Damascus Community Ecology Project
IMPETUS: Damascus, Oregon is a rural community located 15 miles east of downtown Portland that was brought into the Portland urban growth boundary in the early 2000’s and incorporated as a city soon thereafter. Many residents were concerned about the impact of this policy decision on their quality of life and, in anticipation of future growth, embarked on a core values and visioning process with SERA Architects, and Cogan Owens Greene. The Damascus City Council and Committee for Neighborhood Involvement were interested in helping the City develop a resiliency strategy along with the future land use and transportation planning work being undertaken and engaged SERA and its Civic Ecology framework to help with the strategy. Using the community’s shared core values and vision, SERA led City stakeholders through a series of workshops to formulate the strategy.
PROCESS: In February of 2011, the City of Damascus hosted a Civic Ecology Workshop at Damascus City Hall. The workshop was facilitated by staff from SERA Architects and CH2M HILL as part of on-going sustainability planning efforts for the City. The majority of workshop attendees were from Damascus and the surrounding communities; attendees represented a range of community groups, professional disciplines, and personal talents. The workshop stimulated lively discussions on a broad range of sustainability topics, with a strong emphasis placed on potential initiatives that could be community-conceived and led. Participants envisioned a diverse range of system flows within their community.
The goals of the first workshop were to introduce community members to the Civic Ecology model and have them brainstorm initiatives and projects that could both serve local needs and be championed by empowered groups and individuals (with the option of partnering with the City if appropriate). As such, this workshop also was intended as a networking venue for a diverse constituency. The motivation derived from this first workshop inspired City staff to host a follow-up workshop to provide interested participants the opportunity to focus on the advancement of specific projects and the organizational steps necessary to get them started.
In April, participants reconvened to work on projects conceived at the first workshop, and to introduce and explore new project ideas. Working in groups, participants determined the finer points of each project, such as potential partners, feasibility, and benefits to the community. Each project was categorized by how it would impact surrounding community systems like water, food, waste, social capital, and the local economy.
OUTCOMES: Brainstorms included connecting systems that could localize and secure wealth, energy, and food production; capture and reuse available resources; and form beneficial community networks. The projects that resulted from this exercise included a community recycling center, community-scaled compost, an agricultural co-operative, a new community center/city hall, and an organization to facilitate jobs and knowledge sharing.
Workshop participants have begun to take great strides to put these ideas into place. A major milestone was reached when the Civic Ecology participants repurposed an existing community-based non-profit into a Civic Public Private Partnership (CP3) to focus specifically on the implementation of these projects. The first project implemented was the Damascus Farmers Market.