Bringing Community Together: The 2014 Great Whiteaker Cleanup

By Michaela Gilmer

EUGENE, Ore.—It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon at Scobert Part in the Whiteaker neighborhood. There in the middle of the park stood Wonder Woman. With a trash grabber tool in one hand and a bright pink water bottle in the other, she searches for any litter she could find on the ground. Quickly more superheroes file into the park to join Wonder Woman for the 2014 Great Whiteaker Neighborhood Cleanup.

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Wayde Love at the 2014 Cleanup Photo by Michaela Gilmer

The Great Whiteaker Neighborhood Cleanup and Celebration began in 2004. Wayde Love, founder of the cleanup, had a simple yet powerful message for his fellow residents of the infamous Whiteaker neighborhood in Eugene: let’s bring people together. Community, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is a group of people living in the same place and/or having the same interests or characteristics. Ten years ago, eight residents of Whiteaker got together to clean up their streets. Love was among the eight people cleaning. He saw the importance and definite need for a neighborhood cleanup but lack of community awareness and involvement caused little change.

Participants, both young and old, gather at Scobert Park at noon on June 8 for the 2014 Cleanup. This year’s theme was superheroes. Love, wearing hot pink spandex tights, yellow high socks, a vest made out of colorful flowers with a headband to match, along with a few volunteers, hand out raffle tickets and cleaning supplies. The raffle tickets are given to participants, free of charge, to be entered to win prizes after the cleanup. “I wanted to create an incentive [the raffle tickets] for the event, making it productive and fun,” Love says. The cleanup lasts from 1-5 p.m. In that time, participants walk through the streets, picking up everything including litter, alley mattresses and broken glass.

According to an article in the Register Guard published the day after this year’s cleanup, the total number of participants was around 100 people. “It’s actually the largest community cleanup, for the size of a community like ours, in the country,” Love says.

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Photo by Michaela Gilmer

A sense of community throughout the Whiteaker has always been a huge part of the neighborhood’s character. Eugene’s oldest neighborhood, Whiteaker remains its historic identity as a diverse urban area. The Whiteaker Neighborhood History and Character plan, published in 1994, presents ‘neighborhood identity’ as one of its key issues. The plan states the importance of preserving Whiteaker’s history to maintain the neighborhood’s identity. “The Whit is artsy, collective and diverse. It has spunk,” Love says. Although the neighborhood has changed over the years, partially in regards to a growing increase of new businesses, the Whiteaker prides itself on remaining a community-oriented neighborhood.

In 2007, Ninkasi Brewing, a successful microbrewery based in Eugene, moved to the neighborhood, taking over vacant lot space at 272 Van Buren Street. Other neighborhood businesses have made similar moves as Ninkasi, moving their business to old lots, warehouses or undesirable land. “I get bored looking at the same dead, empty and trashed lot ever day,” Love says.

Ninkasi paved the way for many of the new and thriving neighborhood businesses. A 2011 Register Guard Article says in recent years, over 10 local businesses have started or moved to the Whiteaker area. That number has since increased. There is a mix of attitudes from residents about the development changes to the neighborhood. “People need to embrace change,” Love says. A resident of Whiteaker for over 18 years, Love doesn’t have a problem with any of the new development.

In the past, the Whiteaker has been referred to as “Eugene’s ghetto” or the bad part of town. Aaron Anderson, who wore a red cape to the cleanup, is a resident of the Whiteaker and has been a participant in the neighborhood cleanup for the past six years. “I was afraid of the Whiteaker before I moved here,” Anderson says.

Scobert Park, where participants gather for the cleanup, is just a few blocks away from Sherri Brown’s home, a resident of the neighborhood for nine years.” People are there getting drunk. It gets really over run in the summer,” Brown says. “One day someone crossed out the ‘c’ and the ‘t’ and called it Sober Park as a joke.” However, the park has seen huge improvements and a lot of it has to do with the work of cleanup. Between 50-100 needles are picked-up during the cleanup every year and in 2013, nearly 200 were found. There is a special crew during the cleanup that is in charge of dealing with hazardous materials.

“Now, I love it. There is a tighter sense of community here than in any other neighborhood I have lived in Eugene,” Anderson says.

Some residents are not as fond of change as both Love and Anderson are. “A lot of people have this idea that it’s all rich people moving to the area,” Love says. “It’s all local businesses. The Whiteaker Community Council (WCC) is not about to let anybody come in here and open up a Nordstrom or American Eagle.”

Love and the cleanup event face its numerous share of “haters” as Love calls them. “Last year, we were picking up trash and cleaning up the streets and people followed after us, dumping their trash and garbage, all over the ground we just cleaned,” Love says. Love receives a lot of negative feedback for not only his work with the cleanup, but his overall message. “It’s funny because the people who have the biggest issues with me and the changes to the neighborhood are the ones with delinquent behavior and causing actual issues that negatively impact the area,” Love says. Despite last year’s incident, the Register Guard wrote that crews “remained in good spirits” during this year’s cleanup.

Rebecca Amodeo is the owner of Rebecca’s Food Cart located in the neighborhood. This is her first year attending the cleanup after hearing about it at a WCC Meeting. “I think it is great,” Amodeo says. “It makes people feel apart of a community.”

Other new businesses, too, are working together to maintain as well as improve the Whiteaker neighborhood and its sense of community for all residents. Many businesses are fortunate for Love’s work with the cleanup and the community. All of giveaways are donated by businesses in the Whiteaker. “It’s people helping people,” Anderson says. In response to Love’s dedication for the neighborhood, Sanipac donated $5000 worth of resources and services to the event.

Attendance at the monthly WCC meetings is another example of the neighborhood’s ambition for community. “There used to be maybe five people at meetings. Now there are 30 or 40 people, many who are new business owners and want to help the neighborhood be successful while maintaining its identity,” Anderson says.

The annual cleanup demonstrates the residents’ investment to their neighborhood and desire for it to remain a safe and positive environment. “In order to stop me [from organizing the cleanup and helping the neighborhood], I think you would have to kill me,” Love says. The impact of the cleanup goes beyond picking up old mattresses and trash. It’s a reminder of Love’s message about the neighborhood’s chance to celebrate community.

Part of Love’s incentive for participating in the cleanup is the party he hosts afterwards where all participants are invited to come together again and celebrate the work they accomplished both as a community and for their community. This year, there were a variety of bands, DJ’s, a burlesque show and thousands of dollars in raffle prizes were given away. Love takes off months from his job to be able to organize the event. “It’s exhausting [organizing the cleanup and celebration] but afterwards, it is one hell of a party,” Love says.

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Photo by Michaela Gilmer

Although the cleanup was over at 5 p.m., the fun continues long into the evening. Wonder Woman, Love and all superhero participants gathered together one more time to celebrate their work and efforts of the cleanup. Love hopes that participants recognize the importance of the cleanup and that his message of bringing the community together continues beyond the event. “It’s an attitude that permits throughout the neighborhood,” Anderson says.

Q&A with Steve Nystrom, City of Eugene’s Land Use Planning Manager

By Michaela Gilmer

MG: Whiteaker is Eugene’s oldest neighborhood. Does this influence any planning and development plans in regards to preserving a historic area? 

SN: Absolutely.  The historic nature of the neighborhood played a major role in the development of the neighborhood plan.  In fact, the area contains the Blair Blvd. Historic Commercial Area, which serves to preserve historically significant buildings by providing more flexibility for commercial uses in buildings where maintenance and productive use would otherwise be economically infeasible.  This District generally runs along Blair Blvd. between 3rd and 5th.  Generally, this flexibility has enabled many local businesses to get established and flourish while enabling preservation and even enhancement of many historic buildings.

MG: If any, how do planning and development changes differ in the Whit in comparison to other Eugene neighborhoods? 

SN: The Whiteaker neighborhood has historically functioned as a mixed-use area with residential, commercial and even industrial uses interspersed, and is generally comprised of small lots.  These characteristics are fairly unique to Eugene.  Most of the development activity that has occurred here tends to focus on small local businesses and industrial uses.  As such, this area seems to serve as a good incubator for that form of growth/opportunity.  The city has a “Small business loan” program that has provided assistance to many of the local businesses in operation today, so we have played a role in their success too.

MG: How has the increase of local business, shops and breweries in Whiteaker benefited the area? Any disadvantages?  

SN: First, I would say that the last several years of success have helped establish a strong sense of neighborhood pride.  This has helped engage more members of the neighborhood to participate in community and neighborhood affairs.  Additionally, the success of these businesses has served as a catalyst for others that have followed.  There is now a critical mass of businesses that make the Whit a desirable place for many to visit and invest in.  For many residents in the Whit, they now have many highly desirable businesses, which they can easily walk and bike to.

MG: Does your department work and communicate with the Whiteaker Community Council? If yes, what is the influence your department has on the WCC? Vice Versa?

SN: Yes, our department, and many others communicate with the WCC.  The neighborhood has been very proactive in bringing issues to the attention of the city.  Likewise, the city has worked with WCC to find solutions to issues that arise.  A great example of this is the work that is currently underway on the parking concerns.  While I haven’t personally been involved in any discussions recently, we do have a group of staff (from various departments), and they are currently working with the WCC on the parking challenges in the area.  This group is working very closely together to look for ways to accommodate vehicles better and to reduce demand for parking (by offering more alternatives to driving to the Whit).  I believe this work also has involved the businesses as well.

Love Loves to Love: Getting to know the Great Whiteaker Clean Up Organizer, Wayde Love

EUGENE, Ore.–Wearing hot pink spandex pants, a brightly colored shirt to match and a red fishnet top layered over, along with red-rimmed RayBan eyeglasses, Wayde Love walks into Wandering Goat Café located in the Whiteaker neighborhood. He approaches the front counter where he is greeted by his first name by the man taking his order. He sits down at a small table outside where he pauses for a moment, falling deeper into his chair; he closes his eyes and is enjoying one of the first sunny days in Eugene. He chows down the café’ specialty, biscuits and gravy along with a large container of coconut water. Judging by his looks, Love is probably a Eugene native. After all, Eugene is known for wacky Hippie Town USA and Love’s outfit suggested exactly that. However, Love was born in Kansas and came to Eugene 19 years ago. “At the time, I was really into the hippie movement and I wanted to be around it,” Love said. Love is passionate about helping the Whiteaker community continues to grow and thrive.  Many Whiteaker residents and the community at large know him. A former council member of the WCC, Love has shown interest in his community for years. Love is a big part of the Whiteaker community and most people are familiar with who he is. “Wayde makes an entrance whenever he walks in a room,” Ben of Hard Times Distillery said. Although many in his community like him, Love also has his fair share of people who don’t like him for reasons he cannot pinpoint. In the past, people have approached Love, who he does not know, yelling and criticizing the Great Whiteaker Clean Up and his other pro bono actions in the community. “One day I was standing on campus talking to my friend, I guess I must have been wearing something like I am now because some guy rode past me on his bike and yelled ‘fucking poser’,” Love said. “I threw my hand into the air and gave the guy a peace sign.” This simple, yet powerful message says a lot about Love’s character. Love’s relaxed and welcoming attitude doesn’t have a problem talking about his or others views. “People are looking for a reaction out of me but I don’t go too in depth with a lot of people,” he said. “I appreciate what anyone has to say but all I do is respond with love.”

About Michaela Gilmer

I am a full-time student majoring in Journalism at the University of Oregon. I am passionate about working in either sports or music. For my entire life, I have wanted to develop my career around helping others and I plan on doing just that through reporting journalism. I believe journalism is a literary art form, but is also rooted in social action because journalists create ideas and stories that generate numerous responses and actions. For example, if I write a story about a low-budget high school where men’s basketball could no longer be offered, anyone who reads my story could take action on the issue I presented. Individuals may contact the school board and demand a meeting about the budget and the severity of cutting men’s basketball. I want to cover this aspect of journalism because I want to expose these issues in order to lead to action in changing them. I want to work in sports because there are many complexities with both amateur and professional sports. I want to write about ethics and politics within sports, specifically baseball, basketball and football. There needs to more research about NBA/NFL/MLB fines and how these fines are not the answer to fixing problems. Ultimately, my goal is to write and work for ESPN the Magazine. I am seeking work and internship opportunities in writing, reporting, branding, digital media, marketing, business journalism and event planning/organizing.
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