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Housing & urban design - Feb 5

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


More families move in together during housing crisis

Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY
... The weak economy — which has brought surging foreclosures, sinking property values, vanishing home equity and mounting job losses — is playing a major role in family dynamics, pulling relatives under the same roof to pool their resources and aid relatives who've lost their homes.

Siblings are moving in with one another to help pay the mortgage. Adult children who've lost homes to foreclosure are moving back home with Mom and Dad. Even spouses in the throes of divorce are putting off separating, living together in awkward cold wars because they can't sell their houses.

That's in large part because those losing homes often have nowhere else to go. Many live paycheck to paycheck:

... More families are living with relatives, based on the most recent statistics available. Nearly 3.5 million brothers or sisters are living in a sibling's house, according to 2007 Census Data, up from 3 million in 2000. And 3.6 million parents live with their adult children, up from 2.3 million. About 6.7 million householders live with other relatives, such as aunts or cousins, compared with 4.8 million in 2000. That year, the housing market was beginning its boom stretch, which lasted until late 2005.

Some demographic groups are feeling the effects more than others, including younger first-time home buyers who purchased during the housing boom and older Americans hit by job losses and foreclosures who have less time to recover their financial footing. For example:
(3 February 2009)




NYT: Saving the Suburbs, Part 2

Allison Arieff, By Design (blog), New York Times
... a healthy contingent of commentators on [the author's previous blog post] “What Will Save the Suburbs?” advocated either burning suburbia down or simply letting nature take its course, the opinions offered ran the gamut from using them to relocate displaced Palestinians to turning them into self-sustaining communities.

Other ideas? Here are a few: Mind your own business, city dwellers! Start a cult. Move the homeless in. Turn all those homes into schools. Sack the planners! (Alternatively, please don’t vilify planners.) Convert these homes to low-income housing (or don’t even think about such a crazy idea). Rezone. Give contractors the incentive to build better and greener. Transform those homes into satellite prisons. Let people work from home one day a week. Watch now as the “white flight” begins! Stop driving and walk more!

And one of my favorites: Put all the McMansions into abandoned big box stores for greater energy efficiency, creating an instant community in the process.

One unanticipated discovery that became clear from the commentary was just how deep an animosity exists between urban dwellers and suburbanites. Perhaps “saving” was the wrong verb to use in the title.

... Richard Register has been thinking about the imperative of ecological urban (and suburban) redesign for decades. The author of “Ecocities” and founder of Ecocity Builders, Register advocates returning healthy biodiversity and agriculture to cities, and designing them in such a way so as to bring convenience and pleasure to walking, bicycling and transit. He explains that we should now be thinking about strategies for removing development: “It’s time for an intelligently phased withdrawal from it. This can happen by default or by design. By default would be a catastrophe.”

In their recent book “Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs,” architects and academics Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson) would agree. They see suburbia itself as flawed (which die-hard suburbanites may not appreciate) and, like Register, they recommend urban strategies to solve suburban problems.

... In keeping with this apparent new era of personal responsibility, the only-slightly-tongue-in-cheek collective Wannastartacommune.com started by Stephanie Smith, Buckminster Fuller-acolyte and founder of the green design lab, Ecoshack, gives a new attitude to an old idea, urging residents of cul de sacs or condos to come together with their neighbors to share resources. Suggestions for collaboration include a shared compost pile, weekly potlucks, neighborhood recycling programs, barter services and shared childcare. Their pilot project, Cul-de-Sac communes, is already underway.

This tendency — let’s call it extreme neighborliness — is so old-fashioned as to seem innovative. Startlingly basic and wholly actionable, it’s a bright spot in a dark time.
(3 February 2009)
Recommended by Jeffrey J. Brown ("westexas") is one of the projects mentioned in the article: The Cul-de-sac Commune Project.


Resource: Green Urbanism Down Under

Worldchanging team
Australia and America share many cultural similarities. Among them: roots in Great Britain, a "New World" legacy of both optimism and exploitation, and a car-centric culture. But while Australia has become a trailblazer on the path to sustainable urban development, the United States still has much to learn. Sustainable Communities expert Timothy Beatley (see bio below), who has previously chronicled sustainable urban development in Europe in the book Green Urbanism, now turns an eye toward Australia and the lessons it can share with the United States in his 2009 release, Green Urbanism Down Under. The dense book, which Beatley wrote in collaboration with Australian sustainability expert Peter Newman, is packed with case studies of innovative policy-making, community solutions to preservation, cutting-edge green building, and much more. Below is an excerpt from the book, which Beatley, Newman and publisher Island Press agreed to share with the Worldchanging audience.
(28 January 2009)

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