By Matthew Shulman
In a single weekend, how many people could you rally to restore your city’s parks?
That’s what the Portland Parks Foundation recently accomplished through Parke Diem, the largest citywide parks volunteer effort in Portland history. Carpe Diem, a Latin phrase coined in 23 B.C, literally translates to “seize the day.” “Parke Diem” plays homage to this historic aphorism by challenging Portland residents to go outdoors—in rain or shine—and show support for the city’s many beloved parks. For two days in October 2013, Portlanders of all ages logged an amazing 4,600 hours cleaning, repairing, and planting vegetation in 18 developed parks, 14 natural areas, 4 arboretums, 33 community gardens, and a recreation center.
Nick Hardigg, Executive Director of the Portland Parks Foundation, explained how “there were a lot of networks that were doing a lot of good stuff” for Portland’s parks. In an effort to merge these networks, the City, Forest Park Conservancy, No Ivy League and other park advocacy organizations worked to create a fun event dedicated to volunteerism. The Portland Parks Foundation spent approximately $20,000 worth of staff time to organize Parke Diem, with free summer concerts, outdoor film festivals and raffles providing many opportunities to garner support. “Not a single person said that they wouldn’t find it fun,” he explained. “There was a lot of energy—people wanted to come together and celebrate!”
Families and friends constructed new nature trails, removed invasive species from more than a dozen parks, and planted more than 400 trees and plants. In some parks, volunteers were treated to live music while they worked. Parke Diem participants also used the opportunity to connect with friends, acquaintances and with people of similar backgrounds. For example, residents from the predominantly Russian and Eastern European neighborhoods in eastern Portland discussed healthy foods and shared ethnic cooking recipes at the Peace Community Garden.
Hardigg, who created the name “Parke Diem” himself, hopes park advocates all around the country will feel free to use the name for their own park volunteer initiatives. For next year’s Parke Diem, Hardigg hopes the event will accumulate an even larger support base. “We had the volume, we just want to make the story visible” he explained, “and we want it to be done sustainably.” Parks commissioner Amanda Fritz, an early supporter of the event, hopes that Parke Diem will not only become a valued city-wide tradition, but that its purpose and goals will fuel individuals and park advocates around the city to instigate other park revitalization initiatives.