Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Avoiding a Wire-esque nightmare - Part 2

One of my favorite quotes in The Wire is when a 16-year-old drug dealer points to a run-down apartment and says, "…this shit! This is ME, y'all. Right here!" I've heard real drug dealers say that.

Author Arthur C. Clarke once wrote the only way to discover the limits of the possible is to venture a little way into the impossible.

Unworkable neighborhoods demand a different future. Higher density housing may replace sprawling suburbs for reasons both environmental and economic. But too often we get old style house design and traditional apartment buildings. We get unmanaged and decrepit public housing that ends up as gang-breeding warehouses. Witness all-too-real neighborhoods in The Wire.

The Wire never won a major award and had modest ratings. Yet it's described as the greatest TV series ever made. Part of that is due to its bleak existential portrait and the warning it offers. Clearly, we need to venture into the impossible.

I recently saw just such a vision in Victoria BC - Fernwood Urban Village, an elegant and well designed development proposal for density co-housing.


Cohousing is resident-planned, owned and managed equity housing. When I contacted cohousing projects around Seattle, many had affordable rental units. Enough of those in our future and maybe we could eliminate public housing altogether!

Like most cohousing, Fernwood is pedestrian-oriented with common dining rooms, media rooms, and workshop. Residents own their private residence but the design "makes social interaction easy and integral to everyday life." Each unit has it's own kitchen but residents usually choose to share a few meals each week in the common house.

Unlike gated communities, resident-owners share co-housing design and management. Thus, residents learn problem-solving and collaborative decision-making skills for handling conflict later on.

Municipalities rarely encourage or provide financial incentives for cohousing. That needs to change. We need to venture into the impossible.

Check out co-housing movements in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia.