Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Cedar Hills Green Co-op

My wife and I live in a suburb of Portland, Oregon called Cedar Hills. The Homeowner's Association of Cedar Hills [CHHOA] has about 2100 homes and is one of the oldest associations in the United States.  Our home is only seven minutes by car from downtown Portland, and a few minutes from the post office, library, groceries, public transport, and pretty much everything else we need in our daily lives. We like being part of this community. 

One of the things that has disturbed us since we relocated to this area on the west side of metro Portland is the dearth of song birds.  We just don't see them. This is a beautiful area with lots of trees and ground cover, abundant water supplies, and by all appearances everything birds would need to thrive.  So, why are they not here?

We do see crows fairly often. They like to roost in the big oak tree across the street. Crows are an opportunistic species that do well in many situations. They also can account for some of the absence of other species of birds, as they are territorial and can be aggressive in pushing out competitors.

The lack of song birds in our neighborhood is hardly just a problem of 'mobbing' by crows. Domestic cats are also part of the problem.  There are 85 million house cats in America. Cats alone are accountable for the loss of up to six billion small birds annually. Cats are predators. If they are outside roaming, they are looking for prey. Hunting is what they are hard-wired to do. The only answer to this problem is to keep them inside, or perhaps put a bell on a collar that might provide some warning to a small bird before kitty can pounce.

The biggest reason for the lack of birds may be the choices we make in landscaping our residential properties.  A well groomed lawn might offer a modicum of 'curb appeal', but it's not a place that is friendly to nature or birds.  Removing trees and natural groundcover in favor of nicely manicured grass is a problem, more than anything else, because keeping lawn  and gardens 'beautiful' 'requires regular applications of chemical fertilizers, weed killers, and other kinds of biocides.  At least, that's what most people assume.

It's no wonder our suburbs have gotten so far out of balance with nature. The green, weed-free lawn monoculture is hammered into us as the esthetic ideal.  Suburbs are supposed to look like a TV lawn care commercial. That vision of being a good neighbor is constantly sold to us. That's what the multi-billion dollar lawn care industry wants us to embrace. That's what maximizes profits for them.

Allowing one's property to become a bit unkempt and wild is frowned on,  even thought of as diminishing property values.

I, like most people, do not advocate turning residential suburbs into an eyesore of weeds, invasives, and non-indigenous vegetation.  We're talking about making our personal home space more friendly to the plants and animals that would be present if we were not here, not eliminating landscape maintenance altogether.

Probably with much less of a time commitment, and also at less cost than it takes to do the lawn care we are accustomed to,  we could landscape our personal outdoor space in ways that are both esthetically pleasing and friendly to the natural world.   Every well-considered argument I can visualize leads directly to a cooperative, 'green' approach to community.

I've been thinking about how to make our personal existence more in harmony with nature for some time. We have taken some steps already with our landscaping.  We have no lawn, and we allow our plantscape to look a bit busy... not unkempt, but probably too close to unkempt for some.  We also try to avoid or very much limit any use of  pesticides and herbicides. That's not to say we are a good example. We have not been attentive to what we plant. We need to do much better.  Native species and flora that are attractive and nurturing to small birds and insect pollinators  should get planting priority. Anyway,  I'm not suggesting us as an inspiring example. My wife and I need to change our yard space so that the plantings are good for the birds and bees.

About a year ago, I started asking questions and expressing myself publicly about what I now refer to as a green co-op.  At the beginning, it was just an expression of concern for birds and pollinators in the Cedar Hills area.  Then, as I asked questions and talked to local people with lots of knowledge and life-affirming experience,  a compelling picture emerged.  I was seeing my home area, Cedar Hills, as an inspiring example of what a human cooperative for nature looks like. I was seeing Cedar Hills as a reflection of a place whose primary mantra about nature is; first, do no harm.

Portland, Oregon is well ahead of most urban regions in the way nature and the environment are considered.  The Portland Metro Counsel and it's commissioners oversee a 'nature in neighborhoods' program.  They support nature-friendly community initiatives all across the region.  In fact, Kathryn Harrington, the metro commissioner for the Cedar Hills area, is already backyard certified.   

Another thing I learned is there are already many families in Cedar Hills that are living on personal landscapes purposefully shaped to encourage birds and pollinators.   What an amazing foundation to build on.

So, I wrote down a brief concept paper that makes the case for a Cedar Hills Green Co-op.  I took it to Jodie Phelps,  the office manager at CHHOA. Jodie is a real asset to our community. 

On September 9th,  I asked the citizen Board of Directors of the Cedar Hills HOA for their support in launching a Cedar Hills Green Co-op,  run by volunteer citizens of our community. The board endorsed our effort, and they will consider formal oversight of the Green Co-op after the level of community support can be determined

So, that's where we are.  Around mid-October, an announcement for the green co-op will be included in the semi-annual mailing to HOA members. The announcement urges residents to join the green co-op, and makes a special request that residents who have already embraced a green lifestyle become the core of this community initiative. 

Stay tuned. We should know if the Cedar Hills Green Co-op is going to fly well before the Xmas holidays.

The website for the CHHOA is  www.cedarhillshoa.org/

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