Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Pocket Neighborhood in Austin

Image courtesy of Pocket Neighborhoods

Our house is officially on the market, we're thinking more and more about what the next step in our journey holds for us. Of course, in the short term, we're going to rent a home. But as soon as we can, we want to take giant strides toward creating an intentional neighborhood.

I've always been drawn to community. Maybe because I was an only child for 15 years? I loved slumber parties, and living in a single room in a college dorm was my absolute ideal. I lived next to one of my good friends when I did Teach For America. After that, however, community was harder and harder to come by. I lived in a cookie-cutter apartment complex when I worked at KIPP and I always marveled at the irony of living so physically close to other people and yet being so far apart from them emotionally (kind of like riding on the New York subway).

When I lived in an old house that had been converted into five apartments, I was able to foster community by coordinating potlucks and birthday treats, but we didn't choose to live together. We certainly enjoyed spending time together, but our community was accidental, not intentional.

While I was on my self-subsidized sabbatical, I spent three weeks living on a commune (which is officially called an "intentional community"). Although I enjoyed my time very much, I couldn't see myself separating from society to such a significant degree (almost all the residents work full-time in the community doing manual labor).

Co-housing actually seems like the perfect option for me. In a co-housing community, people live in private residences and yet they intentionally choose to live more communally (e.g., shared spaces, some communal meals, etc.).

There is one co-housing community developing in Austin right now, but they are only building town houses and apartments. As trivial and embarrassing as it is to say this, I really don't want my "forever home" to have entire walls without any windows (I'm that addicted to natural light). I also want more autonomy over how our house is designed and built.

That's when I started thinking about trying to create my own little neighborhood of just six or so houses. We would each have our own space, while sharing communal space and resources (like a pool, garden, chickens, tools, etc.).

Then Amy mentioned a book called Pocket Neighborhoods, and I realized the idea already existed! (It's kind of like when I thought I had come up with a new method for moral reasoning and then realized that Kant had come up with it first.)

I typed up a little information, in case people are interested in learning more. If you know someone in Austin who might be interested, please send them to this link!

What is a Pocket Neighborhood?

A pocket neighborhood is a small group of 5-12 homes clustered together around a central, shared space. Everyone lives in their own, private homes with private yards, and yet they choose to share communal areas--like a pool, garden, courtyard--to live in a more sustainable way and foster more connections and friendships. The concept balances independence with interdependence.

What will the Austin Pocket Neighborhood be like?

The vision for our pocket neighborhood will evolve as people join the group, but the core idea is that we will be a small group of homes (around 6-10), sharing approximately two to three acres of land. We will adhere to the pocket neighborhood principles of facilitating community by keeping the cars behind our homes and circling our homes around a shared courtyard that includes a communal building, organic garden, composting, swimming pool, play area, tool library, etc. We will most likely form an LLC to purchase the land together and then set up an ownership structure that allows us to individually own our homes and yet share ownership of communal spaces. We will decide on the annual fee necessary to develop and maintain our communal areas. We will have optional events, such as weekly dinners, movie nights, yoga classes, etc., as well as a monthly mandatory meeting to make decisions and discuss issues affecting our community.

Where are you hoping to create the Austin Pocket Neighborhood?

Preliminary land searches show that East Austin has the largest and least expensive (and also beautiful) plots of land available. I am also hoping to start a public Montessori charter school in East Austin. I am biased toward living there, so I can keep my commute short and truly immerse myself in the community.

Why would I want to live in a pocket neighborhood?

A pocket neighborhood blends the benefits of individual home ownership with the benefits of being connected to your neighbors. For example, if you're in the middle of making dinner and you realize you need to borrow an egg, you could go to any of your neighbors. A pocket neighborhood also provides a safe place for children. You can give them the freedom to play outside without the danger of being hit by a car or interacting with strangers. As a community, we can jointly own and maintain things that would be too expensive or too wasteful to own individually (such as a swimming pool or a high-quality treadmill).

Living in a pocket neighborhood does not mean you are stuck hanging out with the same people all the time. You are not obligated to attend social events, nor are you obligated to invite the entire community to social events that you host. The only required commitment is a monthly meeting to make decisions and discuss issues affecting our community.

Who is invited to join the Austin Pocket Neighborhood?

The group is open to anyone who values community, interdependence, health and wellness, and caring for ourselves, others, and the environment. Members will also need the financial independence to get a mortgage to contribute to the purchase of the land (approximately $33,000) and to pay for a home to be built (approximately $125-$150 per square foot). We are currently discussing the idea with ma modular, but we are open to other builders as well.

What is the timeline for this project?
We hope to get a group of interested folks together from November 2011 through April 2012. Then we hope to purchase the land and begin building, with a move-in date of November 2012.

I'm interested! What do I do?

Complete this form, and we will be in touch. We look forward to it!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sara, you may also want to look into the Miccosukee Land Cooperative. It's pretty amazing stuff.

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