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Homeowners associations: hubs for sustainable neighborhood development?

neighborhood association community clean-up event

Few phrases get my blood boiling like “homeowners association.” Perhaps it’s because I’ve never lived in a neighborhood with one of these organizations, but I have this image of a handful of people snooping around the community looking for any deviation from the norm (like, say, solar panels), and hiding their lack of imagination under the guise of property values. I’ve told my wife many times that if we ever move into one of those neighborhoods, I’m going shopping for a flock of plastic pink flamingos.

Kristen Jeffers at Sustainable Cities Collective clearly shares my frustration with the typical neighborhood association, but she also argues that these organizations don’t have to function simply as guardians of unimaginative aesthetic standards. They could actually serve as community building bodies that “allow neighbors of all stripes and kinds to gather to solve problems, keep areas clean and presentable and provide families and friends with the opportunity to gather.” From creating community gardens to providing young people with meaningful part-time work, the homeowners association could connect residents, rather than turning them into landscaping spies.

That got me thinking: how could homeowners associations serve as bodies that promote neighborhood greening? A few ideas that came to mind:

  • HOAs could facilitate the development of resource sharing with the community: from neighborhood “tool and equipment libraries” to peer-to-peer carsharing networks.
  • They could explore possibilities for community-wide renewable energy generation: from “solar gardens” to neighborhood-scale financing options for individual homeowners (and, disclaimer: I’m a stock owner in a company that does just that).
  • The could go beyond community gardens (which are a good thing), and help connect neighbors who’d be interested in yardsharing programs that allow for gardening and sharing produce in unused space in residents’ yards.
  • They could create neighborhood energy efficiency guidelines, and perhaps hold retrofitting events in which neighbors help each other prepare for summer or winter by caulking windows, adding insulation or identifying home energy hogs.

All of these activities involve neighbors helping each other and meeting community goals. Obviously, the HOA would need to establish these outcomes democratically for neighborhood buy-in, but there’s no reason they couldn’t do that. Most importantly, it would require these organizations to get away from a conception of themselves as “policing” groups, and move towards a mission of community development. I’d guess such efforts would also help with property values.

Know of homeowners associations engaged in these kinds of activities (my list above is just a start)? Let us know about them, and how well it’s working.

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Image: A neighborhood association’s park clean-up event in Jackson, Mississippi. Credit: NatalieMaynor at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.