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Community Engagement

Portland, Oregon: The Critical Roles Served by Citizen Stewards

Public awareness and engagement is critical for the long-term success of environmental endeavors. Just as every citizen has a right to enjoy the beauty of nature, the responsibility of caring for it lies in their hands, as well.  In Portland, Oregon, citizen stewards have embraced their roles and ensured the success of green infrastructure (GI) initiatives.  As is often the case with GI projects, many benefits can be reaped from a single project.  The most frequently observed benefits of GI projects include improved resource management, cost savings, increased air quality, improved economic prosperity, increased safety, and increased quality of life of community members.  Several groups have been established to improve the environmental, economic, and human health of their communities. These include Friends of Trees, Verde, Our Happy Block Coalition, and Groundwork Portland’s Summer Green Team.

Friends of Trees’ mission is increase tree canopy, restore green spaces, and build community . Their strategy is to empower people to organize neighborhood plantings and train volunteer crew leaders to guide volunteer planters at weekend events. Since their establishment in 1989, the group has planted more than 400,000 trees and native plants. More information on the group can be found at Friends of Trees

A neighborhood-based group called “Our Happy Block Coalition” was formed in 2011 out of initial concern for community safety in a particular parking area.  The volunteer group received a Community Watershed Stewardship Program grant from the City of Portland for a project that removed 4,300 square feet of asphalt and replaced it with native plant rain gardens. The rain gardens soak up 370,000 gallons of stormwater runoff each year, preventing it from entering into the combined sewer system that would have required treatment and consumed limited resources. The project also included creating a mural, and closing one entrance to the parking lot, which decreased crime, as demonstrated by a 57% drop in calls to the police during the first year alone.  More information can be found at: Our Happy Block Coalition

Groundwork Portland’s Summer Green Team was another city-funded Community Watershed Stewardship Program that worked with underprivileged teenagers to complete green infrastructure projects around the City of Oregon.  In addition to completing these projects, the teenagers learned about environmental and social justice issues and career opportunities. The project addressed the fact that young people from underprivileged communities have disproportionately high unemployment rates while also suffering the effects of air and water pollution, contaminated soil, and other urban environmental problems that are often concentrated in their neighborhoods.  The project provided the teenagers with summer employment on GI projects, while also educating and empowering them to advocate for environmental and social justice.  More information on this project can be found at: Groundwork Portland Summer Green Team

Another group whose mission focuses on environmental and economic health is Verde.  The goal of the nonprofit group is to provide job training for environmental projects, offer employment, and support entrepreneurial initiatives for members of disadvantaged communities.  By doing so, Verde is facilitating environmental stewardship while improving the economic prosperity and quality of life of underprivileged community members.  More information can be found at: Verde

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