Nicholson Commons: Seeds of community

Planting food, reactivating neighborhood association part of a plan

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

Published:

 

Bagley Downs neighborhood association meeting

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. April 24.

Where: Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School, 2921 Falk Rd.

Why: To reactivate a dense but dormant neighborhood association.

Bagley Downs boundaries: State Highway 500, Falk Road, Fourth Plain, Andresen Road.

Need an interpreter or want to offer interpretation? Contact <a href="mailto:BagleyDownsNA@gmail.com">BagleyDownsNA@gmail.com</a>. Use the same address if you want to get involved in the neighborhood garden.

On the Web

americansbuildingcommunity. wordpress.com

Bagley Downs neighborhood association meeting

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. April 24.

Where: Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School, 2921 Falk Rd.

Why: To reactivate a dense but dormant neighborhood association.

Bagley Downs boundaries: State Highway 500, Falk Road, Fourth Plain, Andresen Road.

Need an interpreter or want to offer interpretation? Contact BagleyDownsNA@gmail.com. Use the same address if you want to get involved in the neighborhood garden.

On the Web

americansbuildingcommunity. wordpress.com

Mark Maggiora has started thinking of Clark County the way urban park planners do: in terms of five-minute strolls.

Among community activist Maggiora’s numerous dreams for this area is permanently and conveniently anchoring as many productive, user-friendly green spaces as possible to the land so they’re within short “wheelbarrow walks” of — well, everywhere.

He was halfway pleased with the Friday morning turnout at a new neighborhood garden site in the Bagley Downs neighborhood. A handful of volunteers showed up to till the soil and plant some seeds — not many, but enough for a modest start. More are welcome today, Sunday and into the future.

Maggiora founded a nonprofit redevelopment agency called Americans Building Community that’s aimed at revitalizing the neighborhoods along the central Fourth Plain corridor. He and his group have teamed with the Bagley Downs Neighborhood Association — such as it is — and with the Southwest Washington Community Land Trust to start this new garden just north of the Jim Parsley Community Center.

The new plots laid out and planted by volunteers Friday take up most of the sloping front and rear yards of an affordable ranch house at 4912 Nicholson Ave. built by the land trust. The house isn’t yet occupied, but Maggiora said a closing is not far off.

The smaller front plot will be for people who want to pay a minimal fee in exchange for their own private garden space — the way people who work the city’s community gardens do.

The larger back plot, 24 beds in two rows, will grow food for donation to the central Clark County Food Bank — or even better, Food Bank board member Bill Coleman said, for an even more local food pantry that feeds people right in this neighborhood. While the food bank is always grateful for donations — and excited about fresh produce that comes straight from Clark County soil — best of all is when that food can skip a middle step and go straight from ground to pantry.

That’s why Coleman and Maggiora were hopeful that volunteers from St. Vincent de Paul, a large nearby charity that provides food and much more for its clients, would turn up. None did on Friday, but the effort is still just getting off the ground.

“People who live in Bagley Downs go to St. Vincent de Paul,” Coleman said. “We just need to spread the word. Having a neighborhood association is essential.”

Bagley ups

Some neighborhood associations are easier to pull together than others, though. Bagley Downs has its fair share of issues that could get concerned citizens energized, but it’s also hobbled by a preponderance of rental housing that experiences lots of resident turnover. The Bagley Downs neighborhood is home to more than 4,000 individuals, but the association has gone dormant in recent years anyway.

Newcomer Karen Underhill, who moved here from Minnesota just last summer, is trying to revive Bagley Downs.

“I’m the chairwoman trying to reactivate it,” she said by phone last week. “The neighborhood really is a whole lot of rentals. It needs more unity.” She’s spreading the word that there’s a Bagley Downs Neighborhood Association meeting — the first in a long time — scheduled for April 24.

Underhill said she wants to launch activities that improve water quality in nearby Burnt Bridge Creek, keep the neighborhood clean and graffiti-free, and make drugs and crime unwelcome.

“There are wonderful things happening all around Vancouver, and I would like to see the Bagley Downs neighborhood more involved,” she said. An active neighborhood association means eligibility for city grants that can move things along, she pointed out.

Neighborhood gardens

Meanwhile, Maggiora is building a vision for neighborhood gardens all over Vancouver. He prefers that term to “community gardens” because he sees them as smaller, more locally controlled and more locally consumed than those large, city-managed spreads that citizen growers must drive to from elsewhere.

Everyone should be able to walk no more than five minutes to their local neighborhood garden, he said. Americans Building Community has had some success in starting little gardens here and there — but it’s typical for landowners who loaned some garden land temporarily to call back the loan for some greater development purpose within a year or two, Maggiora said.

That’s why Americans Building Community and the Southwest Washington Land Trust are “looking for ways to acquire the land permanently and get these gardens planted permanently,” Maggiora said. “That’s the key agenda for us.” Grants and donations are the main way he sees that happening, he said.

A really successful effort will even spawn for-profit microbusinesses, he said.

“I can see a very local distribution system,” he said. “Picture a guy with a bicycle and food cart going up and down the street selling what he’s grown or gleaned. Like the milkman of old, making deliveries every morning.”