Not quite as exciting as a zoo, but pretty cool anyway.
The City of Albany, Oregon needs money. All cities do. 10 or so years ago the Council drew up a Plan. In this plan, among other cost-saving efforts about which I don’t give a fig, the City decided to sell two of its city parks.
The parks are what some city citizens consider inconsequential. One is basically a pond, and the other—our park—is 2.8 acres on the edge of town. No slides, swings, or picnic tables. Just a bunch of Oregon oaks.
The proposed sale of the parks languished in the Plan for 10 years. Last year the Council noticed this potential sale and decided to act. Now the story gets interesting. One of the City Council members—a very nice person, as are most of the City Council members with two exceptions—is on the board of a housing coalition whose mission is to create tiny house communities. They have built two fine communities in nearby Eugene. Goddess knows houseless people need help, and if government hacks can’t get it together to help, it’s left up to non-profits.
There is no proof, or even hint of proof, that this Council member’s relation with the tiny house folks had anything to do with the announcement that the parks would be put up for sale in the spring. However our little neighborhood abutting the “oak” park learned of the sale in the local paper, from an article describing the housing coalition’s plan to buy it and built their community.
(One of the Council members who is not so nice didn’t bother to give our neighborhood notice that the park was to be sold.)
Needless to say the hornets’ nest was stirred up.
Every successful movement requires a leader, someone who will take the banner and charge up the hill. Although I fundamentally disagreed with her—I’ll call her N—motive for fighting the sale—tiny house community members are tweakers, thieves and inveterate low-lifes—I shared her discomfort. Albany is no paradise and is the home, temporary or not, to folks who live on the edge of things, in cars, on drugs or under bridges. Fear of the other, especially when petty thievery strikes our neighborhood on a regular schedule, is part of living in society. As a liberal, I don’t deny a sense of unease around these edge-line folks, and a certain dislike, but I think they need a chance and a home.
This opinion of mine was in the minority of the group of neighbors that N pulled together, but I shared carefully. In fact I made a phone call to the Council member on the tiny house board. We had a delightful conversation. She listened to my complaints about lack of notice, fear regarding the removal of many of those grand oaks, etc. She even offered me a chance to be a community liaison. If I had accepted, the husband would have blown his stack—he was NOT in favor of a tiny house population living “in our backyard”.
N is a firebrand and a neighbor every neighborhood needs. She had the head of Parks and Recreation on speed dial. She was on first name terms with the mayor—one of the very nice Council members. She had the bit in her teeth. Raised on an Iowa farm, N, her husband and their four children are enthusiastic 4-H members, having raised chickens, goats, even a pig in their back yard. She organized those of us who border the park, pulled together our presentation, and was the proverbial squeaky wheel.
Throughout the spring and summer of this year we bit our nails, endured cancelled Council meetings and postponements, wept at the news that the tiny house folks had nabbed a huge chunk of money.
Then, the goddess sighed, and we learned that the tiny house people had withdrawn their offer. It seemed they realized that cutting down hundred-year-old oaks was expensive.
We were the only ones standing.
On a cool, windy September day in Yachats, an Oregon seaside town where the husband, dogs and I were spending a few days around my birthday, I sat through a stultifying virtual Council meeting waiting for our presentation to be presented and ready to speak if asked to. The purchasing group had been whittled down to three neighbors: ourselves, N and her family, and a young couple with deep Albany roots.
With kudos and praises, the Council unanimously approved our offer.
Yesterday we closed. One third of a sweet little park is ours. A step through our back gate brings us out onto a grassy expanse bordered by the woods. Now the panic sets in. Well not really. We’ll have a surveyor, a fencing contractor, a new little tractor, raised garden boxes. But first the brush buster for the blackberries swarming up our back fence because the city, perhaps 10 years ago, decided that sending someone out there to cut them was too expensive.
PS, the other park was bought by a nearby couple, who plan to keep the pond a wetland.