Thursday, October 6, 2011

Avoiding a Wire-esque nightmare - Part 1

David Kennedy’s book Don't Shout for eradicating gang violence describes only the first step. It skims root causes that create gangs in the first place. There is more - the neighborhood and the street and the housing where gangs breed.

A few years ago an HBO crime drama, The Wire, portrayed contemporary gang life and a cultural war against the urban underclass. Striking to me was the similarity between gang ghettoes in The Wire and the actual housing projects we work in SafeGrowth programs. We call them "gang breeders" because that is exactly what such nightmarish places create.

Five years after The Wire ended we are deep in recession and housing is undergoing a transformative tsunami. Foreclosed houses in outer urban rings are leaving swaths of ghost suburbs. Inner urban rings are densifying into a new kind of suburb where demands for multi-family housing and apartment rentals are exploding.


Are Wire-esque nightmares in our future? Suburban ghettoes? A new kind of vertical poverty, growing in cities like LA, Chicago, Toronto and New York?

How can we build denser, environmentally friendly housing? How can we satisfy the needs of the future and make livable and safe habitat?

Intentional communities provide a proven answer. One successful version is co-housing. I've studied co-housing for 20 years and visited dozens in different countries. I've spent time with architect Jan Gudmand-Hoyer who pioneered the idea in the 1960s.

In North America co-housing has been around for a few decades. There are about a hundred in the US and Canada. In Oregon, Washington and British Columbia alone there are 24 projects, a third of which have been running for over 15 years.

McCamant and Durrett write about co-housing. Their recent book Creating Cohousing describes it.

Next blog: How can we make this a reality?