1st Annual National Green Building Conference

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Perry Bigelow - Spirituality of Sustainability

Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer, environmentalist, and author who has lectured at Harvard, Stanford, et.al., taught us that a community of people is inevitably rooted in a place and the ecology of a place and that in America there is an inseparable dichotomy between public and community and between public rights and communal autonomy, and that you cannot have a healthy, sustainable natural ecosystem unless you have healthy sustainable communities; i.e. they are mutually interdependent.

So our foundation is the Bible, Bellah, Alexander, and Berry. The primary super structure consists of archetypal patterns from Pattern Language, CoHousing, Design for Children, Traditional Neighborhood Design, and Traffic Calming.

You can pick up a copy of our design bibliography in the back for specific references.

III. HomeTown

HomeTown will have about 1100 homes in 8 distinct neighborhoods on 150 acres of former cornfield. It is in the City of Aurora about 30 miles west of downtown Chicago. All homes are detached, except for some that are attached at the garage. The price range is $100,000 to $200,000.

We opened our models one year ago and HomeTown has 110 sales. HomeTown is currently selling at and annualized rate of 150 homes per year.

We try to think of HomeTown through the eyes of a resident rather than through the eyes of a planner. A resident's interests radiate outward from his home.

The primary spheres of shared human activity in HomeTown are first the homes, then the typical Mini Neighborhood, then the Neighborhood with its Neighborhood Street, Neighborhood Park, and the corner store and café, then the public parks, and then the Village Center and school. Each sphere of activity is connected with pedestrian ways to the next larger sphere of activity. Pocket Neighborhoods are connected to each other as well as to the Neighborhood Park by oversized 6'-wide public sidewalks. Neighborhoods are likewise connected to the Public Parks. Each sphere of shared human activity and their connections provide for the most important element of any Neighborly Neighborhood--freedom and mobility for children and old people without dependence on the automobile (which they can't use themselves) along with the opportunity for children and old people to interact everywhere all the time.

IV. MINI NEIGHBORHOODS

The primary community-planning element in HomeTown is the Mini-Neighborhood, Neighborhood Pocket, or Micro Neighborhood, whatever you prefer to call it. HomeTown as a concept stands or falls on these Mini Neighborhoods. The Mini-Neighborhood is the most important place where people start to develop friendly relationships. They are really little clusters of CoHousing without the common house. We used the design elements of CoHousing extensively along with Alexander's patterns about clustering houses around a commonly owned or controlled courtyard.

The Mini-Neighborhood is the smallest and most intimate sphere of shared human activity. Each one has from 10 to 15 homes. This is small enough for a number of neighborly relationships to develop based on an interest in a commonly-owned common space, but also large enough so there is a critical mass of options and opportunities for daily neighborliness to maintain itself. These homes share a landscaped green and central gathering place with seating--a patio or gazebo with benches. Each Mini-Neighborhood has a symbolic gateway (a trellis, fencing, or some shrubs, etc.) that creates privacy, security, and a sense of common separateness. Each home has a front porch or patio that is sized to be usable. Most front porches today are merely visual nostalgia symbols of the past designed only to look neighborly, not actually to be neighborly; however, HomeTown's porches and patios are designed for real, every day living. They are generally 7' wide, so there is room for a table and plenty of chairs. They are elevated and set off from the common open space with railings, fences, or landscaping, so they feel private and secure--yet people sitting on them are visually connected to the common open space. Every home has a livable front porch or a front garden patio. In order to increase a sense of personal as well as shared ownership in the private open space; the owners may change the design of the space over time without the approval of the Homeowners Association.

There are two types of Mini-Neighborhoods: Living Courts and Living Lanes.

V. LIVING COURTS - A CHILD'S WORLD

A Living Court has 12 to 14 homes - just the right number of homes to provide the opportunity to develop several good friendships while recognizing that some folks want to keep pretty much to themselves.

The physical design of a Living Court can either promote or discourage interaction between people, resulting in either a lively or lifeless place. Providing a raised porch or small garden patio with at least two comfortable seating places in the front of each home overlooking the Living Court makes it easier for people to spontaneously meet and greet their neighbors.

The fact that there are no cars in the Living Court means that the Living Court can be designed to a human scale and a child's pace. A HomeTown Living Court is one of the few outdoor people places in the modern world that is not influenced by cars whatsoever. The children and residents live in the Living Court, the cars live out in the back. Residents, not cars, occupy the most valuable part of the site.

The homeowners (not the association) have direct control over the use of the Living Court and changes to it. In most condominium developments, the homeowners association completely controls everything. And the homeowners don't even have any control over the common land that's right in front of their own houses. People will not love and exercise special care and concern for land unless they directly control it. In HomeTown, the families who live in a Living Court directly control the rules and regulations, the uses, the installation of additional landscaping, etc. with respect to their Living Court. This gives the Living Court special importance to the families that live there. The opportunity to work together to create a special unique place creates a real camaraderie. It is very comforting to know that a small group of people you know and trust has direct control over the land in front of their houses. If a homeowner wants to add to the landscaping or plant flowers in front of his front garden patio or porch and if his neighbors agree to it, he can do it, and the homeowners association cannot prohibit it.

The Living Court functions like a big outdoor living room. Actually, it functions even more like a big outdoor great room - each family has its own gathering place and all the families share a larger gathering place where several families can sit and talk. The common gathering place has two benches at right angles to each other, which encourages informal, friendly conversation. The Living Court gathering place has a southerly exposure so people can sit in the sun.

The entry to the Living Court is defined by a "gateway" - a trellis or some shrubbery. This psychological gateway clearly defines the transition from the public sidewalk and street to the semi-public Living Court. It is a very effective passageway and transition. Strangers do not feel comfortable entering it unless they have business there because they know they are on someone else's turf and they are probably being watched. Almost unbelievably, in this day and age, some of our homeowners feel so safe and secure that they often leave their doors unlocked.

The wide 5-foot sidewalk functions as the "main street" of the Living Court and as a "kids street." In most other condominium developments, this main sidewalk is only 3' wide which is so narrow that 2 people cannot walk side-by-side - nor can kids pass each other on their trikes and bikes. The front door of each home is highly visible from this sidewalk, and the sidewalk is highly visible from several rooms in every home. This makes the entire Living Court much safer and more secure.

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