• Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, founder and editor of Sustainablog, has been kind enough to provide this post on Dancing Rabbit’s planned community building and its plans for funding.

    Image result for "Library and office space on the second floor of Dancing Rabbit’s planned community building"

    Library and office space on the second floor of Dancing Rabbit’s planned community building

    While the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) does a great job of spreading the word about alternative communities and their potential, their own office space leaves a lot to be desired: a 1970s-era trailer is hardly the surroundings you’d expect for an organization promoting more sustainable lifestyles.

    FIC doesn’t plan to stay in its trailer at Sandhill Farm much longer, though: down the road at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (where – disclosure – I’m a board member), plans for a new green community building are underway that will provide FIC with work space that better reflects the organization’s ideals.

    OK, a green building at an ecovillage may not immediately strike you as newsworthy, but DR and FIC are aiming for something more than the typical common house: they’re planning a showpiece of natural and sustainable building technologies. Among the features planned:

    • Passive design: the building’s design takes “maximum advantage of passive solar heating, natural daylighting, and natural cooling and ventilation.”
    • Envelope: While the building’s envelope won’t be quite at Passive House standards, they’ve still got plans for impressive numbers: R-50  insulating capacity for walls (achieved through a combination of wet-blown cellulose and strawbale) and R-84 for the roof.
    • Systems: As with most buildings at Dancing Rabbit, electricity will come from a grid-tied solar system. While the county requires connections to its system for drinking water, the building will also feature rainwater cachement systems for non-potable uses. Ground source heat pumps will support the passive heating and cooling design.
    • Certifications: The community’s aiming big here – the new community building was designed with both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge standards in mind.

    Take a look at the community’s explanation of their plans.  Of course, such a building won’t be cheap, and FIC will be contributing to cover the cost of its office space. In order to raise half of the needed funds, they’ve launched a crowdfunding project on Indiegogo.

    Want to get a sense at just how badly they need new office space? Check out their pitch video.

    Time’s getting short – they’ve only got 10 days left on their campaign – so they’ll appreciate any help you can offer. Got thoughts about the planned building? Share them with us in the comments.

    Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog, and a board member at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

  • Palo Alto Online

     

    A group of 15 people in East Palo Alto commit to shared living, values and community

    On a small East Palo Alto street, just blocks from U.S. Highway 101, 15 people share three houses, a trailer, a diverse fruit and vegetable garden, meals and household tasks.

    Like a tightly knit family, they shop for groceries together, make dinner for each other, watch each other's children and support each other.

    These 15 people live in what is called an intentional community, where participants choose to "cohouse" together under common purposes: a certain lifestyle, as well as a commitment to each other and their shared space.

    Dubbed Greenwave by one of the property's three owners, this East Palo Alto intentional community has many functions. It is one part cohousing community, one part green living, one part social contract, one part support system.

    Diana Bloch, one of the founders of Greenwave, says the main appeal of cohousing is not only sharing resources, but also having a built-in social group.

    "One of the attractions is the college-dorm atmosphere, where people sit around and casually discuss whatever comes up," she said. "It's also a simpler life. Part of the discussion involved is simplifying and using less space."

    Cohousing's Northern American roots can be traced back to two California architects, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, discovering "bofoe llesskaber" in Denmark in the 1980s.

    "Bofoe llesskaber," translated as living communities, became cohousing -- groups of people deciding to live together in an intentional community where activities such as cooking, cleaning, maintaining a garden and purchasing food are shared.

    Bloch happened to attend the first seminar that McCamant and Durrett gave on cohousing in the United States, in the mid-1980s at the Friends Meeting House in Palo Alto.

    "We then formed a group from the people who went to (the seminar) and various other interested folks around town and tried to figure out how to build a cohousing community, but it's very difficult to find property in this area," Bloch said.

    After sharing a rented mansion on Waverley Street for several years with seven people, Bloch and two other residents, George Hunt and Joe Bamberg, found the East Palo Alto property.

    "One of the attractions of East Palo Alto was multiculturalism and the lack of pretension," Bloch said.

    Bloch, Hunt and Bamberg purchased the 1-acre property, which was previously a family farm with one house, in the early 1990s. They renovated what had become a dilapidated drug den into what Bloch says they call the "farm house."

    A few years later, the three owners decided to expand, and they purchased a recycled house from Mountain View.

    "They were going to tear it down and throw it in the dump, but they said we could have it for a dollar if we moved it," Bloch said. "But it turned out moving it involved cutting it in half, getting it over here in two pieces and then putting them back together on a new foundation. So that was a lot of work."

    The work didn't stop there. In 2000, Greenwave received approval from the city Planning Department to build two more houses -- the main common area, a two-story house, and a third house in the back. The current occupants of the back house do not participate in the cohousing community.

    For the new houses, they used manufactured housing to cut costs and stick to cohousing's foundational values.

    "The combination of sweat equity, trying to keep the costs down and trying not to spend money hopefully would make the community more affordable to good people who wanted to spend their time relating rather than earning money," Bloch said.

    They also acquired a trailer along the way, which is parked on a lot toward the front of the property that was originally designated for a fifth house.

    Bloch transformed the space between the original house in the front, the trailer and the main house into an edible garden, with fava beans, citrus trees, oranges, plums, cherries, persimmons, mulberries and more.

    "Around here it seems like if you really want a nice house, both people have to be working all the time and you don't have time to enjoy it," Bloch added. "So that was the goal: to keep it affordable enough that people didn't have to be working all the time to live here."

    The current residents hold a wide range of jobs, from suicide hotline operator to teacher. Melissa Laughery, who lives in the original front house with her 4-year-old daughter, Bloch and a second family with a 6-month-old baby boy, works two jobs and odd hours to support herself and her daughter.

    But she says that without Greenwave, she would not be able to live in the area.

    "I'm a single mom. There's no way I could afford to live in an apartment in Palo Alto," she said. "Yet to me, being a parent is such an important thing to be doing with my life, so it's essential that I have this option for living."

    All Greenwave residents are expected to pay rent -- $500 to $700 per room -- to the three owners and commit to three agreements.

    The first agreement is to doing a weekly chore. In the kitchen of the main house (which Bloch designed herself so that two or three people could cook in it simultaneously), you can find resident's names on a large Dry Erase board written next to assigned household tasks such as cooking, garbage, shop, garden and laundry.

    The second agreement? Attend a weekly house meeting.

    "Hopefully people will communicate during that time; anything everyone needs to know," Bloch said. "The third (agreement) is to bring up any issues that are causing tension, for yourself or others, and be willing to help out in getting them resolved."

    It doesn't sound too unlike any other family's home. And for retirees such as Bloch, whose son is grown and granddaughter lives in San Francisco, or single parents such as Laughery whose daughter's grandparents are far flung, Greenwave does function as a second family of sorts.

    "As people are, more and more, like seeds scattering to the wind, you realize how important those support systems are and finding ways to cultivate that," Laughery said.

    That support system ebbs and wanes every year as people move in and out of Greenwave. They get married, change jobs or life otherwise leads them in a different direction. But the original "bofoe llesskaber" principles remain, Laughery said.

    "The importance of (Greenwave) is the importance of community and connection," she said.

     

    Members of the Greenwave intentional community, as well as three guests who were visiting a family member, sit down to eat in the community's kitchen, where they eat once a week together.

     

    Members of the Greenwave intentional community, as well as three guests who were visiting a family member, sit down to eat in the community's kitchen, where they eat once a week together. Photo by Veronica Weber.

     

     

    Joe Bamberg, a founder of the Greenwave intentional community, checks on his tri-tip while barbecuing dinner for about 13 people on April 2, 2013. Residents in the community alternate cooking responsibilties (along with cleaning and gardening) and cook dinner for everyone once a week every Tuesday.

    Joe Bamberg, a founder of the Greenwave intentional community, checks on his tri-tip while barbecuing dinner for about 13 people on April 2, 2013. Residents in the community alternate cooking responsibilties (along with cleaning and gardening) and cook dinner for everyone once a week every Tuesday. Photo by Veronica Weber.

     

     

     

  •  

    Monday, 04 March 2013 13:49 Aric Sleeper

    Cohousing project begins construction in Downtown Santa Cruz

    After the recent murders of two Santa Cruz police officers, the builders and future members of Walnut Commons thought about moving their groundbreaking ceremony to a later date, but instead decided to acknowledge the tragedy and stick with their plans.

    “It’s so important that we do proceed, because one of the things that is going to get us through this very difficult time is community, and this project is all about community,” Santa Cruz City Councilman Don Lane said at the groundbreaking.

    With the recent approval of a loan from Santa Cruz County Bank, construction for the Walnut Commons Cohousing project, a unique residential complex located at the corner of Walnut Avenue and Center Street in Downtown Santa Cruz, begins this week. Project engineers hope to have the building completed by early 2014.

    Walnut Commons will contain three stories with 19 independent units, as well as a 3,000 square-foot common area with a kitchen, dining room, entertainment center, and recreational space for all residents to use. Most of the units have been filled, but six remain.

    Walnut Commons is part of the growing cohousing movement, a form of intentional community that relies on consensual decision making, which began in Denmark in the late 1960s. The concept was imported to America by people like Charles Durrett, who also helped with the design of Walnut Commons, in conjunction with the building’s future residents and Bob Hightower of Barry Swenson Builders.

    “The elevators and mailboxes are typically put in the front of a building,” says Hightower, “but in Walnut Commons we moved them to the core, so that people walk by the common areas and see what activities are going on.”

    Walnut Commons planners and residents aim for it to be more than just a building. For people like Walnut Commons member and author Cecile Andrews, it is a community of individuals devoted to a smaller environmental impact and a stronger sense of community.

    “We will be each other’s entertainment,” says Andrews, whose upcoming book, “Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community, and the Common Good,” comes out later this month. ”The old-fashioned way of doing things is people getting together with their neighbors, talking, laughing, singing, and playing music. I envision this will be happening more at Walnut Commons.”

    For more information visit walnutcommons.org.

  • Alfafar, a suburb of Valencia, Spain, is suffering from a poor economy and high unemployment. A quarter of homes are abandoned. Here, a cafe is still open on the ground floor of an abandoned municipal building in Alfafar's Orba neighborhood, but upper floors used to house shops. A pair of Spanish architects hopes to revitalize the high-density housing in this working-class area.

    Alfafar, a suburb of Valencia, Spain, is suffering from a poor economy and high unemployment. A quarter of homes are abandoned. Here, a cafe is still open on the ground floor of an abandoned municipal building in Alfafar's Orba neighborhood, but upper floors used to house shops. A pair of Spanish architects hopes to revitalize the high-density housing in this working-class area.

    Lauren Frayer/NPR

    This is the latest story from the NPR Cities Project.

    In an abandoned building near Spain's Mediterranean coast, someone softly strums a guitar. Chord progressions echo through empty halls.

    It's an impromptu music lesson, offered among unemployed neighbors in Alfafar, a suburb south of Valencia. The town was built in the 1960s for timber factory workers. It's high-density housing: tidy, identical two- and three-bedroom apartments, in huge blocks — some 7,000 housing units in total.

    But the local timber industry has since collapsed. More than 40 percent of local residents are now unemployed. A quarter of homes are vacant. Apartments that sold for $150,000 decades ago are going for 20,000 now.

    That guitar lesson is just one way residents are using their free time and empty space creatively. It's here that two young Spanish architects saw potential.

    The Improvistos architects' plans involve revamping the apartments, with minimal structural changes. Neighbors would be able to trade rooms, and share kitchens, roof gardens and office space. i

    The Improvistos architects' plans involve revamping the apartments, with minimal structural changes. Neighbors would be able to trade rooms, and share kitchens, roof gardens and office space.

    Improvistos

    While still in architecture school, María García Mendez and Gonzalo Navarrete drafted a plan to re-design a high-density area of Alfafar, called Barrio Orba, using the principle of co-housing — in which residents trade and share space and resources, depending on their needs.

    "It's like up-cycling the neighborhood — connecting existing resources to make them work," García explains. "For example, all this workforce that's unemployed, all these empty spaces that are without use, all these elderly people that need help, all these natural resources that are not being taken care of — making a project for all these things."

    Through their architecture startup Improvistos, García and Navarrete submitted their Orba design to U.N. Habitat, a United Nations agency holding a competition for urban mass housing. They won.

    Redefining Public And Private Space

    The architects, both in their 20s, were relatively unknown, working in a Spanish region — Valencia — that's famous for soaring space-age designs of museums and other public infrastructure — which have bankrupted the local government.

    Valencia's native son is Santiago Calatrava, the famous Spanish architect who's now working on the new ground zero transit station in New York.

    In contrast to Calatrava's work, the Improvistos architects sketched out a humble plan to revamp some 7,000 nearly identical apartments, with minimal structural changes, to adapt the current structures to residents' changing spatial needs. Neighbors can trade rooms and share kitchens, roof gardens and office space.

    Architects María García Mendez and Gonzalo Navarrete sketch out plans to revitalize high-density urban housing in Alfafar, Spain. i

    Architects María García Mendez and Gonzalo Navarrete sketch out plans to revitalize high-density urban housing in Alfafar, Spain.

    Courtesy of Improvistos

    "We're trying to redefine the limit between public and private," Navarrete says. "So the way you walk on your street and where your house and your private space finishes or starts."

    "A thing as simple as creating a new door — having a room with two doors — can give enormous flexibility," García chimes in. "So that this same room can be used by one or another, depending on the need."

    Their plan also has a time bank element, trading space for services.

    "For example, you have an 80-year-old person who needs some help once or twice a week, [living alongside] a family with three children that doesn't get enough income," García explains. "So maybe [someone from] the low-income family can help the elderly person once a week, and get, in exchange, one room. It's like an exchange system — so every house can gain or give out some space. And that can change with time."

    The Improvisto architects in Alfafar plan to sit down with residents and sketch out how their buildings can adapt to different families' needs. They can add doors, retractable walls and shared space.

    García and Navarrete came up with the idea on a study trip to rural India — watching how a poor family would enlarge their thatched hut for new children and share cooking areas with neighbors. The architects think that system can work in the West as well.

    Collective Living In Rural England

    One place it's already working is on England's southwest coast, amid picturesque rolling fields. A decade ago, Jane Stott helped create the Threshold Centre at Cole Street Farm, a community that consists of a central 300-year-old farmhouse surrounded by small, low buildings that house about 15 residents.

    The goal here is quite different from in Spain: This isn't about revitalizing an existing neighborhood; it's about creating something new. People have come to the Threshold Centre for a variety of reasons, ranging from a desire to live in an environmentally sustainable way to the meditative aspects of living with others.

    There are some echoes of life on a commune at the Threshold Centre, where there's an optional group meditation each morning and the residents raise chickens.

    About 15 people live at the Threshold Centre at Cole Street Farm, a shared living space in the Dorset countryside on England's southwest coast.

    About 15 people live at the Threshold Centre at Cole Street Farm, a shared living space in the Dorset countryside on England's southwest coast.

    Ari Shapiro/NPR

    But everyone also has a day job: Among the residents are a nurse, a gardener and a social worker, for instance.

    More broadly speaking, each co-housing community is different: Some are very religious; some are very environmentally friendly; some have lots of children; some have lots of seniors.

    The movement is growing. Stott says that when she founded the Threshold Centre 10 years ago, she could count on one hand the number of British co-housing arrangements. Now there are more than 35.

    Real Solutions For Real People

    But the idea is a newer one in Spain, and residents in Alfafar have many questions. Over a traditional Valencia paella, residents of the Orba neighborhood discuss the plan. Some ask how the value of a home would change with the addition or subtraction of a room.

    But in general they say they're intrigued by the plan — and flattered that the two architects chose their neighborhood for it. Most of Orba's residents have been living side by side for decades. They're not strangers.

    Take Nacho Campillo and Patricia "Patri" Sanchez, a couple in their early 30s. They've lived in Orba for eight years and took over Sanchez's grandmother's apartment there when she died. The flat hasn't been renovated since the 1960s.

    But the young couple wants to stay in the neighborhood. Sanchez spent her childhood there and loves it — but they need more space. They have a small two-bedroom on the fourth floor with no elevator — and Sanchez is three months pregnant.

    "Going up and down four flights of stairs is tiring now, and I'm not sure I'll be physically able to do it when I'm nine months pregnant!" Sanchez exclaims. "And what about the baby's stroller?" she says, exchanging a look with her partner and laughing.

    But co-housing may help. The couple may "borrow" a ground-floor bedroom from a neighbor for the last few months of Sanchez's pregnancy — or for stroller storage afterward. The couple currently uses their second bedroom as a home office. But the addition of a shared co-working hub in the apartment complex would free up space for the baby's nursery.

    Fusion Of Architecture And Social Policy

    People in working-class Alfafar aren't used to getting attention from award-winning architects. Mayor Juan Ramon Adsuara says he's surprised and bewildered by all the interest — but proud his town has been chosen by the architects and awarded the U.N. prize.

    "It's not just an architecture project. It's a fusion of architecture and rehabilitation. It's social policy," Adsuara says. "Architecture is not just for big star projects like museums. It's for the slums around them, too."

    The big question, though, is how to pay for all this. The U.N. award comes with fame, but no funding. The mayor says the town hall struggles to pay for basic services — let alone a progressive architecture revamp.

    "I need to make payroll for municipal employees — the cleaning staff, the garbage collectors," Adsuara says. "But our economy is improving. We need to think about what model we want for our town's future, and that's where this project comes in."

    The Improvistos architects have no price tag for their design. It's adaptable — based on what residents want. They hope to begin workshops this spring to sketch that out. The mayor is applying for funding from the European Union to help launch this project — and also add bike lanes throughout the city. García and Navarrete are also thinking about launching a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign. Residents have volunteered to even do some of the renovation work themselves.

    Among all of them, they're determined to change this neighborhood for the better.

  • The image of several families living together on the same plot of land, sharing facilities, childcare and costs, conjures up one of various ‘alternative lifestyles,’ from hippies through Hare Krishnas to the Kibbutzim of 1960s Israel.

    But more and more British families are forming ‘co-housing’ groups for purely practical reasons, rather than for religious or ideological ones. As rents and property prices both rise, and the cost of living outstrips wages, many people now lack both the traditional support structure of the extended family, and the readies to hire cleaning and childcare staff. The solution?

    This month the first residents moved into a purpose-built co-housing development, Lilac in Bramley, in west Leeds. The development consists of a mixture of houses and flats with a communal central house, all constructed from ‘ModCell,’ a prefabricated, modular straw-bale construction system.

    Meanwhile another group is setting up in a 41-unit zero-carbon development called Forgebank, on the banks of the River Lune in Lancaster. The community there will share an orchard, as well as workshops and office space.

    The development is three miles from Lancaster city centre and is close to a small village offering amenities. All Forgebank’s homes are built to the ‘Passivhaus’ specification, 90% more energy-efficient than the average home.

    Jo Gooding, co-ordinator of the UK Co-housing Network, says, ‘there has been a stable number of about 14 co-housing groups in the UK for a number of years, but in the past two or three years a further 40 have begun forming.’

    And it’s not likely that they’ll be motivated by environmental concerns; worries over the cost of heating traditional homes play a part, as Kate Tunstall, a Passivhaus owner, explains: ‘We were really concerned about fuel bills in our previous house,’ she says, ‘[and we’re] coming into retirement our fuel bills are going to increase; as retired people, our income is going to go down, and we wanted to address that.’

    This pragmatism is typical of a Forgebank home; while they range from individuals in their 20s to retired couples by way of young families, what they have in common is that they have bought their own homes, and that they are happy to cook a monthly meal for over 50 people; pragmatism is tempered by an idealism that deliberately tries to transplant a version of the past sense of community into the modern age. But it’s far from a ‘commune’ in the sense we’re used to hearing the word.

    Instead of voting on issues and letting majority rule hold sway, the co-house group is committed to finding solutions everyone can live with; more time-consuming, but more inclusive. With its eco-credentials and its mixture of pragmatism, environmentalism and practical collectivism, it’s no surprise to find that these groups are already popular in Scandinavia. But, as house prices continue to rise and traditional communities seem to fall by the wayside, the co-house could be the wave of the future here too.

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