You won't see Evergreen Commons park on the typical map of Sacramento. That's not surprising. It is a small park, only two and one-half acres, and not open to the public. But in the neighborhood of Evergreen Commons, it's the center of the world.
About 45 of the neighborhood's 115 homes open directly onto the park, a freeform swatch of lawn, playground, pools, picnic areas, a volleyball court, and beech, locust, alder, sycamore, and redwood trees. The park is heavily used throughout the year, treated as a communal backyard, and owned and maintained by the neighbors.
It brings a touch of nature to an otherwise dense suburban neighborhood. "Listen," Steve Haynes instructs a visitor as they stand by the gate that opens from his backyard onto the common. "You just hear the birds and the wind rustling through the trees."
Professionals cut the grass and provide standard maintenance. But the park's spiritual master is longtime neighborhood resident Dick Pryor, who walks its quarter-mile path every day, knows every sprinkler head and rhododendron, and supervises the annual work day, when residents are required to dig, chop, pull, hoe, and repair—or pay $40 for the privilege of opting out.
"Talk about community-building," says Larry Vrieling, who's lived in Evergreen Commons since it was built. "That day does it. We're out planting and pruning and building and painting, and we always have a barbecue in the afternoon."
Perhaps that's why the neighborhood, which was developed by the Streng Bros. in 1971 in unincorporated Arden Arcade, about half an hour from downtown Sacramento, retains such a sense of community—and why neighbors believe the neighborhood will survive a current controversy over architectural protections.
Evergreen Commons has always been considered a relatively affordable neighborhood. Before the recent downtown, single-family homes were selling in the $400,000s and half-plexes in the mid-$200,000s. Values have fallen—though it's hard to say how much, because none have sold recently.
Residents have always appreciated saving money—including on their homeowner association fees. Fees are $480 a year, even less if you pay at the start of January. They are among the lowest in the area—Vrieling says they are the lowest in the area—because neighbors do much of the work themselves, including serving as their own property manager.
The result, neighbors say, is a boost in community spirit, as people get to know each other. Nothing provides more social contact than the annual workday. "We get to meet our neighbors," says Suzanne Krale.
Evergreen Commons certainly felt like a real community on one recent work day. Jim Sparks was re-shingling the cabana roof. Julie Jensen was removing agapanthus that had fallen victim to an invasion of bamboo. Her son Anthony was digging a hole for a tree. "Your depth is good," his mother advised him. "Now you have to clean it up."
Pryor, meanwhile, was slowly bicycling the park, keeping an eye on progress. "It's a little bit of a job," he said, "because you're trying to keep 40 people busy."
"He just tells us what to do," Krale said, "and we do it."
"A lot of this stuff doesn't have to get done," said Pryor, a retired Caltrans landscape architect who's lived in Evergreen Commons since 1977 and initiated the work day. "We can get by without it. But it looks a hell of a lot better when it gets done."
Residents are supposed to work four hours a day. Some work longer—and some work less. "I don't get too excited if they only put in three," Pryor confessed.
Many neighbors say they moved to Evergreen Commons because of the park, designed by the Sacramento landscape architect Mitch Tanner. The neighborhood was laid out by Neil Waters.
Baxter and Linda Culver, the second family to arrive back in 1971, appreciated the park for providing their two children with a gated playground protected from the world outside. "It added a lot of value to our property," Baxter said.