Forest Heights,Oregon:
The Stepford "Community" Lives

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Forest Heights, Oregon- in the sea of progressive environmental values that is supposedly Portland- lies Oregon's largest planned community. A community where every other house is a mcmansion- where every other car is an SUV. Where the elementary school is one of the best because the children all come from homes where they are read to from the womb. But watch out in the morning, when at 8:00 AM on the dot, an avalanche of SUVs converge upon the school to drop off the children- and then on to the roads- tailgating drivers and rushing off- to the rat race being prepared for their kids.

There is a community shopping center with such quaint, local businesses as Starbucks, Inc- the McDonalds of Coffee.

Acres of land and trails and park areas. Creeks and ponds- but only one problem. The community covenants say no weeds; NO WEEDS! So the land that was once free is littered, not with trash, but with environmental poisons- fertilizers, herbicides and the not so occasional bright orange pesticides. Children, pets-, urban foxes, deer- beware. Ducks in the ponds- beware- the water is brown from the algae blooms caused by the fertilizer that greens the grounds and poisons the water. Their commitment to poisoning- so deep- they spray in the dead of Winter.

Dogs- yes- Portland it is fair to say a very dog friendly city. But as you would imagine- not in Forest Heights. In many Portland communities owners have their dogs off leash in school yards when school is out. Not in Forest Heights. The Stepford wives and teachers cannot tolerate seeing a sweet and beautiful being running free- like their husbands and children- their dogs must be on a very short leash. Which is "good" in most cases since the poor animals often alternate from the garage to the occasional walk outdoors- and you can imagine how many would run away if given the chance.

And if the dog is off leash when school is session- so perverse their fear- the teachers have the students come out of their classrooms and shout at the infamous dog walker: No dogs on school grounds! The effect of having children screaming in unison epitomizes- with almost crass humor- how pitiful they are...

Forest Heights- all new construction- representing the finest in shoddy materials and mold enhancement technology- a lasting testament to developers who prize the almighty buck- fitting perhaps for a community where so many share those same values.

The there is the homeowners association. You can imagine how cooperative and well mannered people are with each other- the stunning levels of trust between board members and between the board and the community- NOT!

A community center? The community can't even agree on building a community center- which makes sense- because without a true community, why even bother building a community center- a gathering place of caring residents.

The dues are "evenly" apportioned throughout the community- those with million dollar homes pay the same as those with the occasional $190,000 home- democracy in action- with fairness always in the forefront. With all this shoddiness- community homeowner dues are likely to be astronomical- as the community struggles to maintain appearances.

You would expect that the "The Heights" in Forest Heights means great vistas and views. But after the land is cleared, the views are gobbled up by the mcmansions- in some kind of greedy attempt to steal it from the rest. Better views after all mean better home values.

Little cultural diversity- but then Portland itself is hardly diverse. Except that is for the disproportionate number of Hispanic workers that landscape the land and pour the pesticides, herbicides and insecticides.

Of course- not all is bad- there are a couple of genuine community businesses in the shopping center. The school does raise money from the community for its own needs. When neighbors aren't ignoring each other, pointing fingers or fighting over assessments- they occasionally talk to each other. And there is more than a sprinkling of Forest Heights in other well to do communities... Yet Stepford is never far away.

People make the community. A community has a soul- it not just about making a living and having a place to sleep. It is not just about having the trash picked up and the lawns manicured. It is about whether people feel as if they are part of something that they share responsibility for- that the they care about. It is about a respect for all life in the community- a respect for the land- for the animals- for the plants- for the children. It is fundamentally about caring. And by this yardstick- while there are good people living in Forest Heights- this and many other US communities fail- they are nothing more than bedroom communities- and worse they harm the land and teach children the wrong lessons... lessons perpetuated from one generation to the next.

See also: McMansion Mania and the End of Affordable Housing, Utne Reader, 10/99

Addendum: Not to be out done- even the city of Portland justifies spraying herbicides on trails and other areas- killing the cancer of invasive species... and the good species. The herbicide penetrates into the soil- into the creeks-into the streams- into the body of fish and wildlife-into the humans- everyone getting sick and no one responsible because no one understands the implications and interrelatedness of their actions... No one takes responsibility.

 

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