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November 19, 2009

"Bioneering" Ideas for Sharing, Part 4: The Slow Homes Movement

On Tuesday, posted my article about "Slow Homes," and we've already received interesting comments and additional ideas.  Here are more ideas that may or may not have made it into the article.  All of these were collected at this year's Bioneers Conference, where we asked attendees to brainstorm answers to the question of "What is a Slow Homes Movement?"  Here's what they wrote down:

  • No more houses that are giant storage units for too much STUFF
  • Simple mobile structures
  • Eliminate divide between indoors/outdoors. Build outdoor kitchens, living spaces, and gathering spaces.
  • State where we are; work with what we have. Transform pre-existing structures, remove asphalt, and retrofit our urban spaces to build ecovillages.
  • Creating jobs for green builders artisans, and people who really care about the craft of building
  • Access to land is a basic human right
  • Building in place with on-site materials and appropriate technology
  • Designing homes that get us outside and doing permaculture
  • Homes that can adapt over time (Moveable walls, etc)  ""
  • Reading the fine print, understanding the meaning and consequences of the loan and purchase documents we sign.  Making informed choices. SLOW choices.
  • Creating our homes, not just buying mass-produced cookie-cutter homes.
  • Building with local materials, non-toxic, renewable, recycled, and recyclable materials
  • No more "Buy and Flip!"
  • Homes are not stock markets. No more "flippin' it," and investing in bigger and bigger homes. Slow down. Put down roots.
  • Lots of campgrounds for longer-term living in mobile structures
  • Design of communities to facilitate open space preservation
  • Investing in lifestyle, not just houses
  • No more billboards (especially lighted)
  • Take your time for LUNCH!
  • Removing land and homes from the market, preserving them for the commons; ensuring long-term affordability; limited equity housing
  • Finance that does not come from big evil lenders. (Citibank = Boooo!)
  • Tasting our homes, savoring our homes, experiencing our homes, breathing our homes, loving our homes, sharing our homes.
  • Creating a space for solitude, sanctuary, stillness - an uninterrupted place to dream
  • Bau-biologie
  • Combining residential and commercial spaces to facilitate walkable communities, and allow people to work near home.  Fosters local economy.
  • Designing homes that foster interaction, sharing, community, and connection among residents
  • Homes that inspire creativity, beauty, and joyful activities. Aesthetically pleasing, brings pleasure to the senses.
  • Barn raising!
  • Slow water!
  • Homes that encourage slow food, slow water, slow everything!
  • Home as a conduit for relationship. Home as a place that connects us to Earth and people.
  • Housing integrated with smart transportation, bus routes, bike sharing, car sharing, and no more laws requiring 2.3 parking spots per household.
  • More hostels and networks of simple housing for people who travel
  • Home ownership and stewardship based in permaculture and whole systems ethics and principles

November 17, 2009

Launching the Slow Homes Movement just published my two-part "Slow Homes Manifesto," which is really meant to be the starter for a much broader conversation. In the piece, I start to paint a picture of what a slow homes movement might look like, beginning with the concepts that are already being applied in Slow Food and Slow Money.  I invite everyone to read it, post comments, and build on the ideas!fast homes.jpg
October 5, 2009

This Sustainability Movement is Brought to You by the Letter C

As writers, we are taught to "always avoid all awkward alliteration" and I find myself constantly worried that the letter "C" appears conspicuously, consecutively, and continuously in my sentences - community, cooperation, connection, common, (c what I mean?)

But the other day, I had tea with writer Jennifer Fosket who has co-opted the C phenomenon and created "The Ten Cs of Social Sustainability." In her book, Living Green: Communities that Sustain, she and co-author Laura Mamo, both sociologists, look in depth at ecovillages, cohousing, affordable housing communities, and even single-family housing neighborhoods around the country and explore how those communities have made sustainability a way of life.
livinggreen.jpgThe questions they ask go far deeper than questions about how to recycle, use green energy, etc. They ask: What motivates people to change their lifestyles? What factors affect the choices people make in their homes?  How does the built environment affect the way people live? In what ways do people connect with each other and how does this contribute to the strength of the community? What helps communities to endure through time?

In many ways, these are the most crucial, yet most challenging questions to explore in building a more sustainable world. The Ten Cs of Sustainability came out of Fosket's and Mamo's observations in the communities they visited, and begin to answer the question of what makes a sustainable community successful.  The Ten Cs are practices and considerations that could apply in any development or community.  They include:
  • Culture
  • Context
  • Citizenship
  • Commitment
  • Collaboration
  • Connectedness
  • Care
  • Contact
  • Commons
  • Continuity
Anyone who is currently working to build community around living sustainably could benefit from reading Fosket's and Mamo's book. The communities described in each chapter provide inspiring examples, and the Ten C's are a great framework around which to structure discussions about what it means to build community, connect with one another, collaborate in designing the community, and commit to long-term sustainably.
October 1, 2009

Shared Housing is also for the Mechanically Inclined

Today, there was yet another article about sharing in the New York Times - "The Modern Answer to the Commune," profiling the urban optimists who are forming shared housing around common values, sustainability, and, as usual, chickens.  (This past summer, the Times also covered cohousing and fruit sharing - mainstream media is really starting to notice the sharing revolution.)

Today's Times article focused primarily on younger adults coming together to share rental housing. It might appear from the article that shared housing appeals mainly to twenty-somethings.  But during many of my recent public speaking events, I met a LOT of graying-haired people interested in shared housing, and many of them are just as idealistic as the youth described in the Times. They are looking to live more sustainably, build a supportive community around them, and find new kinds of personal rewards in their housing arrangement.  The difference might be that the 40- to 60-somethings are more often in the market to buy, rather than rent, and they are thinking about a longer term living arrangement.

I was a little baffled by the part of the article that cited Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, who thought the "idealized, small-scale communities they described reminded her of the hunting and gathering bands of pre-history."  She profiled the home-sharers as compassionate, emotive, verbal, and/or creative types. As a result, "she worried that other personality types, the sort who know how to fix the toaster or program the VCR, weren't being invited into these houses."

Somehow, I don't think this is going to be a problem.  These particular young folks are part of Generation DIY - they are the ultimate practitioners of do-it-yourself, fix your own bike, grow your own food, make things from recycled junk, build solar ovens, and rig the plumbing to recycle grey water. They do things like lead soldering workshops at the Brooklyn Skillshare.

And the fact that they are verbal and compassionate means they have the skills to express themselves, understand each other's needs, and navigate interpersonal conflict - all of which is far more crucial to their survival than the ability to fix a toaster.  They are resourceful and they will thrive.

Besides, if they really can't fix the toaster, I'm sure they'll find some other good use for it:


August 17, 2009

Shared Housing on the Increase in Recessionary Times

This morning's San Francisco Chronicle sports a front page article with the headline "Rooms for rent a sign of the times." The article discusses the financial advantages to sharing, including, for some people, the ability to stay in a home they might otherwise lose because of the inability to make rent or mortgage payments, and offers statistics about the rise in shared housing in the current recession.

Shared housing is great from an economic standpoint, but here are some of the other reasons it's cool (from Chapter 6 of The Sharing Solution):

  • Shared housing can be a gateway to ownership.
  • Shared housing can get you more for your money--like a larger yard or a hot tub.
  • Shared housing helps seniors and people with disabilities, who can share the cost of in-home care and other services.
  • Shared housing creates community and facilitates convenience--having other people around decreases isolation and offers support.
  • Shared housing saves the planet--did you know that 75% of the lumber produced in the U.S. goes into homebuilding? And the construction of new housing, as well as the maintenance of houses once built, tax the planet in innumerable ways. Sharing uses less energy and less stuff, and makes it easier to afford sustainable materials and systems (like solar or grey water).

There are some tricks to sharing successfully, though. Some of the most useful information in the Chronicle article is in a sidebar called "Resources," which offers tips from experienced sharers about how to have a happy housing share. We agree with everything said there, including taking your time choosing your roommates and checking references--and especially the tips about keeping things harmonious in your home, like the advice to write up an agreement, to discuss how you'll resolve disputes, and to address problems while they're still small.

To these excellent bits of advice we'd add the suggestion that you take some time to learn to be an effective communicator, so that when you address those small problems they stay addressed, rather than creating additional problems because you raised the issue in a way that wasn't comfortable for your roomie. We recommend highly Sharon Ellison's book, The Art of Non-Defensive Communication, available at the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication website.