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Flash! – communes are on the rise again
Original: Extreme Makeover, Commune Edition

Andrew Jacobs, NY Times
After decades of contraction, the American commune movement has been expanding since the mid-1990’s, spurred by the growth of settlements that seek to marry the utopian-minded commune of the 1960’s with the American predilection for privacy and capital appreciation.

More than 1,100 such settlements, known as eco-villages and co-housing communities, have been built or are in the planning stages, according to the Communities Directory. That is more than double the number a decade ago, and Tony Sirna, a resident of the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeast Missouri who helps maintain the directory, said he received about 15 to 20 listings a month for new communities. Many of them, he said, are started by disaffected baby boomers who have grown weary of car-dependent, McMansion-filled sprawl.

The new breed of cooperative living, however, is far from radical. In co-housing, the fastest growing segment, participants design their own subdivision with an emphasis on closely spaced, modest homes and Norman Rockwell-style social interaction encouraged by communal areas and pot-luck dinners. Eco-villages, many with solar-powered homes that are constructed with hay bales, are driven by an environmentally minded ideology. Residents are likely to avoid meat, wear hemp-fiber clothing and resemble the hippies of yore.

…Some say the time is ripe for a less atomized and wasteful existence. They cite an aging population that is seeking to downsize, the high cost of new housing and a surge in energy prices that will make old-school suburban life untenable.

Albert Bates, a lawyer from Connecticut who hitchhiked to The Farm, a commune in Tennessee, in 1972 and never left, says a flood of visitors seeking to learn about the 200-member community led to the creation of an eco-village training center that each year draws hundreds of people from around the world.

When gas hits $20 a gallon, Mr. Bates said, suburbia will wilt and Americans will flock to tight-knit, energy-efficient communities where they can walk or bike to stores that sell pesticide-free produce. “That time may not come for another 10 years,” said Mr. Bates, 59. “But at some point people are going to look for alternatives.”
(11 June 2006)

Think Small, Think Local

Michael Kane, From The Wilderness
At Black Mountain, North Carolina, there is a developing ecovillage known as Earthaven that exemplifies Catherine Austin Fitts’ Solari economic model to a tee, though the community has never consciously worked directly from it. It is usually assumed that an intentional community such as this is a commune, but that is not so in the case of Earthaven. Instead, what I will call a “natural-capitalist” model has been embraced where investment in the community is encouraged through equity. One community member calls this “capitalism with a heart.”

Within this community, two individuals have taken the initiative to fast-forward Earthaven’s planning for the Post-Peak world by implementing an amazingly ambitious business plan with a bioregional focus.

…There are many individual leaders throughout Earthaven in addition to Brian & Farmer showing initiative in many critical areas for the greater community.

It is my pleasure to report that a large percentage of people at Earthaven not only know what Peak Oil is, but they also fully grasp a vast number of the “what if” scenarios we need to be thinking about and preparing for at this point in time. During my stay, Patricia Allison, a longtime Earthaven member and fifteen-year Permaculture veteran, screened the final edit of “The Power of Community” detailing how Cuba dealt with their own energy crisis. The conversation engaged in after the screening was both encouraging and realistic.
(25 July 2006)

Smaller To Become Better

Broderick Perkins, Realty Times
The condo glut in some markets could soon turn into a blessing for owners looking to sell and buyers trying to land their first home, if a forecast from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) is accurate.

Driven by inflated housing costs, more expensive financing, greater energy expenditures and the failure of incomes to keep pace with inflation, the housing market is entering an era when demand grows for smaller, more compact and affordable homes.

The predicted trend could come at an opportune time. Smaller homes, most notably condos, right now are not weathering the downturn as well as single-family homes. Speculators are bailing out of once-super-hot condo markets and some potential first and second-home buyers, thwarted by higher energy costs, are opting for the rental market instead.

As a result, condo inventories are rising and the sector is turning around and slowing down faster than the single-family detached home market.

“Size Matters”, by John McIlwain, a ULI senior resident and Melissa Floca, a ULI research associate says, even as the housing boom wanes, demand for housing continues, but more and more households will be unable to afford today’s median home size — the 2,200-square-foot single-family sprawler.
(24 Aug 2006)

Curbing the big, the bad, the ugly

Gayle Pollard-Terry, LA Times
Los Angeles is studying citywide limits on the size of houses. Could McMansions become a thing of the past?
As hard as it might be to imagine, new McMansions – those large homes crowding small or average-size lots – could one day become an endangered species in Los Angeles.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge has asked the planning department to come up with citywide guidelines on how big is too big. He is seeking to replace the temporary solutions and current hodgepodge of neighborhood-specific restrictions with an ordinance that applies to all teardowns and to vacant lots on hillsides.

“I would hope we could rethink it to allow a person to build their American dream, their castle,” LaBonge said, “and have them in scale with the neighborhood.”

He’s got plenty of support from people who own one-story houses and prefer not to live in the shadows – literally. They want to preserve the character of their streets by keeping out towering villas that block sunlight, eliminate views, destroy mature trees and create sightlines that invade the privacy of bedrooms and backyards. But there are others who view the construction as an improvement over the small, old houses – some of them decrepit – that the McMansions are replacing. Plus, there are plenty of buyers who want four or more bedrooms.
(27 Aug 2006)
Submitter Byron King writes: “A solution that fails to identify the real problem. Small steps in the right direction, but not a word about Peak Oil. Alas…”