Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Portland - Our United Villages

After landing in Portland, it wasn't long before I stumbled upon Our United Villages (OUV), a community building non-profit that manifests itself in a myriad of ways. I was lucky enough to speak with Corinna Buchholz to gain a deeper understanding of OUV. This small unassuming group was by far the most advanced and effective organization promoting sustainable urbanism that I've seen so far. They facilitate community organization, demolish old houses, train Portland residents in various trades and operate the largest material reuse center in the country.Though the various works of Our United Villages may seem incongruous at first glance, they are tied together by the idea of building community within cities. Their mission is beautifully simple: "Our United Villages inspires people to value and discover existing resources to strengthen the social and environmental vitality of communities."

For OUV, this means working with neighborhoods--one at a time--to address resident concerns. At no charge, they canvass neighborhoods to identify problems, and draw out natural leaders willing to work on solving them. They run workshops with these leaders to teach them the skills they'll need to address the issues that they're passionate about. OUV helps these young organizations get off the ground and provides them with tools, inspiration and connections to keep them moving forward.

Even though these services are of no charge to the individual communities, OUV does have a paid staff to organize and run all the programming. OUV's way of covering their operating expenses fits nicely within their mission. By collecting and reselling used building materials at their ReBuilding Center, they are able to make enough money to pay for their community organizing as well as provide dozens of sustainable jobs for community members.OUV will tear down old buildings piece by piece, salvaging up to 85% of the building for re-sale. All these materials end up in their warehouses, pictured above. The somewhat ramshackle appearance of the buildings is no accident, everything except the roof and structural steel in the building was built by volunteers with salvaged materials. The OUV office interior, built with 90% reclaimed materials and designed by Orange, demonstrated the beauty that can be achieved by using salvaged materials.Their reuse business keeps 8 tons of building materials out of landfills per day and re-directs them into the product stream. They offer classes on furniture building with reclaimed materials and sell student projects at the ReFind Center. Though using reclaimed materials does not necessitate the reclaimed look, it has become stylish in parts of Portland. It is a clear indication that the visibility of sustainability is a valuable asset.OUV has found an interesting way to meld education, public art, reuse, story telling and interactive space into one project. At the front of their reuse warehouse, a community-built cob structure doubles as a meeting place as well as a work of art. It is adorned with reused materials that have been combined and transformed into metallic sculptures. Community members were invited to donate items of sentimental value to be inccorporated into this piece. Such personal donations reinforce the connection between this project and the community.The same artist that did the metal work on the tree tops volunteered his labor on a railing that the city required.The mission of OUV to strengthen community by turning waste into assets works for communities that don't have the wealth to buy community improvements. As we move into a time of great money shortages, other communities should look to this model as a way to keep their places alive. By connecting individuals in meaningful ways, OUV seeks to create community in places that lack it. They seek to utilize the biggest wasted resource of all, human potential.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for the kind words!

    Our United Villages