Hawthorne Area Civic Ecology: Community Strategies

As practitioners of urban design, we tend to focus on the built environment as the key to sustainability. But as planners, we also know that communities thrive best when the people who live in them have a stake in their success. Civic Ecology is a process that brings these two critical pieces together through a process that is engaging, inspiring, and educational for everyone involved. Participants work together to develop community sustainability projects that not only achieve integrated systems for energy, water, waste management, and food production, but also empower citizens, local businesses, local governments, and  non-profits to design their sustainable future by building social capital.

Our latest series of Civic Ecology work sessions in the Hawthorne neighborhood of Southeast Portland left us particularly inspired by the ability of people of all ages and backgrounds to rally around common goals for socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable projects that they can get up and running with the help of their neighbors, area schools, and local businesses and organizations. It has been an exciting process, born out of a strong community commitment to making the Hawthorne neighborhood a better place to live, work, and play.

The process was part of the Hawthorne Area Civic Ecology (HACE) project, a collaborative effort of businesses, residents, and organizations along Hawthorne Boulevard and in surrounding neighborhoods, passionate about building community. Together, they’ve dedicated extensive time and resources to help generate ideas for sustainable and socially constructive projects while also advancing Portland’s global reputation for sustainable economic development. The overarching three- to five-year goal is to distinguish the Hawthorne Boulevard business district as the most sustainable Main Street in the country, and surrounding neighborhoods as best in the city for sustainable practices. HACE is a partnership between the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association, area neighborhood associations, and SERA Architects.

Workshop 1: Idea Generation

Flow-mapping during Workshop 1. Image: Bryan Brumley

Flow-mapping during Workshop 1. Image: Bryan Brumley

On May 19, 2012, SERA Architects’ team worked with representatives of various businesses, organizations, and community members to seek shared values and discuss Civic Ecology principles, processes, and outcomes. Attendees took part in a flow-mapping exercise which helped them identify neighborhood resources and devise project ideas of benefit to the community. Emergent project ideas included community composting, district energy systems in the Central Eastside Industrial Area, “after hours” school facility use, solarization programs, business supply cooperatives, carbon reduction and tracking strategies, the Farm Our Yard community supported agriculture approach, and others.

Workshop 2: Project Evaluation

Evaluating project criteria during Workshop 2. Image: Bryan Brumley

Evaluating project criteria during Workshop 2. Image: Bryan Brumley

During this workshop, on June 7, 2012, a collection of attendees from the previous session were joined by new participants to spend several hours evaluating the project ideas to see which had the greatest community support and showed the most promise for implementation. Community composting, street reclamation, Farm Our Yard community supported agriculture, expanding the Garden of Wonder school food growing, business and health cooperatives, carbon reduction, and solarization projects emerged as favorites within the community.

What Comes Next?

Over the coming months, SERA will work with HACE team members and neighbors from the Hawthorne area to further define projects, coordinate participants, and possibly seek funding and local government support. Ultimately, the success of these projects depends on the support and long-term dedication of people living, working, and playing in the neighborhoods. Civic Ecology benefits are measured not just by the direct impacts of the projects, but by how meaningfully they connect people working together towards improving their communities.

Download the Civic Ecology introductory presentation (below) to learn more about the program and potentially get involved.
Civic Ecology: An Intentional Framework for Sustainable Communities (PDF, 13 MB)

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