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Sustainable Communities

The Times They Are A Changin’

The 21st Century finds Americans waking to the Reality of our unintended consequences of our car-dependant suburban sprawl lifestyle; over consumption of a dwindling supply of natural resources and cheap oil, a health crises of obesity and diabetes, a spiritual crises and lack of purpose, social isolation and lack of connection, increasingly catastrophic weather events and the impending loss of 1/2 to 3/4 of the world’s species from global warming, to named a few.

The Cure for Suburban Sprawl is found in…

“Mixed-Use, Mixed-Income Neighborhoods,
with Life-Long Learning and Open Space…Everywhere!”

A Sustainable Way of Life

Sustainability Meets the Diverse Needs
of the New American Family

Not only have the times changed, but so has the American Family.  According to the 2000 Census, only 24% of households in the United States have the traditional demographics of two adults and children under 18 living under one roof.  And yet currently (2006), 78% of our new home production is single family homes.  It’s as if we still believe Wally and the Beaver are still living at home with their parents, Ward and June Cleaver.

Social Sustainability Solutions

Single Parents, Empty nesters, Young professional couples, Singles, and Couples with no kids make up 78% of who we are. We are now changing careers 3 to 5 times, living longer, and in search for a purposeful life. Whether it’s health care or affordable aging in place, the challenge of making three wholesome meals for your family everyday, or long commutes, for a great number of Americans needs are not being very well met by the current choices in the marketplace.

If you are a “Boomer” seeking more simplicity, a single seeking deeper connection beyond the dating scene,  a retiree not ready to fade away, a single parent, an entrepreneur, or a family with children who yearns for…

•A neighborhood where creativity is encouraged and fostered,

•A community where all are appreciated and celebrated and you experience a profound sense of belonging,

•A life where you enjoy the feeling of safety that comes from the security of your neighborhood “extended family” looking out for you, then…

Welcome to Life Beyond Suburbia!

Sustainability is about Economic, Social, and Ecological Systems and Strategies that leave the world a better place for our children and future generations.  Design Elements that support a sustainable lifestyle speak to our current needs, and at the same time create an empowering, more abundant, just, and joyful future for all.

Ecological Sustainability-Complex Challenges,
Profound Solutions

As you probably are aware, it’s estimated that if everybody on the planet was to have our lifestyle, we’d have to have 4 more planets of resources. In other words, to live ecological balance, we will have to reduce our consumptive lifestyle something like 75%.  Building green homes and buying cars that get higher gas mileage, is a necessary part, but to have a safe streets where children are free to explore their universe, like the Boomers had as children, will require a bigger makeover.

To be able to grow old, and affordably age in place, we will have to create new neighborhood systems to support  the wave of aging Baby Boomers, 1/2 of whom have no retirement.

In the early 70’s when I went to college, I learned about the “J” curves.  It was predicted we, as a planet would come into a time around the turn of the Century, 2000, when population growth, and demand for consumer goods, would create Global Warming and shortages of water and other natural resources.  Those predictions have come to pass, and now we are faced with projections of horrific consequences if we continue our current lifestyle another 50 years.

Fortunately we have the capacity to rise to the challenge, and learn from the past.  Now is the time to recognize and design for changes in our own obsolete dysfunctional lifestyle.

Economic Sustainability — Cost Reduction
and Profit Sharing Strategies

With good planning and design, your neighborhood can be more sustainable economically. Alternatives to gentrification allow future generations and area employees to remain nearby.  Here’s a list of ways to get more financial support from your home and your neighborhood while making them great places to live and retire. (Sadly, the links to this italicized list are no longer active, but I hope the lists themselves will get you thinking)

  • 29 ways to make money off of your well designed home and neighborhood
  • A profit sharing neighborhood in Cotati California
  • A Partial List of for profit or non profit services that could fit into your neighborhood…
  • Add your own ideas to the list!

Village Development of America LLC (ViDA!) is a for-profit development company that facilitates the establishment of sustainable and empowering mixed-used, mixed-income neighborhoods, so that we can all live in vibrant, alive communities, and prosper.

Example Community / Focus Group Findings

A More Abundant Lifestyle

The Sustainable Santa Fe Neighborhoods Group (SFSNG) came up with the idea of giving as a key to a more abundant lifestyle. Currently, infill and new development often give very little to neighborhoods, usually a loss of views and open space, more traffic, and a deadness associated with second homes and single use neighborhoods.

From our Focus Group, a vision has emerged where the residents of existing neighborhoods get more; More abundance and aliveness, more safety with neighbors walking on the streets to more conveniently located services. Along with a healthier, more pedestrian friendly lifestyle came innovative ways to share more amenities, creating a greater sense of community and providing a more affordable lifestyle, a lifestyle beyond suburbia, a lifestyle that lives lighter on the planet.

The Focus Group identified conceptual “clusters” of homes or workspaces, designed around residents’ simple but fundamental essential common needs;
Child-Oriented Houses, a Cohousing Group, an Elder Housing Group, a Live/work and Commercial Space Cluster, a Small Houses and Eco-Homes Compound, Artist Cooperative Workshops, and Young People Living Over Garages.

Giving More Amenities, Getting More Life

These different clusters were assigned services to be provided, not only to meet the cluster’s own needs, but as scales of economy require, to meet the needs of the adjoining clusters and the existing, surrounding neighborhoods. We created a list of amenities, based on our needs and desires. Some of these are for- profit, some are non-profit. Just as the fundamental clusters are conceptual, so are these amenities. As we locate different sites, those folks that like a particular site will create their own unique mix of clusters and amenities.

A daycare facility and a yoga room were assigned to the child-oriented houses. These could be run as for-profit businesses, offered to surrounding neighborhood residents. A Cohousing Group with guest rooms and a large kitchen and dining facility, could well be used by the greater community. We assigned the greenhouse, a community garden, and a library to the Elder Housing Group. A spa and a meeting hall were assigned to the Live/work and Commercial Space Cluster. The Small Houses and Eco-Homes Compound got the gym and a formal garden, whereas the Artist Cooperative Workshops were assigned a woodshop and salon/ gallery. Young People Living Over Garages scored the car share program and a laundry facility.

Imagine the respect and appreciation and abundance in a neighborhood
built using these concepts!

Live/Work and Commercial Space

A Live/Work complex has commercial space on the ground floor, with residential living above. Parking for employees can be shared with residents who commute. When control and management of the property is kept in the hands of neighborhood residents, the benefits of the mix of services, as well as the profits from the leases are shared locally.

By recruiting tenants who provide desirable local services – such as a café, a bakery, photocopy and “pack and mail” shop, an aliveness is created for the entire neighborhood and surrounding community, making for a more walkable and safer community (“eyes on the streets security”).

An “office suite” of small, turnkey spaces, fosters local entrepreneurs and encourages job creation in our ever-changing global marketplace.

Our SFSNG Focus Group assigned a meeting hall and spa to this cluster. Both services could be run for profit. The meeting hall would bring great benefits to a larger community, with live performances, educational presentations, and community serving events. Spas are great places for nurturing and rejuvenation and may prove to be quite lucrative!

A Cohousing Compound

A more deliberate way of finding mutual benefit and abundance is through a Cohousing Cluster. Typically with Cohousing, future neighbors join together with a facilitator and design a pedestrian-oriented environment, a cluster of homes with the parking on the perimeter.

A Common House with a large kitchen and dining space creates a greater sense of community as several nights a week members gather for a common meal. The cooking is rotated through the group with the resulting evening “off” several nights a week.

The decision-making is by consensus, and the grounds are maintained by the residents. Each resident has a private home with a complete kitchen, so they choose their level of community/privacy on a daily basis.

The Common House typically includes a laundry facility, guest rooms, and often, a music room or children’s play area. With a facility that supports a greater sense of community, residents discover ways to share their lives, adding to their sense of richness and abundance.

The often under-utilized Common House could be designed for greater neighborhood usage. The kitchen could be upgraded to a commercial kitchen and used by caterers and bakers. Different dining groups, such as an organic dinner club or a vegetarian group would draw members from the wider community.

A Bed and Breakfast could become a source of income with more guestrooms!

Our Focus Group saw the Cohousing Compound providing guest rooms and a large kitchen/dining facility to surrounding clusters.

Child-Oriented Houses

Families with children form a child-oriented cluster, where they create an environment conducive to sharing the daily tasks and challenges of raising children. An immediate neighborhood with playmates and safe, monitored play areas give “but there’s nothing to do!” an answer without driving across town. The supportive exchange of childrearing information and assistance becomes convenient. Families finding creative and efficient ways to get the myriad of daily tasks accomplished becomes the norm.

The SFSNG Focus Group selected two self-serving amenities that could be provided to the greater community, namely a day care facility and a yoga room. Imagine the financial, emotional, and logistical savings to be had with a daycare and workout/dance/stretch room conveniently located in your neighborhood.

Raising children does take a village!

Elder Housing Group

Coming together and sharing is a natural for elders who want a greater sense of community. Staying active with meaningful work, living in a neighborhood of friends, independent, with a plan for more-affordable assisted living at home, should the need arise, are all qualities seniors achieve by working together in an Elder Housing Group.

Elders often prefer living in a neighborhood of folks who are at a similar time in their lives. Their children are grown and out of the home, careers are over, they have free time and want to share mature conversation, work on common projects, or just be spontaneous in the moment.

Smaller houses with less maintenance are often more desirable.  An environment of just suburban 3 bedroom homes, vacant during the day, just doesn’t get it!

Senior Cohousing has found, by creating large guest rooms (actually, generous suites), residents’ families can stay for extended periods and provide support as needed. An assisted living professional can move into a suite, providing affordable long-term care for the cluster.

Whether it is building a project together, such as a greenhouse, growing their own vegetables, sharing common trips to the market (some live without a car), or going with a friend to the movies or for a bike ride, by designing a cluster together, seniors are having an abundant, fulfilling completion to a life richly lived.

To keep a good mix of ages, Senior Cohousings require new members to be between 55-60. “Time Banking” sets contributions of time for ground maintenance and cooking by the resident’s age, thus the older you get the less is required, and an accumulation of hours can be traded, banked for later years, or even sold off to Cohousing members too busy to contribute their required hours. “In truth, however, residents work more community hours than required, for as long as they can. They simply enjoy contributing to their community in a meaninful way.” (p 79, Senior Cohousing, A Community Approach to Independent Living, Charles Durrett, Habitat Press, 2005)

Our Focus Group assigned the job of organizing the Community Garden and the Library to the Elder Housing Group. Both of these services could well be extended into the surrounding community.

Artist Cooperative Workshops and Studio Space

Our SFSNG Focus Group identified another essential piece of the community, a cluster where artists create an environment that facilitates their creative expression and financial success in the world. Affordable studio space, workshop cooperatives, buying in bulk, or just being in close proximity to each other for cross-fertilization makes for a mutually-supportive way of life.

When the opportunity is made available to share kilns, join a woodworking cooperative, create an outdoor arts and crafts market, or be a member of a local gallery, both artists and the surrounding neighborhood benefit from creativity flowing in their community. With the smells and sights and sounds of creativity pumping, kids, teens, and adults get inspired and motivated to develop new skills!

Young People Living Over Garages

With late hours, louder music and more parties, young people need a more separate environment. Our SFSNG Focus Group came up with the idea of Young People Living Over Garages. The idea here is a more affordable, independent lifestyle, where one can come and go without disturbing others. Garages off of alleys would be ideal; maybe living over storage units might prove to be a win/win opportunity.

The Car Share Program, and a Laundry Facility got assigned to the young people. Here are two services, both for profit, that are certainly in need by their age group, as well as needed by the greater surrounding community.

However the businesses are organized, there’s lots of room for creativity. Jobs and strong business skills will be created. Self-esteem and confidence will be enhanced as young adults set out on their quest to discover who they are, all the while contributing to their community in real and tangible ways; serving themselves as they serve others.

Possible Uses Of Commercial Space
In A Mixed-Use Neighborhood

Location –  street  vs  interior units, ground floor vs upstairs
Ownership structure –  for-profit,  non-profit,  membership/private  “club”

Shared amenities/ownership

•Roof top viewing, happy hour
•Sauna and/or Hot Tub
•Recycling Center – cardboard, paper, etc
•Methane generation
•Hot Water Boiler System, submetering
•Aging in Place-Time Banking
•Car Share, Truck
•Guest Rooms
•Common House
•Common Kitchen
•Community Meeting Room
•Commercial Spaces
•Recycled Potable Water for Agriculture
•Internet Connections
•Workout Facility/Yoga
•Basketball, Badminton
•Library, Reading Room, Magazines


•Home Theater Big Screen
•Landscaping, Pond, water features, Woods
•Ping pong
•Friends over for Live Music Place
•Movie Theater
•Woodworking, Ceramics, Weaving


•Vegetable gardens
•Herb Gardens
•Dryer, food
•CSA (Community Subscription Agriculture)
•Community Garden
•Commercial Kitchen
•Wine Room


•Daycare Elders, Youth
•After School Care
•Car share
•Assisted Living Cluster


•Health Practitioners


•Artist Studios
•Professional Offices-Architect
•Real Estate Sales Office
•eBay Store
•Book Store
•Home accessories
•Design office
•Online retail storefront
•Prepared meals
•Assembled Meals
•Ice Cream /Candy
•Pets and Supplies
•Sustainable Store
•Landscape, garden supplies
•Bicycle Sales/Rentals
•Bank/ Credit Union
•Music Sales Video Store
•Music Live/Production
•Coffee/Tea House
•Fed Ex/ Kinkos
•Post Office
•Drug store
•General Store
•Biofuel Station/Organic, Healthy 7-11
•B  & B