Adopt a Spot in your Community

Parkway Cascade
Parkway Cascade in Oakland, California

How would you like to turn an abandoned, weed-infested vacant lot into a mini-park or a community garden?

Consider an Adopt-a-Spot Program!

This is exactly how the Parkway Cascade in Oakland, CA is. A public lot that used to be heavily-grassy and lined with garbage is now gradually blossoming into a cascade park, thanks to the city’s Adopt-a-Spot Program.

Parkway Cascade Garden

The site was used as an illegal dumping ground to get rid of anything from old furniture to used clothes, household items, and demolition waste. There was a problem with urban blight that the neighbors became determined to do something about. The community has decided to start clearing the area to turn the site around.

People have already removed much of the garbage that plagued the area even before the Adopt-a-Spot initiative started, and the Program served as a great way to sustain this community initiative.

Volunteers removing garbage and planting to celebrate Earth Day!
Volunteers weeding and removing garbage, and then planting to celebrate Earth Day!

The Adopt-a-Spot Program basically has set conditions:

  1. Adopted spots must be city property or right of way. This includes parks, creeks, curbs, and sidewalks, among others
  2. The ‘adopter’ commits to regularly clean and beautify the spot for no less than a year.
  3. Volunteer activities may include removing garbage and graffiti, weeding and gardening, and other general upkeep.

The city Public Works office coordinates and works closely with the “adopters” since the spot that is adopted is a public space. Aside from assessing the project site and reviewing and approving the scope of work, the Public Works office also provides debris bags, tool loans, and debris bag pickup services.

The community around the Parkway Cascade has a vision of a place where people can stop to enjoy nature. The area will be a way to integrate the needs of people and the needs of nature, and for us to realize that many of these needs are identical.

After several “work days” organized by the neighbors around Parkway Cascade, the site has taken a remarkable transformation. Volunteers came on Earth Day to remove weedy plants such as English Ivy and replace the space with mulch, native shrubs, fruit trees, and wildflowers.

Volunteers hold the key to helping sustain the program.

Earlier today, we went to meet with neighborhood volunteers to continue mulching the site, removing weeds, and throwing seed balls on the ground. The seed balls are balls of clay filled with wildflower seeds. The clay will help draw moisture to the seeds when rain does come (California is in a major drought right now), the seeds will be more likely to germinate and grow into mature plants. When the wildflowers grow next spring, they will attract pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds to the site.

Using a slingshot to spread wildflower seedballs at Parkway Cascade Garden
Using a slingshot to spread wildflower seedballs at Parkway Cascade Garden

People often use Parkway Cascade as a shortcut through the neighborhood on their way to local shops or to Lake Merritt. There is a plan to build several pathways through the garden on the contours of the hill, so that people can choose if they wish to take their time enjoying the natural beauty that surrounds them.

Truth is, there is still a lot of work to be done before the community’s vision is completely fulfilled. It will most likely take years, but the action of bringing people together in a shared vision is a powerful action in itself. Places like this are popping up all over Oakland. People are stepping out of their houses, getting away from their distracting computers and televisions, and finding that they have a lot in common with members of their community. This sense of community builds resiliency into our society.

The lovely volunteers of the Parkway Cascade
The lovely volunteers of the Parkway Cascade

Hopefully, this volunteerism could serve as a template, a model communities all over the world could adopt and emulate. I particularly would love to have this set-up in my home country, the Philippines.

As we leave the Parkway Cascade today after our community volunteer activity, we noticed a Western Scrub Jay caching an acorn in the newly applied mulch at the site, encouraging the next generation of Coast Live Oak trees to sprout. We saw this and realized that the Parkway Cascade is already serving the very vision that the neighbors had intended for the site –  for us to observe nature and see the undeniable connection between our activities and the ecosystem that surrounds us.

** To know more about the Oakland Adopt-a-Spot Program, email You may also visit the Sustainable Oakland and the Parkway Cascade facebook pages.


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