"You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
Seems the hippies and the father of the geodesic dome were on to something sustainable in the 1960s when they modeled shared living spaces and bartered goods. Turns out those behaviors truly are easier on the planet and better for the soul.
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An emergent trend of agrarian urbanism and community residential development is afoot. “People are gravitating toward communities that foster their interests,” Urban Land Institute’s Senior Fellow Ed McMahon told UrbanLand earlier this year. Or as Michael Watkins, founder and principal of Michael Watkins Architecture & Town Planning, put it: “Community is this generation’s golf course.”
As such, co-housing has become a commercially attractive proposition for developers. One popular example is “agrihoods,” residential developments that support agriculture or revolve around working farms. They increasingly include farm-to-table food (locavore) and agriculture-based activities and the notion of adaptive use of resources rather than their abuse and depletion.
“Agrarian urbanism is a complex pattern that transforms lawn-mowing, food-importing suburbanites into settlers whose hands, minds, surplus time, and discretionary entertainment budgets are available for food production and its local consumption,” notes Andrés Duany, principal and cofounder of DPZ, an urban planning firm, in his book, Garden Cities: Theory & Practice of Agrarian Urbanism.
As Sue Riddlestone, co-founder of BedZED - a pioneering community of 82 low-energy, water-efficient homes in south London, recently told the Guardian: “It’s all about living healthy and happy lives without harming the planet.”
Irena Bauman, architect and professor of sustainable urbanism at the University of Sheffield, agreed: “The sharing economy is one of the biggest transformational ideas that offer an alternative to the market-led economy. Co-housing and other sharing models are redefining how we can live with a smaller eco-footprint and greater sense of wellbeing.”
The shift has been fueled by digital transparency and ‘sharing brands’ such as Airbnb, Uber, JustPark and Lyft, opening the world to co-authored interactions where intention and outcome are shared.
“Often participants in the digital sharing economy try these services initially because of price or convenience considerations, but remain users because of the quality and the community,” said Arun Sundararajan, professor of information, operations and management sciences at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
Bob Kettler, chairman and chief executive officer of Kettler, a McLean, Virginia–based multifamily housing developer, is working on a more urban and affordable model: “You have 55 million millennials, 75 million baby boomers, but there are only 40 million gen Xers, who are at the prime homebuying age, so there’s a dip in the demographic curve coupled with unaffordability,” Kettler told UrbanLand.
Health and wellness are top of the list for developers such as Jeremy Hudson, CEO of the Specialized Real Estate Group in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He’s building ECO Modern Flats by adapting 96 apartments built in the 1960s into healthy living environments. Hudson suffers from asthma and severe allergies, so smoking is banned in all apartments and environs, along with a solar hot-water system; ductless heating and cooling; and non-VOC paints, stains and finishes.
Grow Community on Bainbridge Island, Washington is a near- or net-zero-carbon community with solar-powered homes, whose 23 single-family houses and 20 apartments sold out in six months with no advertising beyond the island and no listing on the Multiple Listing Service.
But the biggest surprise for the developers — the heart and soul of Grow Community is its community gardens.
“We have microhoods — six or eight homes that face each other and the community gardens between them,” Greg Lotakis, project manager for developer Asani, told UrbanLand. “When people come to see the community, they see how lush the garden spaces are and the community interaction they create.”