Tag Archives: neighborhoods

What a Load of Garbage

April 20, 2017 by

When you hear the words “garbage collection,” you might think of a truck rolling into the neighborhood and a couple of guys hopping off to pick up your waiting bin(s).

It turns out that the Omaha metro area is one of the last places in this country where trash is collected that way.

Omaha mayor Jean Stothert wrote in a March 2016 press release, “I feel like our current service is way outdated.”

Efforts to modernize have been underway for some time now, according to an email from Justin Vetsch, 30, the Omaha senior district manager for Waste Management. Waste Management is the company that handles the City of Omaha’s garbage collection services.

“Back in November of 2016, upon the city’s request, Waste Management implemented a pilot program which showcases what a modernized collection system would look like, with automated trucks and standardized 96-gallon carts for trash and recycle,” Vetsch says. “This pilot program will conclude in April. The feedback and comments that Waste Management has received from residents indicates the pilot area is going well.”

Mike Shrader, 57, is the owner/manager of Premier Waste Solutions, a private company servicing Sarpy County, northern Cass County, and western Douglas County. He has been in the waste-collection industry since 1975 and hopes the city’s new system works as well as it has for his company.

“The vast majority of municipalities across the country use some form of a carted system,” Shrader says. The old model of collection, in which employees rode on the back of the truck and picked up the trash, has not been viable since the 1990s. “It’s hard to find individuals who are willing to do that kind of work, week in, week out.”

The Shrader family, looking for a different model, was introduced to an automated pickup system in Arizona, in which the garbage trucks use mechanical arms to pick up 96-gallon carts. What used to be a two- or three-person job now only needs a driver, and the carts hold about three times as much waste as a residential garbage can and can be wheeled around instead of lifted.

With the exceptions of the city of Omaha, Bellevue, Carter Lake, and Ralston, every other community in the area is what Shrader called a “carted community,” though there’s a pilot program underway now in Bellevue that is similar to the one in Omaha.

Overhauling the system is expensive, Shrader says, which is why it has not happened yet, but changing to this automated system brings with it a number of advantages.

Safety

“Not only is it more efficient for the hauler, in a sense of one-man crews, it’s also safer,” Shrader says. “When we look at the injuries across the nation … it’s usually the second or third person that’s on the truck.”

Aesthetics

When everyone in the neighborhood has the same carts, Shrader and Vetsch say, it gives the neighborhoods a sense of uniformity.

“A modernized system would also include easy wheeling, and standardized covered carts with lids, which are more aesthetically pleasing to have lined down neighborhoods versus loose bags and individually selected cans,” Vetsch says.

Environment

If you have ever had your trash can tip over in a stiff wind, then you know it is a hassle to retrieve trash strewn about your curb and lawn.

“The lids are attached, and they’re on wheels,” Shrader says. “They do a better job of withstanding some of the wind.”

The carts will still fall if the wind is strong enough, but they have an easier time remaining upright, and the lids help make them more “critter-proof,” Shrader says.

Vetsch pointed out that having fewer trucks on the road is good for the environment as well.

“As part of the current pilot, Waste Management is collecting the recycling in 96-gallon carts every other week,” he says. “With recycling collection every other week, it reduces truck traffic in the city’s residential neighborhoods, along with reduced emissions from fewer vehicles.”

Recycling

“Going with a cart system for the recycling is probably the bigger plus,” Shrader says. “Not only do you have a lid on your recycling cart, but you have the capacity of 95 gallons versus 18.”

“In most cases, the ability to have a cart with a lid for recycling dramatically improves recycling participation, as a household may be currently limited due to the recycling bin’s size,” Vetsch says.

The future of Omaha’s garbage collection has yet to be determined, of course. Like any new system, Vetsch says, there will probably be a sense of hesitation.

“I really hope this pilot program works for them,” Shrader says. “It’s like coming out of the Dark Ages.

“If the city would accept that program, I think they’re going to be very, very happy with that for a long, long time.”

Visit wasteline.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Neighborhoods, USA

February 20, 2017 by
Photography by Provided

Chris Foster quickly developed a deep appreciation for his Gifford Park neighborhood after arriving in 1986. He joined its neighborhood association when it was launched a couple of years later and served as its president for a two-year stint that ended in 2001.

But it took a trip to Pittsburgh that year to trigger an epiphany. He realized what his midtown neighborhood could become.

On the trip, members of Omaha’s Planning Department and folks from various Omaha neighborhood associations traveled to the Steel City to attend that year’s “Neighborhoods, USA” national conference.

At the NUSA conference, hundreds of attendees passionate about improving neighborhoods and building stronger communities gather to swap ideas, participate in educational workshops, tour neighborhoods, and honor the innovative and life-changing work of neighborhood betterment projects.

And 2017 will see an exciting culmination of the efforts of city planners and Omaha neighborhood advocates like Foster—the 42nd annual NUSA conference is coming to Nebraska for the first time. The conference will be held at the Omaha Hilton Hotel and CenturyLink Center from May 24-27.

“NUSA coming to Omaha is a great training, educational resource, and networking opportunity for Omaha neighborhood leaders to learn about what’s going on in neighborhoods all around the country,” says Julie Smith, a conference organizer and neighborhood alliance specialist with ONE Omaha. “We will learn about programs other cities have and know that they face a lot of similar challenges, as well.”

A Fourth of July parade attracts residents in the Maple Village neighborhood.

Years in the Making

Discussions to bring NUSA to Omaha started six years ago, according to Norita Matt, a city planner who attended that 2001 conference with Foster. Years of planning led to Omaha’s presentation to NUSA leaders at the 2015 conference in Houston that landed the bid to host this year’s event.

“There is a lot that goes along with it; you have to have the mayor’s support and plenty of city support,” Matt says.

The Omaha conference will include local keynote speakers; dozens of local, national, and global workshops; awards for exceptional neighborhood betterment programs; local and national exhibitors; and a mayor’s reception.

The highlight of each conference, Matt says, are the Neighborhood Pride Tours during which attendees learn how neighborhoods use innovation and elbow grease to better their communities. More than 20 tours, including two in Council Bluffs, will focus on the rich history, unique designs, and revitalization of neighborhoods, she says. Tours are capped with receptions, local entertainment, and demonstrations of different cultures through music and dance.

“Going into the neighborhoods gives us a chance to hear about challenges and what people are doing to bring back the neighborhoods,” she says.

Gifford Park is one of many neighborhoods to participate in the city’s annual Spring Clean Up.

Two Omaha keynote speakers will highlight a key crucial neighborhood betterment effort. Jose Garcia and Terri Sanders will present their groups’ efforts to revitalize the 24th Street corridor, Omaha’s original “Street of Dreams,” connecting North and South Omaha, including the Fair Deal Village MarketPlace near 24th and Burdette streets.

Fostering a Better Community Life

For Foster of the Gifford Park association, NUSA coming to Omaha holds special significance because of his profound experience in Pittsburgh more than 15 years ago.  >

“I described it as a life-changing experience because I saw a presentation on inclusiveness involving community gardens,” Foster recalls, describing how he was “blown away” by a Seattle speaker who described the city’s network of community gardens.

Foster and others spent hours with the speaker at a local coffeehouse, and he then found himself doodling ideas about a vacant piece of land behind the Gifford Park home he shares with his wife, Sally.

Soon after, they were cleaning up the double-wide lot and purchasing the parcel for $4,000. Others joined in to transform the lot at 3416 Cass St. into the Gifford Park Community Garden. A youth gardening program soon followed.

A mural on North 30th Street emphasizes the history of the Florence neighborhood. Photo by Mele Mason.

A couple of years later, the garden expanded and an “adventure playground,” complete with a double-decker treehouse, was built as a way to build community ties among Gifford Park families and children.

Since then, a host of neighborhood activities and services have been developed, including a community bike shop and a free youth tennis program held each August at 33rd and Cass streets.

The conceptual seeds that revitalized Gifford Park’s community were planted at that NUSA conference years ago.

“NUSA provides me with some leadership development,” Foster says. “It gets people excited, invigorated, and motivated to want to take on projects in neighborhoods or work with the city and take on leadership roles. As volunteers, we have more effect on our neighborhoods than almost anything else. We’re the owners and stakeholders who can actually get it done.”

Visit nusa.org for more information.

The 42nd annual NUSA conference is coming to Nebraska for the first time. The conference will be held at the Omaha Hilton Hotel and CenturyLink Center from May 24-27.

A mural in Prospect Village celebrates the North Omaha neighborhood.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

The Compass in the Landscape

October 16, 2016 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With growing levels of philanthropic donations sloshing around Omaha, it’s important to keep in mind that underserved segments of the community remain. Sometimes these segments of the community are out of sight. Sometimes their needs are unknown, hidden to those who would otherwise
offer assistance.

Folks in charge of the Omaha Community Foundation are paying mind to the hidden needs of the metro area. In fact, Sara Boyd, CEO of the Omaha Community Foundation, unveiled a new initiative to confront the problem this fall.

“The Landscape Project is a data-driven reflection of the Omaha-Council Bluffs area,” says Boyd. “It is an online resource to integrate data in our community about how we are faring on certain issues with community priorities and lived experiences to help us gain greater insight into how we’re doing.”

The Landscape Project relies on existing data—along with direct engagement with specific segments of the population—to gauge where gaps remain in community support.

“The goal of the project is to create shared learning and understanding, for all of us, to see how we’re doing on some of these priorities,” Boyd says. “Then to potentially have a process or structure in place that allows for greater participation and prioritization on these issues; and then, from there to coordinate or align our efforts.”

While the Landscape Project is like a compass for philanthropy, Omaha Gives is the foundation’s vehicle for driving charitable donations to organizations around the metro. In 2016, the fourth annual Omaha Gives campaign amassed almost $9 million—a new record for the 24-hour funding drive—and generated more than $1 million in new donations from first-time participants. “That, for us, is very meaningful,” says Boyd. “It was not just a celebration of giving, but also to say, ‘can we grow the pie of giving in our community in some way?’”

“The Landscape Project is a data-driven reflection of the Omaha-Council Bluffs area.”

-Sara Boyd

Boyd says the foundation began developing the Landscape Project concept roughly five years ago while reviewing studies about local urban problems. Several of those studies were one-time only, others were outdated. So, the Omaha Community Foundation partnered with United Way and Iowa West Foundation to do a community assessment.

Moving forward with the Landscape Project, identification of local housing problems illustrates one way the new online resource could help inform philanthropy and public policy alike: “Throughout the country we know there is disparity in home ownership along many levels. One of those disparities is along different communities and different races. Blacks own their own homes at significantly lower rates in our community than they do elsewhere in the country.”

landscape-foundation1Home ownership, she says, is an indicator of wealth-building and asset accumulation. Boyd hopes data from the Landscape Project will help policymakers and nonprofits to cross-reference the experiences of other communities (nationwide) that have battled similar problems, analyze how the problems were alleviated, and bring relevant solutions to Omaha.

The Landscape Project will begin with six areas of focus: health, neighborhoods, safety, transportation, education, and workforce. “Really, the long-term goal is to strengthen our ability to solve problems as a community and move the needle on important issues,” Boyd says.

Visit thelandscapeomaha.org for more information.

Hunting Fall Oyster Mushrooms

October 7, 2016 by
Photography by Doug Meigs

Fall is the season when local woodland wanderers stock cellars with oyster mushrooms. These fungi are no secret to Nebraska mushroom hunters. The white-to-tan fan-shaped, or oyster-shell shaped, mushrooms sprout from the sides of trees and logs. Given the right conditions, they will even pop through snowmelt. A single find is often bountiful; a good haul of oyster mushrooms can exceed 20 pounds. They can be dried, pickled, or canned. They pair well with nearly every dish. Oyster mushrooms make an extra-special stuffing for your Thanksgiving guests.

Chris Wright is a mycologist with special interest in oyster mushrooms. Wright has a Ph.D. in plant, soil, and microbial sciences and is the executive director of Midwest American Mycological Information. He researches how oyster mushrooms break down biopollutants.

Patrick McGee approaches a tree laden with oyster mushrooms.

Patrick McGee approaches a tree laden with oyster mushrooms.

Wright also regularly finds and eats wild oyster mushrooms. He points out three species of these mushrooms in the Midwest region: Pleurotus ostreatus (the predominant species), Pleurotus populinus (characterized by a white to pink fan), and Pleurotus pulmonarius (the so-called lung-shaped oyster). They are not difficult to identify. Wright says decurrent gills (those running down the stalk) are a distinguishing characteristic of oyster mushrooms. The fungi also have a white to lilac spore print on paper. Wright says it is difficult to mistake something poisonous for oyster mushrooms; however, there is one poisonous look-alike that mushroom hunters should be aware of—Pleurocyubella porrigens.

When asked where to find oyster mushrooms, Wright says, “Look in the woods or on your supermarket shelf.” He also says oyster mushrooms are saprotrophic—they recycle nutrients locked up in woody matter, i.e., “They are a wood rot fungus.”

Oyster mushrooms can be found on ash, aspen, cottonwood, and poplar trees. They will push through the bark of trees after a cold rain. They can sometimes be found in public parks and in neighborhoods, especially on freshly cut trees. Sustainable harvesting requires removal of only the fruiting body and allowing some mushrooms to remain for reproduction.

Wild or domestic, they’ve become a popular commodity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, from 2015 to 2016, the nation’s oyster mushroom production measured roughly 3,749 tons. In 2016, the total value of oyster mushroom sales surpassed $36 million. Whether you buy them or find them, Wright says they all smell “mushroomy.”

“It is a mild smell. Not a strong odor,” he says. “They will pick up the flavor of what’s cooking—garlic, etc.”

He says they have a relatively soft texture and are a nice complement to stir fry or steak. Wright thinks that wild oyster mushrooms differ from commercial mushrooms.

Wild oyster mushrooms grow in a great variety of hues, like a fall bouquet. They smell like rainfall—a trait that cannot be substituted. They are biochemically unique and may play a role in cleaning our planet. Native to the Great Plains, they are delicious and easy to find during this time of year.

Visit midwestmycology.org/Mushrooms/Species%20listed/Pleurotus%20species.html for more information. 

Disclaimer: Some varieties of wild mushrooms are poisonous, even deadly. If you choose to harvest or eat wild mushrooms, do so at your own risk.

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oystermushrooms1

Christian Gray

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As director of inCOMMON, a nonprofit organization located at 13th and William streets, Christian Gray thrives on building relationships in the Omaha community. Growing up in the affluent suburbs of Orange County, Calif., Gray was rarely exposed to the hardships many Americans face, but somehow he got the message that material wealth is not what life is about.

“When I began to juxtapose a wealthy lifestyle with the lifestyle of millions around the world, and even here locally in the United States, it began to bother me,” Gray admits. “It began to make me uneasy about what life is, and I began asking questions like ‘What is the purpose of life? Is it to be comfortable? Successful?’ I began to challenge a lot of those notions that I think were just part of the culture growing up.”

After graduating from the University of Arizona, where he met his wife, Sonya, Gray began seeking out places where he could help. His passion for helping the poor has taken him from Romania to India to South Africa and back to the U.S. During the process, he had time to really self-reflect on the bigger picture.

“I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think the purpose of life is to live wholly and richly,” he says. “That doesn’t mean you have a ton of stuff or even a ton of success. It means you’re an authentic person, and you care about other people, and you’re part of a greater global community and humanity. I think that’s the answer. I think the way we go about that all looks differently. Locations can change and reflect how we can live that out. I think that’s the purpose of life, to really be a part of enriching the global community.”20130321_bs_8688

Once settled in Omaha, Gray got to work on inCOMMON, which specializes in uniting and strengthening vulnerable neighborhoods. He spearheads many subsidiary programs, such as The Listening Project and Neighbors United.

inCOMMON incorporates Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) practices into its work. ABCD is a best-practice that dates back to the 1970s. “We try to build upon a neighborhood’s pre-existing strengths,” he explains. “We have the Listening Project, where we train volunteers to go into the community and hear from its residents and try to build solutions to their problems.”

As a result of information gathered from The Listening Project around the Park Avenue neighborhood, inCOMMON is preparing to open a community center in June called Park Avenue Commons. Located on the corner of Park Avenue and Woolworth Street, the dilapidated Acme Rug and Carpet Cleaning building is getting a new life as a part of Gray’s vision.

“When I began to juxtapose a wealthy lifestyle with the lifestyle of millions around the world, and even here locally in the United States, it began to bother me.”

“I had a growing compassion for the condition of people that are poor, and I wanted to be a part of creating better futures for our communities in that way,” Gray says. “Park Avenue Commons will provide easier access to social services, emergency and preventative services, and a place to come together as a community.”

Gray has many dedicated volunteers that share the same passion for helping the less fortunate. For example, Omaha resident Leslie Wells is gearing up for a recycling program, in which he provides bikes for the homeless to collect recyclables from downtown businesses. Gray emphasizes it’s about building those relationships in order to cultivate community development and empowerment.

“‘The single greatest cause for sustained poverty is isolation,’” he says, quoting Dr. Robert Lupton of FCS Urban Ministries. “If we look at poverty, at least in an urban context, as people living in an isolated community that are cut off from opportunities, then relationships are key because they allow people to bridge outside their limited ranges to a greater opportunity. Strong neighborhoods require that people know each other and people are cooperative with one another and working to solve problems together. The key to overcoming poverty is to have residents that know each other and work together.”