Columbia Ecovillage, Portland, Oregon

In this part of the Pacific Northwest there are many cohousing communities. Portland alone, with a city population of less than six hundred thousand, has nine existing communities: Cascadia, PDX Commons, Peninsula Park Commons, Siskiyou Household Refuge, Trillium Hollow, Woolsey Corner, Daybreak Community, Cully Grove and Columbia Ecovillage and no doubt other groups starting to form.

2015-06-14 18.26.43 huge tree

Arriving in Portland with the help of the GPS, the first step was to find the Columbia Ecovillage on NE Killingsworth Street.  (Note the yellow slide at the bottom of this tree to get the scale of its magnificence.)

“What if you could turn an apartment complex into a houseful of friends? Joe and Pam Leitch did. They purchased the apartments adjoining their farmhouse in metropolitan Portland, with the vision of creating an intentional community. While retrofitting the apartments to modernize and increase energy efficiency, they met weekly with prospective members to discuss visions and values. As Pam notes, “By the time we moved in, we were bonded…. Nobody moved in as a stranger.” (1)

“Columbia Ecovillage is a relatively new co-housing project in the northeast of Portland. It is on the site of an old nut farm which was partly sold to developers in the 1960s who built five apartment buildings. These buildings and the remainder of the farm and farmhouse now constitute the Ecovillage. Using a loan, the original buildings were dramatically eco-retrofitted – stripped and gutted with new roofs and ecological materials. They added many new ecological features such as rainwater harvesting off the new roofs, and added eves and gables to provide shade, and have hopes and plans for more such as photovoltaic panels.” (2)

2015-06-14 14.07.30 Guest house and front gardenTerry Masters formed the ‘Welcoming Committee’ and showed the way in to the Guest house towards the back. This lovely old building was the original farm house, built in 1912, of the nut farm that gave the Ecovillage its character. Huge mature trees at the rear of the property provided deep shade, a cool environment and privacy in the suburbs. Columbia has two acres much of it under cultivation permaculture style. 2015-06-15 19.04.44 Columbia guest house ??

It was approaching dinnertime and Terry’s recommendation was to go out to the Middle Eastern ‘Nicholas II’ nearby on N.E. Broadway.

It was Saturday night but the restaurant was doing a cracking trade and people were coming and going and a table became available fairly quickly. 2015-06-13 20.04.48 Middle Eastern RestaurantLots of people were leaving with cardboard boxes of left-overs – a habit that seems quite prevalent in this region no doubt related to the huge serves provided.
It was a delicious meal fully consumed, and with no cardboard box of ‘take-home’ to take home, a mental note was made that this was a restaurant worth going back to.

The next day was Sunday, and Susan, a member of the community, had extended an invitation to join her and Terry and Kaye and Marcia for Brunch at her house. The food was moreish (and there’s a special vegetarian recipe needing some chasing up). The discussions were centrally interesting to all to do with expectations, structure, policies and participation: that hairy old chestnut! But as well, the context of the times we are living in and the critically important role any of us can play was there to be explored as well. Just like a good cup of tea.

It turns out that the state of Oregon is one of the “least churched and most lily white’ states of the fifty that make up the US. Seventy-five per cent white, twenty-five per cent everything else. Columbia has thirty-seven households and little cultural and racial diversity. Some members would love to see more.

The observation was also made that some of the more enthusiastic people in terms of building community had left. The parallel observation made was that people who are seriously frustrating, drive out the best community participators. It seems Columbia had lost some really good people.

Terry had travelled to Australia twelve months earlier visiting and staying in Melbourne including at Earth Co-op’s Murundaka Cohousing Community for a period of time.

Deeply concerned about the Climate Emergency and immersed in the area of creative problem solving and the processing of ‘feelings’, a good connection had been made. He had thoroughly enjoyed his time in Melbourne and was delighted to be reciprocating so he willingly became a tour-guide of the sights and his favourite aspects of the lovely city of Portland.

Terry’s tour first went past Daybreak community further into town in North Portland on N Killingsworth Street. Designed by Grace Kim from Seattle (founder of Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing) this was a lovely looking community of thirty homes that started its cohousing life with a distinct Eastern spiritual basis. It was completed in their Autumn of 2009 and is comprised of studios to 3 bedrooms. (3)

Terry drove from there through downtown Portland, across one of its gracious bridges over the Willamette River, the central waterway of Portland. The Willamette River Watershed lies between the Columbia River on the north, the Calapooia Mountains on the south, the Cascade Mountain Range on the east and the Coast Mountain Range on the west. Over 11,500 square miles of land in the Willamette watershed drain into the Willamette River, making it the tenth largest river by volume in the continental United States.

“Over the last 150 years, Portland’s harbor and central city have flourished in and along the Willamette River. In 2001, Portland (was) home to a quarter of the region’s two million people. The Portland Harbor is the seventh largest export gateway, the largest wheat exporter, and the sixth largest auto port in the nation. Eleven distinctive bridges cross the Willamette in Portland and twelve riverfront parks line its banks.” 2015-06-13 17.06.58 Bridge on way to PortlandThe Willamette endured a lot of degradation; engineering and manipulation over the years and urbanisation meant accessing it became harder.; like many rivers in many cities all over the world it’s wetlands were not valued in time and were drained and filled. “In 1998 and 1999, steelhead trout and chinook salmon in the lower Willamette River and its tributaries were listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).”

A new movement emerged called River Renaissance stepping in to revitalise the waterfront and restore health to the river. (4)

Over the Willamette and travelling up into the cool forest on the other side again the sense of vigorous and strong forest growth was impossible to ignore.

The historic site of the Pittock Mansion was completed in 1914 and its mature garden was flourishing in the (unseasonable) warm Spring weather. Glorious flowers even if the weather felt wrong. The view looking across the Willamette and Portland city to the Cascade Mountain range, to Mt Hood and Mt Tabor, and the magnificent view.

According to the US Geological Survey the Native American name for Mount Hood is “Wy’east” (often spelled “Wyeast”) and legends tell about the brothers “Wy’east” (Mount Hood) and “Pahto” or “Klickitat” (Mount Adams) battling for the fair maiden “La-wa-la-clough” or “Loowit” (Mount St. Helens).(5)
2015-06-14 15.43.23 Mt Hood and Mt Tabor from Pittock Mansion

A Gifford Pinchot National Forest “Mount St. Helens” Brochure from 1980 told of the legend.

“… Northwest Indians told early explorers about the fiery Mount St. Helens. In fact, an Indian name for the mountain, Louwala-Clough, means “smoking mountain”. According to one legend, the mountain was once a beautiful maiden, “Loowit”. When two sons of the Great Spirit “Sahale” fell in love with her, she could not choose between them. The two braves, Wyeast and Klickitat fought over her, burying villages and forests in the process. Sahale was furious. He smote the three lovers and erected a mighty mountain peak where each fell. Because Loowit was beautiful, her mountain (Mount St. Helens) was a beautiful, symmetrical cone of dazzling white. Wyeast (Mount Hood) lifts his head in pride, but Klickitat (Mount Adams) wept to see the beautiful maiden wrapped in snow, so he bends his head as he gazes on St. Helens. …”

Terry drove back through Portland explaining that Vancouver Street is a major bike route through the city, Portland city is going through some rebuilding in certain parts and Mississippi Street is one undergoing a make-over. It used to be the heart of the African American community but gentrification is well underway and has raised the price of properties forcing a lot of people out. NW 23rd has been yuppified. Broadway equals Main Street and is like Portland’s Lounge. There are street-cars, light rail and trains – all different. The tour went past the spot where Occupy Portland set up camp and down SE Division Street past Cartlandia which was [one of a number of such places] where little business in carts like tiny houses were selling ethnic foods. They had set up shop and became so popular so fast they had caught the city authorities by surprise and so far were being allowed to stay. When asked he said the most prevalent wildlife around here are rarely seen coyotes and some raccoon.

Then over to Mt Tabor situated in the suburbs and a popular place for walking, picnicking and concerts in the park. Mt Tabor is actually an old volcano  which travels down the west coast from British Columbia, Canada, through Washington and Oregon to California.

Over recent years awareness of the scary situation with the Juan de Fuca plate and the Cascadia fault line just off the coast has escalated. For a truly gob-smacking article fully explaining the scale and potential of the disaster that is waiting to hit read ‘The Really Big One’ in this week’s edition (July 20) of the New Yorker. According to Kathryn Schulz ‘An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. The Cascadia quake is way overdue – now three hundred and fifteen years into a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year cycle – and those who are in the danger zone are not in the least bit ready. (6)

2015-06-15 19.04.37 Columbia kitchen A Community Dinner was on at Columbia and Terry did the introductions. The food was absolutely delicious. The conversation was vibrantly interesting and meaningful and continued for another hour or so outside on the expansive deck in the warm and balmy evening. Out of that came a visit to a nearby property to see how one local, Melanie, was getting a Terra Preta biochar (see link) operation up and running with home made Bokashi and an interesting composting arrangement including very carefully managed human waste system. (7)

Columbia has a good representation of climate change activists – one was wearing a Sierra Club t-shirt dinner – and Terry was well-connected and easily able to be instrumental in linking me up with a meeting with Portland’s Green Alliance and Citizen’s Climate Lobby.
FullSizeRender (2)We got an hour together as a small group ahead of their regular meeting to discuss both the terrible twenty-eight proposals for new or expanded fossil fuel terminals in this beautiful and activist part of the world and the Alliance’s work to resist with direct action wherever necessary and the contrasting and rarely had conversation about Safe Climate Restoration and what that entails. 2015-06-16 16.54.27 Portland meeting Climate Alliance

There is so much good work going on in Portland and the energy of the resistance and refusal of fossil fuels, and of the renewal, restoration and renaissance of a healthy world is pulsing there strongly. All strength to their arms, the Portlandians leading by example.

Terry drew the whole gorgeous Portland experience to a lovely conclusion with a day trip to some of the many beautiful waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge.  In their full splendour of Spring this was a bonus it would have been sacrilege to have missed.

  1. Resilience
  2. Green Building Blog
  3. Daybreak Cohousing Site and Design
  4. The Willamette River
  5. Mt.Hood and Mt.Tabor
  6. The Cascadia fault line
  7. Terra Preta

About Giselle Wilkinson - 4allsentientbeings

Environmental conservation, community and cooperatives have been enduring threads in my life. Promoting sustainable lifestyles and more lately, focussing on restoring a Safe Climate, is work expressed predominantly through organisations such as The Sustainable Living Foundation (which I co-founded in 1999 - current President) and the others listed as links below. I am some way into a professional doctorate with MIECAT on "Mobilising Whole Communities to Restore a Sustainable Environment" and have in recent years moved into MURUNDAKA – a (more) sustainable, (more) affordable co-housing community / housing cooperative in Heidelberg, Melbourne (for which I gave up my co-op house of 19 years including veggie garden and small orchard) and it's great. I'm also a mum of two grown up daughters and have five step children.
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