood planning process, a period that will take up to two years. We are about 6 months into it.

The next blog will update this process and describe green and resilient features, residential and commercial, that could be included in the Neighborhood Plan. We would love to hear from others with similar interests and experience.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.