Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Spiceland: My Dream

*Yeah, new colors--bold, bright, basic--same old me. I felt like making a change to colors of action.*

I dreamed last night that I was talking with an older person at my meeting (not a real person, he was made up in the dream) and telling him that I had a desire to create a safe community space in which teens could hang out. In the dream, I had all the plans and details but no funding. The man left and then came and found me later to tell me that he had been living in Watertown and running a skating rink for years and was preparing to retire. He said that he had planned on selling the business but wanted to give it to me to help me realize my dream because he believed in it.

I don't want to run a skating rink but I do have a goal and I think this dream was telling me that I have to "put it out" into the world for it to be realized.

I want to build an intentional community in the city on reclaimed land that is as low-impact as is possible to create and to name it SPICEland after the Quaker testimonies: Simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality. There are many ways to create a community like this, many models, many financial structures. I know how I would want to do it, but I would work with others to find what would work best for this particular community.

Here's what I dream:

I want it to be on a busy bus line so people wouldn't have to own cars (or the community could "share" a few vehicles via a simple cooperative or rental arrangement). I want Spiceland to be socio-economically diverse with residents paying a quarter of their income for housing, whatever their income is. Spiceland will be age diverse with playgrounds for children, appropriate interactive space for teens, several large gathering spaces for everyone and housing appropriate for elders with health issues. (I envision assisted living buildings for elders and young adults to share dorm-like apartments that have communal kitchen facilities. Perhaps the young adults would live rent-free in exchange for their assistance to the elders with cooking, cleaning and other needs). It will be mixed use with shops fronting the main traffic street and apartments above (and a coffees shop, natch). I'd like a grocery store to be one of the shops which would serve the community as well as the larger neighborhood (as this will be an urban neighborhood, it probably does not currently have a grocery store). The living quarters for individuals will be normal condo or apartment-type units but will be smaller and in closer proximity than people are used to, with buildings sharing walls to conserve energy whenever possible. But Spiceland will have one or more large buildings for community space which would have a large kitchen, game room, laundry facilities (with lots of clothes lines outdoors), common mail area, library, office space for those who work from home, and other shared-use spaces (a music room/recording studio would be nice). The community would have lots of shared outdoors space like a large garden, playgrounds and paths for walking.

Because we will be building this from the ground up, we can make it as energy efficient as possible. Geo-thermal heating/cooling. Solar and passive solar. Green roofs. Maybe wind-turbines (although that may not be practical in this area on a limited amount of land). Plan into the interior design low energy lighting. Water reclamation. Point-of-use water heating. We'd use sustainable and recycled resources for interior and exterior design as much as possible.

And here's the biggie: Construct the buildings out of used shipping containers! Shipping containers are used only a few times before they're discarded. In large port areas there are, literally, hundreds of thousands which are no longer being used. These things are built to withstand oceanic crossings in any weather so are durable. They're also incredibly versatile. Imagine 40' long steel Legos and what you could build with them and you've got an idea of what might be done with these boxes.

But, of course, money is the thing. What I need is a patron. By putting this out into the blog-o-sphere, I'm hoping Al Gore happens to be trolling around one day soon and comes across this. He lives just a few miles from the land I've got my eye on and certainly believes in sustainable living. So, Al: Please, think about helping to facilitate an Earth-friendly community in the heart of Nashville!

When I've talked with people about this, most of the time the reaction is that it sounds great but "not in the city!". Most people dream of community like this in the country. My argument against building something like this in the country: First you're destroying good land; second, most people will work in the city and will have to commute; third, most activities and services folks want are in the city and they will drive back and forth for those things; and last, when urban land is reclaimed, you take something used and discarded and make it positive and beneficial (think of a vacant city lot which is full of trash and weeds and imagine instead a lovely neighborhood).


Jeanne said...

If you're ever up in the Twin Cities some time, I'll take you to Monterey Co-Housing. It has some (but not all) the features you describe. And it's in the city.

Friendly Mama said...

Cool! Exactly! I'd love to visit it with you if I'm ever...

Judy Brutz said...

Wow! Yes! Last night I saw a special on PTV on the Netherlands, and how the architects built a community, not communal, in a small urban area. The Dutch prefer to live in condenced urban areas and leave the non-urban areas green and beautiful.

cath said...

This is a wonderful dream/objective, and I want to affirm it! I do hope that way will open in all sorts of directions for this to go forward.

However, I have a few concerns:

1) a person who is in a low-income retirement situation would be at a disadvantage. I know someone who receives only about $800/mo. from Social Security and has no other income. 25% of that would be a great disadvantage, possibly damaging. This person would be at the bottom of a tiered system and basically not have any discretional income while others would. Perhaps a sliding scale (in the manner of many not-for-profits) would be more inclusinve.

2) disabled people would not necessarily need assisted living but might not be in a position to grow food or pitch in in other ways. It's good to believe that all would be happy giving to someone who couldn't give back, but I know too many situations where that leads to discord. So perhaps the rent-free option that you have mentioned for able-bodied young people could be extended to disabled people of sound mind in exchange for their managerial or planning skills.

3) Shared vehicles often lead to shared frustration. People have different needs, and some people have needs that are so great that the cars might be not available to others on a regular basis (the disabled person mentioned above may well have to use the car to get to multiple treatments several times a week for long periods of time, for example). And, of course, the low-income person mentioned above wouldn't have the money to "rent" a communal car. Perhaps working with the city to get a bus stop or buying a van would ease problems that come up re: transportation.

4) One of the main issues that has come up in the workshops I've attended on intentional community is that there often isn't a good plan in place (that everyone signs off on) to handle conflict and frustration with regard to running the whole show. Perhaps as much thought and planning needs to into this as well as into the physical layout of the community. I wonder if we Friends often assume that our Meeting for Business practices can be adapted for all situations without much fine tuning, and I'm not so sure that is the case.

Well, I see that I'm started to go down a cynical path, and I don't mean to rain on your parade. I hope I have been able to add a suggestion to each concern I have.

I am happy to learn about people who want to build intentional community. How to do it in a way that is based on true equality is a problem that many have faced, resulting is some bad feeling building up. My wish for you is that you can avoid those pitfalls.

This is an idea that I think folks should revisit time and time again. It's time has come in the developed world, esp. in the US. Our future depends on getting it right and making it an appropriate alternative for as many people as possible.

So, I hope you find your patron or another dream that allows you to see your way forward. I am so glad that you are sharing your ideas and have put so much thought into them.


Allison said...

"I want it to be on a busy bus line so people wouldn't have to own cars (or the community could "share" a few vehicles via a simple cooperative or rental arrangement). I want Spiceland to be socio-economically diverse."

I really like this idea. One of my young Friends went to Sidwell Friends school in DC, and he said it's basically a prep school. Great that it introduces Friends values to non-Friends, but not so great that it's perceived for the elite in society (Chelsea Clinton went there). I wonder if that has something to do with why Friends span such a limited demographic.

Luja said...

This is a lovely idea. Have you ever looked at the Camphill and L'Arche movements for ideas? They are more focused than what you dream of, but are great nonetheless.

Tania said...

I think this sounds great, just one comment:

and housing appropriate for elders with health issues.

I'd add "or disabled people" to this. Too often those disabled as adults that aren't elders are left behind. There are services for kids with disabilities and for people over 65/60/55, but not many for people with disabilities who are under 55.

Friendly Mama said...

Cath and Tania,
Yes. Obviously, this is just a rough outline of what I envision. When a community of people are gathered to make this happen, I'm sure we'll firm up details and find many, many other questions and contengencies we hadn't been planning for. It would have to always be a work-in-progress, I think.

Nope, never heard of the Camphill and L'Arche movements. I'll do a googlesearch and see what they're about. Thanks!

Yes. I think you are probably correct that many Quaker institutions have become so elitist that people view us as a whole as being that way and so we ARE, in many ways, that way.
It's very sad. I appreciate my awareness being raised about the lack of socio-economic and true racial diversity and especially how my own attitudes and beliefs contribute either positively or negatively.

Mary Linda

Dennis said...

I have plans to help the poor in my community and Juarez, Mexico some of these people live in homes made of pallets and cardboard with dirt floors.
The way I will fund my project is by getting people help me by joining my network.

The link to join Liberty Health Network is on my website: http://www.dennisdeloach.com

When I look across the border, I feel lucky to have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in.

Philippines properties for sale said...

All I want to say is "Awesome! What a great idea on building this! You're very great".

Deirdre G