This is an article I wrote with my friend Adelaide on my favorite urban permaculture/social change movement, City Repair. The article was for a crowdsourced book called Sustainable (R)evolution (click to check out this amazing project!). I also wrote articles on the Bullocks Permaculture Homestead, the ecofarm movement in Thailand, a brief overview of the natural farming movement in Japan, and on chinampas.--> -->
＊This is the closest to our final draft, and the pictures are different from the book
Mark Lakeman and the community of City Repair
Ariel view of one of the Intersection Repairs
Intersection Repair during the Village Building Convergence (a must experience!)
Urban retrofitting during the Village Building Convergence
Young volunteers learn from seasoned green builders to install light-straw clay insulation for an old home (aka The Planet Repair Institute)
The Planet Repair Institute from the street
The pointy tower is the Cat Palace
The iconic Mermaid Bench
This is one of the many cob benches made on private property for the public (faces the street not the house)
＊This is the closest to our final draft, and the pictures are different from the book
The City Repair Project and the Village Building Convergence
By Kai Sawyer
Land (Location/Site Details/Facilities): Various intersections, residential and commercial sites, and open spaces throughout Portland, Oregon.
People (Residents/Participants): City Repair projects are accomplished by a mostly volunteer staff and thousands of volunteer citizen activists.
Water (Source, Systems)
Shelter (Housing Model, Building Techniques): City Repair emphasizes low-cost, low-tech and ecologically sustainable building techniques such as: cob, straw-bale, light straw clay, and timber-frame. Several living roofs have been installed. Whimsical and artistic structures are also encouraged such as a mermaid cob bench, the chicken and cat palace, and a beehive shaped newspaper dispenser. Building structures is an important opportunity for skill-building, and volunteers help build as they learn green building techniques.
Objective (Aim/Focus/Purpose): “City Repair is an organized group action 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.” From the City Repair website.
Food (Sources, Systems): City Repair initiatives have reclaimed paved spaces for gardens (“Depave”) and installed urban food forests. They have sprouted gardens and food forests throughout Portland, from sidewalks to schools. Some residents have aquaculture systems and are raising bees, chickens, and rabbits in their backyards.
Energy (Sources, Systems)
Education (Programs Offered, Systems ): City Repair hosts various community workshops throughout the year. Once a year, they organise the Village Buildling Convergence (VBC) where free workshops are held in conjuction with neighborhood improvement projects throughout Portland for 10 days. Concurrently with the VBC, the Village Building Design Course is offered which explores placemaking indepth and trains future placemakers.
Governance (Decision Making): Creative community-centered consensus often involving residents around specific intersections. Most projects are decentralized and organized by site-based groups of people. The Board of Directors, composed of committed CR volunteers meet regularly run the City Repair non-profit. Projects such as Shift to Bike, Depave, and the Village Building Convergence are supported by CR until they become autonomous organizations.
City Repair (CR) is a community-led urban regeneration movement rooted in “placemaking” that first spread throughout neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon, and is now moving beyond. From transforming street intersections into public gathering places to planting urban food forests for public grazing, the diversity and scope of the CR movement is extraordinary. Through a collaborative mix of permaculture, green building, art, and celebration, a growing number of empowered citizens are reclaiming urban space to create public place. CR defines placemaking as “a multi-layered process within which citizens foster active, engaged relationships to the spaces which they inhabit, the landscapes of their lives, and shape those spaces in a way which creates a sense of communal stewardship and lived connection.”
To contextualize the need to “repair” American cities, CR co-founder Mark Lakeman explains that while most European and Latin American cities are built around plazas, and small villages around central squares, the US was constructed following the Roman grid and thus few towns and cities in the US have central meeting places. A practical advantage inherent in the Roman grid, the design imposed on places conquered by colonial powers starting with the Romans, is that people can be more easily externally controlled because there is no place for them to come together and create the power of community.
CR emerged from 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, community members plant the seeds for greater neighborhood communication, empowering our communities and nurture our local culture.” (City Repair[MS1] ). The movement sprouted in a backyard tea house made from recycled material and piled with cushions that hosted weekly potlucks and festivities. Mark recalls, “it was just a place for neighbors to sit down and say hello and interact.” The gatherings grew to several hundred people before the city condemned the illegal structure. This government intervention helped catalyze the first CR action known as “Intersection Repair,” where a community transforms an urban street intersection into a public square.
Failing to gain the City Hall’s understanding and permission, residents decided to reclaim an intersection by getting together to paint a beautiful mandala and build little structures on each of the corners. Children inspired the beehive-shaped cob dispenser for the local newspaper (The Bee) and a kid’s clubhouse[MS2] , where toys can be exchanged, built from drift wood. Residents also built a 24-hour tea station, a community bulletin board, a little library, a stage, and a family-sized cob bench. Lakeman explains, “what we were doing was we were seeding a garden of the village, we were regrowing the village heart, with all of the functions and amenities that you’ll find.”
When city officials realized the benefits of Intersection Repair, such as beautifying the city, slowing down traffic, reducing crime, and building community through increased neighborhood interaction, all without spending any tax money, “the City Council legalized this whole process for all 96 neighbourhoods of the City of Portland. Several dozen intersection repair and other placemaking projects have have since been accomplished, some in other states. These projects include installing gardens and cob benches in schools and the construction of the Portland’s first straw-bale dwelling at Dignity Village, a community of formerly homeless people. Many of these projects are accomplished during the Village Building Convergence (VBC) that began in 2000.
Village Building Convergence by Adelaide Nalley
Billed by CR as "an annual ten-day placemaking festival that combines crowdsourced activism, creative community development, hands-on education and celebration", the (VBC) is where most of CR's endeavors come together.
During VBC days, individual communities work to physically manifest their collective visions. These projects are unique to the communities, based on their needs, culture, taste, and collective identity, and have included such things as: neighborhood composting centers, a naturally refurbished public pottery studio, corner free boxes, outdoor classrooms and food forests at local schools, a tool lending library, and a neighborhood playhouse for children.
While projects are designed by the community, in an effort to empower each community in their work, City Repair offers pre-VBC facilitation, planning, fund-raising, and technical support. During the VBC, skilled volunteers lead the construction and both visiting and community volunteers come out to help turn the idea into reality. In exchange for their time, volunteers learn new skills, receive locally donated food, build relationships, and have fun.
There are also a number of free and low-cost workshops for participants to attend throughout the VBC. In the evenings, participants from all of the different sites come together to celebrate their accomplishments, listen to guest lecturers, eat a locally produced meal, dance to live music, and develop an even more extensive community. In this way, the VBC is creating a number of small villages within the city of Portland and then supporting their interconnection with one another.
A number of out-of-town visitors come to the VBC each year and have the opportunity to not only participate in all of the neighborhood efforts, but also to stay with local host families. Many visitors have been so inspired by the annual event that they have brought it back to their own communities. Versions of the VBC can now be found in places like Asheville, NC, Seattle, WA, Brookfield, VT and Ottawa, CA. Throughout the years, the VBC has been recognized for creating community, promoting sustainability, and increasing neighborhood safety, and as a result gained strong support from city officials.