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
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
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
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.
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.