Saturday, February 13, 2010

Strengthening and Greening My Community

I live in a really wonderful neighborhood. It's an interesting place, built in the 1960s, in part by my own grandparents. The idea was to create a community by essentially building a neighborhood set in the middle of a park. The houses were, at the time, luxury townhomes, 1500 or so square feet at the smallest and 2500 square feet or so at the largest. The neighborhood shares use of two pools, two tennis courts, a basketball court, a volleyball court, a playground, two duck ponds, several formal gardens and quite a lot of walking paths. It's a lovely place to live. It's in a tiny first-ring suburb (I can walk to Minneapolis from here) and convenient to everything and it's in a fabulous (and very tiny) school district.

A few weeks ago, on a particularly difficult day, my husband turned me out of the house and sent me to the coffee shop at the park, where I ran into an old friend and neighbor. We sat by the fire for about an hour with our organic herbal tea chatting about the neighborhood. There is so much potential here for both building community and reducing our environmental impact. Even as it is, the houses here use a lot less energy than the typical house in our area. My house, for example, is built into a hill. Two of my six floors are underground, insulated by the earth. Two sides of my house are insulated by my neighbor's heated spaces leaving only two sides of the top four levels exposed to the elements.

The homeowners association has taken steps in the last few years to reduce the number of chemicals it uses, opting for environmentally friendly products for salting the roads and making other similar changes. All organic materials collected by the groundskeepers; leaves, branches, grass clippings and such, are taken to the local compost site to be composted. Clotheslines are encouraged.

We do have some community events (the more we can do right here, the less we tend to drive) like our National Night Out (which routinely wins awards), our neighborhood book club and our monthly coffee hour, but when I talk to the neighbors I can hear them hungering for more. The wonderful things we already do feel like just the tip of the iceberg.

I've composed a list of ideas I plan to take to the board.

Community Builders:

-Create a neighborhood website, blog and facebook page. We could have a craigslist style section for classifieds where people could post things for sale, things they want to give away, services they have to offer. The blog could have announcements, an online version of the neighborhood newsletter (to save paper) and possibly minutes from the neighborhood meetings.

-Neighborhood wide participation in the National Wildlife Federations Great American Backyard Campout. We could pair with the park and have some outdoorsy activities like canoeing, nature programs and marshmallow roasting.

-A neighborhood prayer and meditation group. My friend, who is a spiritual director, came up with this one. We're planning to alternate meeting at people's houses, and in the summer in the gardens.

-A neighborhood exercise group. We could walk or swim in the summer and snow shoe or cross country ski in the winter. We could also possibly put together a yoga or pilates class outdoors in the summer or join the yoga class at the park.

-A group to bring meals to sick, injured or post-partum neighbors. It's always good when a community can pull together to help each other.

-Lobby the city to bring back the puppet wagon! The puppet wagon, which I know for a fact they still have in a neighboring community. The puppet wagon is a big truck with a puppet theater cut out of the side of it. It travels to various parks around the city putting on puppet shows for kids. When I was a kid Peter Krause (from Six Feet Under) was an actor for the puppet wagon. While it's doubtfull there's anyone of that caliber still working on the puppet wagon, it's still a classic good time.

-A chess club or card club

-A Mommy and Me coffee hour. There are lots of moms of small kids here. We need to get to know each other better. I'm envisioning us meeting at each others houses, outside or at the coffee shop at the park.

-A neighborhood garage sale.

-A Handmade Holidays craft boutique. This area is home to more crafters and artists than you can shake a stick at. It would be nice to have an easy way of supporting them.

-Potluck Christmas party at the park.

Green Initiatives

-There is a big lawn on the East side of the neighborhood I've been itching to turn into a community garden since I was about 6 years old.

-Lobby the city for more frequent recycling pick-up. Every other week is not cutting it, and I suspect people throw things away just so they don't have to find storage for all that recycling.

-Recycling bins at the pools and playground. Make it easy for people.

-Neighborhood composting of household organic materials.

-Negotiate with a CSA to provide drop off at the HOA office. If we got enough people together we could probably make it worth the stop. There is already a group of people who go in together to buy large boxes of sweet corn in the summer to split. Why not take it a step further?

-Apparently we already have a neighborhood book swap. I found this out the other day when I went to the office. I've lived here on and off for decades and I never knew that. I think it should be better publicized.

-Offer classes on weatherization and other simple techniques for greening our homes.

-Work with the architectural control comittee to come up with a list of improvements that can be made to houses for the purpose of making them more environmentally friendly that are deemed acceptable by Architectural Control. Things like skylights for passive solar lighting, solar panels, and passive solar greenhouses.

So that's my plan to launch this neighborhood into the 21st century. We'll see how it flies.