Greening the Neighborhood: Common Ground Garden, Eugene, Oregon

Reader Contribution by Jan Spencer

Just a little back ground. I have been transforming my quarter acre suburban property for 15 years. Grass to garden, passive solar retrofits, edible landscaping, 6500 gallon rain water system, took out my driveway. All that has been great. (see photos at Looking back, I wish I had invited more people to come over for work parties, simply to make the projects a more community building and educational experience

We have a network of green minded people in my neighborhood and have had many work parties. Work parties are a great way to make friends, learn new skills, build community and if its a really good work party, there should be pizza and beer.

For the next set of blogs, I want to profile several impressive examples of greening the neighborhood. These projects are often on public property and often in collaboration with city governments. The ideal for these blogs is for readers to look around where they live and say, hmmm,,,, we could do something like that here. The more homes and neighborhoods going green in these changing times the better! If you have a greening the neighborhood story where you live,,, please comment so others can know about it and please contact me. I might like to follow up and make your neighborhood project the subject of a future blog.

I also plan to approach MEN staff with the idea of having a new regular feature spotlighting grassroots projects that green the neighborhood and community. Please comment on this blog and mention there should be a new blog category for building green community and social transformation.

My previous blog described a 65 tree filbert grove near my house. The grove is on public property along the nearby river and citizen volunteers have been working for six years with the city of Eugene to restore the grove. Its a very good story. See my archives to read more.

This blog will take a look at another location in Eugene. Its a place called Common Ground Garden in Friendly Neighborhood. That’s right, Friendly is the name of the neighborhood. 

Common Ground Garden came into being thanks to some neighbors who recognized an opportunity to benefit the neighborhood and took initiative. This part of Friendly Neighborhood is 60’s era suburban three bedroom homes, grid type streets, lots are smaller than a quarter acre.  

The place of interest was a city street right of way that never had the street built. Friendly neighbors had imagined a garden there for years. Six years ago, a neighborhood green site tour stopped across the street from the right of way to visit a very impressive suburban homestead. While out in the tidy front yard garden, someone looked at the right of way across the street and asked if that could be a garden.

That comment set a series of actions in motion.

Very important, the neighborhood already had “social infrastructure” in place – an active network of 300 people interested in gardening and permaculture.  That list serve played a key role in putting the garden idea out to a wider audience and attracting people to be involved.

The message was sent out,,, who would like to help turn the right of way into a garden? The affirmative response left little to decide other than taking the next step.

With strong support for the garden idea, the next step saw a delegation meet with the city to propose the idea. Given Eugene’s eco friendly character, it was no surprise the city was encouraging even though turning an unused right of way into a garden was a new idea. Unlike Eugene’s five large community gardens, the Friendly garden would be managed by the neighbors themselves.

After satisfying several city stipulations, work began turning the soggy eighth of an acre into a neighborhood garden. The first work party attracted dozens of volunteers including a contingent from Northwest Youth Corp, a local non profit with strong ties to Americorps.

An early work party transforming the street right of way into Common Ground Garden.  Friendly Neighborhood.

The garden group also had help from the neighborhood association applying for a city matching grant to build and stock a tool shed. A few years later, an information kiosk was set up along with a bench made out of discarded snow boards found in a dumpster.

The garden has no private plots. Its more like an edible park. Everyone helps. There are wheelchair accessible raised beds, scheduled work parties and workshops to learn about gardening. A local organic home and garden store donates veggie starts and damaged bags of fertilizer to the garden.

Common Ground Garden has had another impact, attracting eco minded people to move into the neighborhood. The Garden is the site for various neighborhood celebrations and anniversaries and has helped catalyze other neighborly projects such as a fruit tree gleaning group. The city now has a protocol to facilitate similar initiatives elsewhere in Eugene.

Common Ground Garden has benefited the entire area. There is more street life. New friends have been made. More people are looking out for each other. Lots of new resilience and social skills are being learned. The garden uplifts the spirit. The garden is a nursery for Civic Culture – people being engaged in making where they live a more green and resilient place.

Quick review – Elements that came together for a highly successful neighborhood garden were key – green site tours on bikes, people recognizing the garden potential, neighborhood social infrastructure, supportive neighborhood association, receptive city, follow through. Most important – people taking the time to make it all happen and commitment to keep the garden going.

Check Jan’s website to contact him and for links to suburban permaculture posters for sale and the first a series of videos on You Tube – “Creating Green and Resilient Homes, Neighborhoods, Economy and Culture.” Also, many before and now images and explanations of his 16 year suburban transformation project.

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