Monday, April 16, 2012

Building Community: Still More Updates

As part of my process for trying to start Austin's first public Montessori school, I've started doing home visits with families who are interested in enrolling their children in the school. On one of those visits, I stumbled upon an awesome little neighborhood in East Austin. My dream all along has been to live in East Austin, since that's where I want to start the school, but I want to make sure we settle in a safe neighborhood, since Henry's circle of independence will need to grow wider and wider as he gets older. I've been the victim of crime four times in my life (I've had my car stolen twice and my house broken into twice--once while I was in it). It's something I'm particularly sensitive to.

So I found a neighborhood that feels really established and safe. I feel like we could go for walks in the evening or on weekends, and we could ride our bikes to the park. And get this: there's a 1/2 acre for sale for cheap, cheap, cheap. And it backs up to a creek bed.

Let me continue listing out the pros: it's near the highway for easy access around Austin. It's on the east side, which means I would be creating a school for my own neighborhood and community, and Henry's friends from school would live very close to us.

I need to switch over to bullet points. They make me feel more organized and methodical. I apologize for repeating myself:
  • It's a very good deal.
  • It's 0.5 acres.
  • Easy access to major roadways.
  • In East Austin where I want to position my school.
  • Henry's friends could come over and play in the neighborhood.
  • It's on a cul-de-sac (the perfect place to learn how to ride a bike!).
  • We would see a ton of green out all of our windows.
  • We could garden in the front of our house.
  • The park and library are near by.
  • We could go for evening and weekend walks and feel safe.
  • We could sit out on our porch and see forest.
  • Whole Foods is about 15 minutes away without traffic.

Here are the downsides:

  • It's close to a major highway, so I'm worried about the pollution. I've read about increased heart disease and autism linked to living near a highway (not to mention other things like asthma, etc.). My hope is that all the trees in the area would help mitigate the effect, at least a little.
  • We would not be able to build the community we envisioned because it's not likely that the acre that is for sale next to it has very much buildable area. My hope, however, is that we would have plenty of community very near to us in the form of friends from the school community. This community would be like a more traditional neighborhood and less like an intimate and interdependent cohousing neighborhood.
  • The view out the back includes overlooking some power lines.
  • Even though it's a lot of land, it's not a lot of nature that you can navigate because the foliage is very dense. I'm wondering, though, what it would be like to get a landscape designer out there to take a look at it.

You may be wondering what happened to the idea I wrote about last week. Well, I started worrying that we couldn't make it work financially. I didn't think we could afford to purchase such a big parcel by ourselves and then have enough money to build on it and bring utilities to the house. And although I LOVED the idea of having a little pocket neighborhood of houses, I worried about the larger neighborhood around it and not feeling like we could walk anywhere and feel safe.

Decisions, decisions!

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Katie said...

At the risk of sounding insensitive to your experience, I thought I would share my experience about "safety" to maybe help you in your decision making process.

I am the daughter of a criminal defense attorney who specialised in capital cases. I grew up on stories of HORRIBLE, bloody crimes. Strangely, this made me less afraid. One thing I learned early in my life is that most violent crimes are committed by know perpetrators or as a result of gang activity. If you don't run around with gang members or shack up with a violent character, you probably will be okay.

As an adult, I have taken this to heart. I have lived as a single woman in West Oakland, California; Harringey, North London; and Downtown Cairo. I am moving in the fall to Kreuzberg, Berlin. I believe that most "dangerous" ,neighbourhoods are actually less so because people tend to look out for each other more and that the key to not being a victim is to not look like a victim.

So East Austin might be just fine. :)

Jules said...

I would love to know what neighborhood this is! Can you send me a private message? Keeping my fingers crossed it works out. : )

Rachel said...

Building a house is one of the most stressful and expensive things I have ever done. It was more stressful than my wedding, it was more stressful than finding childcare. It is always overbudget and it is a very dis-empowering process. Plus, it requires more cash than just buying or renting.

I wouldn't even think about buying, (not to mention building!), unless you have serious savings. Serious.

I really respect your drive to nest and settle down. But there's a house on every corner, and you'll know when you find one that's right for you and the finances don't stress you.

Rachel said...

Have you looked into

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Rachel! The architect who designed SOL is the same one who runs Ma Modular (the pre-fab design company we're using). We've check out SOL a lot (including two open houses). I like the idea so, so much. Plus, I think the potential for community and connection is huge. Ultimately, however, we felt like the lot sizes were just too small (even though it's for a good reason!), and there weren't pretty views of nature out the windows.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Jules! I don't know how to send you a private message. Help!

Jules said...

Sara- you can Facebook me or email me at:


Heather Lynn said...

In regards to the dense foliage, this might not be such a bad thing. I grew up in the country and loved having the experience of climbing through dense foliage. Yes, I've had itchy legs from nettles, and all sorts of scratches from these experiences. But I wouldn't trade it for a completely manicured backyard in a million years!

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