Monday, August 6, 2012

Special OVE Event - August 14

On August 14th Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE) will host an event with special guest speaker Mark Lakeman.  The event is scheduled from 7-9pm at the UnitarianUniversalist Church in Eugene (1685 West 13th Ave.)

Mark Lakeman is the principle and design lead of Communitecture, a Portland based architecture and planning firm.  He is also the co-founder of the City Repair Project, a non-profit organization that educates and inspires communities and individuals to creatively transform the places where they live.

City Repair facilitates artistic and ecologically-oriented placemaking through projects that honor the interconnection of human communities and the natural world. The many projects of City Repair have been accomplished by a mostly volunteer staff and thousands of citizen volunteers.  It all began in Portland, Oregon with the idea that localization - of culture, of economy, of decision-making - is a necessary foundation of sustainability. By reclaiming urban spaces to create community-oriented places, we plant the seeds for greater neighborhood communication, empower our communities and nurture our local culture.

Lakeman and City Repair were influential in the realization of Dignity Village in Portland, a community of otherwise homeless individuals and couples who have created their own alternative to the insufficient traditional shelter system.  The self-governing Village of around 60 members have participated in the construction of their own homes, made largely from recycled materials.  The Village has formed firm rules against drugs, alcohol, violence and theft, and those who break these rules are not permitted to stay.  These rules are not simply to appease the larger community, but also to ensure a certain quality of life for the residents within the Village.

The major setback for Dignity Village is that it has been treated as a LULU (Locally Unwanted Land Use), being placed in a marginalized location adjacent to the airport and a state prison, which is about an hour bus ride from the city center.  This leaves Villagers isolated from the larger community, making it difficult to develop outside relationships and transition out.

Opportunity Village Eugene is proposing a similar concept to Dignity Village that is more integrated with the larger community.  We realize that this means some things will have to be approached differently.  One example is aesthetics of the village, which is something the OVE non-profit organization has been putting a great deal of thought into.

Naturally, there is a direct relationship that can be made by bringing the village into the community since the people that can help make this a vibrant and aesthetic place are right there.  We have tons of artists, builders, and permaculturists in Eugene and many have expressed commitment to lending their skills by holding hands-on workshops at the Village. 

We are developing a Village Structure Catalog, which documents simple and sustainable structures that have been proposed by local and regional architects and builders.  These volunteers will introduce an undemanding process of constructing these structures, and then locate a “champion” within the Village that could then replicate this process and teach others.  Chuck Henderson, a Bay Area based architect, has proposed the “Conic Shell” and made the following commitment:

Conic Shells are a new solution to homelessness and disaster relief. We are very committed to seeing this new technology realized as part of a viable solution to the growing plight of the homeless in the United States.  We would be happy to conduct workshops and tutorial presentations and these will result in actual completed structures that can be built and finished in one day or less. The construction procedure is very simple and straightforward which will encourage villagers to participate directly in the construction process.

Schools and Churches are also frequently looking for social justice initiatives to involve their students and congregations in.  These would again be a natural relationships for Opportunity Village, which is a major reason for the proposed site at 13th and Chambers that is surrounded by these institutions.  These relationships would catalyze mutual benefits and personal growth opportunities for both sides.

In thinking about how to develop these types of functional relationships, we’ve been thinking about how to make Opportunity Village a City Repair Project, where neighbors come together to plan projects that transform neighborhood spaces into community oriented-places. 

City Repair defines places as a space invested with value.  Opportunity Village will create a landscape that would be infused with place so that people would be encouraged to gather and interact with each other.  Within the Village, this idea of place allows for people in a similar situation to work together in order to help themselves.  At the larger scale, it provides an effective avenue for collaboration between the housed and the unhoused.

There is often a perspective held by the well-off that those in poverty should come to them, and that this can be achieved through hard work and self-determination.  Under the current economic conditions I think that the overwhelming majority of us can agree that this is not a reasonable assumption.

Maybe then a more effective solution is for the well-off to come to those in poverty.  Opportunity Village would provide the place for this to occur.

There have been concerns raised by some citizens about whether a community like Opportunity Village could succeed in being a safe and stable environment.  Some have questioned whether homeless folks have the tenacity to run a secure, self-governed community or participate in the construction of their own homes, and are not persuaded by over a decade of success at Dignity Village in Portland. 

My argument is that it will not fail if we, the community, do not let it fail.  By forming a network of support and oversight around Opportunity Village we can ensure its success.  Some will feel that this is not their responsibility.  But overall, I believe Eugene, a City committed to equity and human rights, is primed for this responsibility and standing by for the opportunity.