Last weekend I had the great opportunity to volunteer at the Denver Permaculture Confluence and at a Permaculture Action Day, so I thought I would share a bit about the experience.
First of all, I found it incredibly refreshing to be around so many passionate and optimistic people that are actively working in grassroots movements that increase the resilience, abundance, and beauty of our local communities here in Denver. These people are striving to take the power out of big corporate and government interests and bring it back down to the local level, by reconnecting us to our neighbors, our land, our water and our food – the basic elements of life.
The Confluence brought together many influential and inspiring people from the Denver area and beyond, with the goal of sharing view points on current social, environmental, and economic issues, encouraging discussions about new and current projects, and doing some hands on learning. Hot discussion topics included racial and gender equality, urban farming, inclusion of indigeonous cultures, food security and justice, community development, and how to navigate an era of increasing gentrification.
The issue of gentrification is becoming more and more apparent in the city of Denver. Gentrification is the process of affluent citizens displacing low-income families in urban areas, typically in the older, less developed regions. Expansion and growth seem to know no bounds, and recent years have seen a huge influx of high density development in the Denver metro area. I’m neither condemning nor bolstering the process of gentrification, but there are a few significant fallout issues that merit our attention. One is that the new developments increase property values, leading to rent increases, which place increasing strain on low-income residents and hedging them out of their own communities. Another is the change in the local culture, which may be inevitable, but can cause serious tension if there is a lack of respect for local residents.
An example is in the Denver neighborhoods of Elyria, Swansea, and Globeville – historic neighborhoods that used to house workers for industrial factories since the early 1900s. This region of Denver is nearly 85% Latino with 1/3rd of the population living below the poverty line. It is not uncommon to see “Not For Sale” signs posted on people’s houses, in response to developers offering to purchase their lots, as described in this enlightening news article from The Guardian. Caroline Tracey explains how we’ve exchanged the idea of city beautification with urbanization, and shifted our values from caring for existing communities to creating new ones from scratch.
This is a good segway to one of the more optimistic projects discussed at the Confluence, the City of Portland, Oregon’s The City Repair Project. Presenter Mark Lakeman gave a truly authentic and inspirational lecture about the project unfolding in the city of Portland, where the Transportation Division has granted citizens the right to reclaim, repurpose, and rebeautify their neighborhood intersections – and to do it completely for free, with no need for drawn out bureaucracy. The mission of City Repair is not to repair buildings or infrastructure (although this can happen if the residents want to tackle that), but to repair it’s communities at the most fundamental level – by repairing empty, forsaken, and unloved spaces into useful, connecting, educational, bountiful, beautiful places. Places that celebrate diversity, aliveness, togetherness, and environmental stewardship. For how can a community truly exist without even a place for people to gather? They’ve termed this process of neighborhood revitalization “placemaking”, and its occuring all over the city of Portland and is on the move to Denver.
Other events at the Confluence included a farm tour via bicycle around the Denver metro area, showcasing three urban farms that emphasize community support and development through food justice – The Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-being, Seeds of Power Unity Farm, and Sister Gardens. Several workshops were offered, ranging from gardening to seed saving to fermentation, and also a rain water harvesting workshop discussing Denver’s new rainwater harvesting law, which allows collection of up to 110 gallons of rainwater.
The following day I attended one of the Permaculture Action Days at Sister Gardens in Denver, which was actually the conclusion of a 3 day long event which included an action day in Boulder and another at Seeds of Power Unity Farm. Volunteer action projects included painting a mural, preparing the garden for winter (removing plants and planting garlic), and building a shelter for their earthen oven. Personally, I ended up getting entranced with painting the mural, because painting is something I hardly ever do, and it felt great to give that part of my mind a good work out! (I did manage to sneak away and plant a few garlic cloves before the end of the day).
The day ended with an incredible aerial acrobatics performance by the nature inspired Eco-wakening acrobatics group, and a workshop with Mark Lakeman of The City Repair Project. During the workshop we discussed problems within our communities, such as lack of spaces for children to play, lack of public toilets & drinking fountains, the use/misuse of motor vehicles, lack of public meeting space, access to local and healthy food, public education and streetside beautification. Together we came up with potential solutions to these issues, with ideas ranging from building a community tree house, to a teeter totter powered drinking well, to rocket stove heated cob benches.
All in all, I was left feeling incredibly uplifted, optimistic, and hopeful for the future after I was through volunteering during this weekend. I can see there are so many goodwilled people out there who’ve got the right idea and are putting their hands (and feet) where their mouth is, and walking the walk.
Best wishes and all the heartfelt optimism for the future!
The Abundance Gnome