Jefferson Westside struggles to become more sustainable

Tessa Barker walks along the streets of the Jefferson Westside Neighborhood and comes across the Amazon Creek. Summer time in Eugene, Oregon, brings the creek, which runs through multiple neighborhoods, to its fullest, but not all of it is water. Trash fills the creek as it slowly trickles through the neighborhood. Plastic bags, red plastic cups and different types of bottles line the edges of the creek. While some sections seem unharmed by the litter, other areas, mostly deep in the Jefferson Westside, are heavily trashed.

The Amazon Creek is only one of several environmental issues that affect the Jefferson Westside Neighborhood. Although the Jefferson Westside has created new programs and is in the right direction of creating a more sustainable district, the community at large still has a long road ahead of them. Many groups and committees have initiated projects, but the execution and continuation of many of these has yet to be accomplished.

“If people who are currently working on cleaning up the creek could attract more people and frame it more as a sustainability issue, I think they could make more progress,” Barker says.

Barker was one of the founders of the Eugene Solutions Team, a local chapter of Summer Solutions which is a project run through Grand Aspirations, a national sustainability organization. The mission of the program is to “help network students/youth leaders with leaders in the community, to establish community-wide projects in the realm of sustainability.”

“We wanted to work in a community that already did some work on sustainability, but had room from more projects,” Barker says. The committee chose the Jefferson Westside area because according to Barker, it offered a diversity of homeowners versus renters, families versus students and different income levels. Barker also claimed that Jefferson Westside fit that description and that the community was eager to work with them.

The Eugene Summer Solutions project, which included ideas for community gardening and creek restoration, was scheduled for June 28th through August 13th, but due to group leaders’ relocation and other work calling attention, the project is not moving forward. “We had hoped to pass it on to interested community members, but the program was not fully developed enough or established enough in the community for that to work successfully,” Barker says.

While some community projects have yet to get off the ground, other initiatives and plans are still in the implementation phase. “We’re working on energy efficiency within the city, not just municipal buildings but in residences,” Matt McRae says. McRae, the Climate and Energy Analyst for the City of Eugene, is responsible for implementing the Climate and Energy Action Plan, which has recommendations in six key areas such as consumption and waste, and food and agriculture. These recommendations are currently being compared to those laid out in the Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan, which mainly addresses flooding and wildfire.

According to McRae, most Natural Hazards Mitigation Plans look backwards over the past 100 years to predict what to expect, instead of factoring in climate changes. “Our Climate and Energy Action Plan says looking back is not a good indicator of what’s coming up,” McRae says. “We cannot rely on the frequencies of what we were seeing before.”

Though the Climate and Energy Action Plan is in early stages, it offers a specific list of guidelines to accomplish the long term goals. While McRae and the City of Eugene are on the right path, other groups around Eugene have tried to continue the momentum of sustainability and collaboration. University student leaders recognize the importance of establishing community-wide connections. “When it comes to tangible actions like riding bikes more and frequently, shopping locally, reducing energy consumption—it takes a social and internal change in conjunction with policy changes to create a more sustainable community,” Christa Linz says. Linz is the public relations coordinator for the UO Climate Justice League, a student run organization that focuses on empowering students to organize their communities in the climate justice movement.

Currently, the Climate Justice League is working on a campaign called “Re-Vamp the CAP.” The campaign, according to Linz, is working on creating more concrete and aggressive actions in the University of Oregon’s Climate Action Plan. “The proposed Climate Action Plan will set tangible goals for five-year increments,” Linz says. “This campaign hopes to secure the involvement of students and faculty in the revision process.”

“My personal interest is in creating connections with individuals inside and out of the group, so talking with people about what we are doing is very helpful to inform the community,” Linz says. According to Linz, working in a community can be one of the most rewarding and proactive approaches to solving any issue.

Although student leaders at the university claim to reach out to the main Eugene community, their lack of communication and constant turnover has not gone unnoticed. Cary Thompson, the Jefferson Westside representative for the Neighborhood Leaders Council Committee on Sustainability, claims that the committee does a lot with the university but it has been tough over the years. “Some of the leading people say they’re going to be here for years,” Thompson says. “It is still really difficult for them to stay and the students are busy.”

The NLCCS is a committee of community representatives that focus on sustainability issues and doing things in the area such as community gardens, raising and keeping livestock and helping each other out. Although Thompson reports back every now and then to the Jefferson Westside Neighbors, the neighborhood organization, he says the group does not give him a lot of support for being a representative. “The leadership of that tends to be real Robert’s Rules of Order and does zone changes,” Thompson says. “I don’t get any help with the bike tours and all.”

The Bike Tours, as mentioned and run by Thompson, feature a tour of three or so neighborhood homes that focuses on chicken and bee keeping, permaculture gardens, recycled art, water conservation and more. The Jefferson Westside tour is an optional bike or walking one, because of the proximity of the homes. Thompson explained that if he continues to receive little support on the tours, he will have to stop doing them.

While the Bike Tours may end soon, projects or sustainable changes throughout the community are occurring. Katlin Dahn, a barista at Amazon Coffee on 18th and Willamette, is a previous Jefferson Westside resident. Dahn says Amazon Coffee still uses Solo products that are made using bleach, but has switched their actual product to locally bought merchandise. “We (Amazon Coffee) use organic products from more local vendors which cuts down on costs and has less driving which takes away from gas emissions,” Dahn says. “It’s more cost efficient.”

When she was a resident of the Jefferson Westside, Dahn realized that the neighborhood was not well-knit and that she hardly ever talked to her neighbors. One thing she would have liked to see was more sharing of resources amongst neighbors. “Why not have one lawn mower everyone could share instead of everyone using their own and using more gas,” Dahn says. “We could do more carpooling too.”

While past and current residents see sustainable issues, new residents to the neighborhood are given the bare minimum when encouraged to become more eco-friendly. “When we moved in, we got a flier in the packet that gave information on saving energy,” Ryan Kounovsky says. “It said things like turn off lights and keep power down low.”

Kounovsky, a student at Lane Community College and new resident to the Jefferson Westside, says he recycles using the bins outside of his complex, but the complex itself is not very eco-friendly. “The lights are huge energy suckers,” Kounovsky says. “They could try installing new heaters too.”

Trying new projects and initiatives seems to be the Jefferson Westside’s signature, but more needs to be done to secure success in the long run, such as keeping the pollution in the Amazon Creek to a minimum. Since the summer, the creek has seen better days. From block to block, the creek is clear of litter and debris. Although it appears clean now, there is no guarantee that it will not go back to the catastrophe it once was. It will take people like Tessa Barker to ensure long-term achievement.

About kadupont

Journalism student at the University of Oregon.
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