Turning to your community for help
If you are curious about Home Owners Association or community common areas and upkeep, the answers are going to require a bit of legwork and investigation. After all, the governing documents of towns and HOAs vary widely, and the bylaws, CC&Rs and other articles of incorporation may make it unclear as to who is responsible for what. Is the city in charge of mowing vast expanses of undeveloped land? Is the HOA in charge of the flower beds?
According to one legal expert, “maintaining, repairing, and replacing the common areas are among the HOA's major duties.” (NOLO.com) Most cities have “parks departments” that are also in charge of these same entities, keeping up streets, walks, and parklands according to formal laws and regulations.
Also, “Because multiple parties live in the same building, all …must be equally responsible for maintaining the common areas of the building such as landscaping, elevators, swimming pools, clubhouses, parking garages, fitness rooms, sidewalks, security gates, roofing and the building exterior.” HOA fees help with this, but it can be in the hands of the residents too. (Investopedia.com)
However, some groups may elect to approach the scenario differently. For example, in Patterson Park, a part of Baltimore, MD the city relies on its Department of Recreation and Parks' Horticulture Division to maintain seven community gardens. The maintenance, though, is not as might be expected. Within the gardens are dozens of individual plots that are then rented out to residents. The rental sums include the gardeners with access to water, soil, tools, and compost in order to create truly optimal garden spaces. Annually, the community then comes together for a harvest festival to celebrate the outcome of the garden spaces.
This is a unique method of community upkeep, as it passes the largest amount of responsibility and labor to those who inhabit the neighborhoods, while also generating enough income to make the project self-sustaining. Additionally, it serves as another form of community upkeep by creating a newer level of community – the shared gardening spaces.
In the case of Patterson Park, the garden spaces are all surrounded by row houses. Street after street of tightly packed buildings with very little green space dominate the scene, and so the gardens give everyone a new place to meet, engage, and enjoy the outdoors while in the urban landscape.
A Unique and Workable Example
Community upkeep, as defined above, generally means the common areas, and can include playgrounds, playing fields, parklands and other shared spaces. Maintaining them can become a wildly costly endeavor that requires a city or HOA to spend large sums just on mowing, spraying, water, fertilizing, and more. The decision to turn such lands into community garden spaces is a remarkable shift in “responsibility” and one that has a much larger payoff than many initially recognize.
Certainly, any HOA, city or town is going to benefit financially from handing the upkeep to residents. They can handle the weeding, planting, and watering. They too can maintain the appearance of the area and enjoy the benefits of their efforts. However, it is the investment in their neighborhoods that makes such common spaces of tremendous benefit.
Whether urban or not, multiple generations of residents working together in a community setting will have a profound and positive impact on everyone involved. Whether an inhabitant takes on the responsibility of such spaces or not, the fact that their neighbors are tending to the community has a lasting effect.
In the example of Patterson Park, the trend in community gardening and upkeep dates back to the early 1900s. The community's founding reports and records prove that the city had set aside green spaces from the very beginning, and that neighbors had lovingly tended their gardens over the decades. Plots were used as “victory gardens” during the World Wars and were then returned to lovely flower beds or vegetable gardens afterward.
When wondering about community responsibility and upkeep in an HOA or city, consider involving the residents directly through the use of community garden plots.