Changing the way we live and altering our daily lives is a big step.  Many of us look with awe and intimidation at the established eco-villages with gardens bursting with produce and cohousing communities expertly designed with architects.  If we could transport ourselves right in place in our new home, we would.  But whether we are joining a community or creating one, the steps to making that life a reality take work.

I went through a process of learning on my way to readiness.  A very wonderful process of reading books, meeting people, and seeing places which changed my assumptions about what I really needed and what was most important.  Over time, I realized what mattered to me most was not a private house, but the chance to be outside more of my day.  And that I didn’t need to choose my neighbors based on having all the same interests as I do, but instead on their desire to be in a community.

At the beginning, there were so many questions.  With all the barriers, is this possible?  How does the group planning process work?  Am I being realistic about what I want?  How do we agree on a plan, or even have enough meetings to talk about a vision!

Visiting and being welcomed by other communities answered the question that this is possible. The people living and building communities in Southern California are inspiring!  Also learned that the process is different for every community, and it’s more about the bonds and communication within the group than any external factor.

I didn’t know that it would take me 2 years to decide I was REALLY ready.  It took many nights of writing in journals and asking myself the questions in Diana Leafe Christian’s books.  Many conversations in groups where we could think out loud and see how our ideas sounded.  And many events hosted by like-minded organizations, where I could see the connections and strength of these many groups with values that support community.

After lunar new year celebrations with friends, I joked that since it is now the Year of the Rooster, it means it will be the year I will realize that idea of the community with the chickens in the yard.  Another friend promptly gave me a poster of a rooster from her home, so I hope that means I am on my way.  I feel so grateful that I have been able to meet my coworkers, neighbors, organizers, leaders, and artists that have been part of this journey.  I can’t imagine living any other way but in community, so I will keep learning and pushing forward.


At Home plans – we need you!

Here is what we have been discussing for next workshops:

Community-centered housing 101 course
We are putting together a short course for people interested in cohousing, cooperatives, and communities, but are new to the issue.  This course will cover the basic terms, examples of communities,  activities to determine what you are looking for, and discussion. Contribute your knowledge and questions to this effort!

Submit events
What have you been wanting to see, but haven’t gotten there?  Are there places where we could learn more about design, community, culture, or our other topics?  Send any places you’d like to visit together, those are great for the Meetup group.   Also let us know if you have a related event where you’d like to invite the group. Examples include events at Environmental Changemakers, LA Ecovillage, Transition, Learning Garden, or any public event in your neighborhood.

Participate by emailing the group, or posting on the Meetup page:

The meetup group is great for the social gatherings, events that are open to the larger group, and things that are building community more generally than housing. Use the discussion board, or the “suggest a meetup” feature.

Cooperative Living Salon: Community Land Trusts & Co-Housing

Several members attended this event, as well as other meetings on housing hosted by LA-Más and the Much ADU About Nothing group. 
This salon was aimed at those interested in Community Land Trusts & Cohousing.  These gatherings are hosted by LA-Más, and I’m posting the information sent by Mark Vallianatos and Helen Leung. 
Cooperative Living Salon: Community Land Trusts & Co-Housing
Presentations by Helen Campbell, Beverly Vermont Community Land Trust & Ilaria Mazzoleni + Olivia Samad, InhabitLA
September 28, 2016
We are not done convening discussions on the policy, design, financing and construction of ADUs or secondary units. But our next Much ADU About Nothing gathering onwill focus on another innovative housing type: cooperative living and building. Just as ADUs allow individual homeowners to add units to shape their living environment, cooperative housing empowers a group of residents to plan, develop and own multifamily dwelling. 
Helen Campbell will present on community land trusts. Helen will be speaking about her involvement as a board member with the Beverly Vermont Community Land Trust (BVNLT), home of the LA Eco-Village. Helen will provide an overview of land trusts and describe the history, ownership, financial and legal structure of the BVNLT, as well as its plans for the future and the potential for other land trusts in Los Angeles. Olivia Samad and Ilaria Mazzoleni from inHabitLA will present on co-housing and the ongoing process to establish a co-housing project in LA. Olivia is Senior Attorney with SoCal Edison and has lived in and explored co-housing in the Washington DC and LA regions. Ilaria is an architect and founder of IM Studio Milano/Los Angeles. They will describe co-housing, trace its origins and give examples in and outside the U.S. 
We look forward to seeing you, please let us know if you can make it! 
Mark Vallianatos and Helen Leung

Paolo Soleri and architecture

Thanks for all who planned and attended the backyard screening of “Paolo Soleri: Beyond Form” film.  It was very energizing to see the works that were created with such inspiration, and think about how buildings could be much more incorporated with the landscape.  There is a movement to regain our sense of place, and that cities don’t all have to look the same across the country.  A person should be able to look at buildings and have a sense of the local history, climate, and people.

 We also celebrated You Are Here meetup organizer Beth Ann Morrison, who is moving to Phoenix to begin a fascinating PhD program in sustainability.

From the Meeup page:

 Soleri was the mastermind behind Arcosanti, north of Scottsdale, AZ – an impressive demonstration of a sustainable city with a focus on living in harmony with the earth, each other, and all forms of life.  Beyond Form is a cinéma vérité style documentary, that presents a fresh and intimate look at the legendary and multi talented artist, philosopher, urban theorist and architect Paolo Soleri. A man who had a dream to create an environment in harmony with man. This film focuses on how his body of work has inspired thousands of people over the years and why his technique and concepts have staying power. You’ll see why Soleri was green before “green” and “sustainable” ever entered the world lexicon. The lean approach has been a theme that was present through out Soleri’s life. Filmmaker Aimee Madsen created this documentary much in the spirit of Soleri’s style of frugality, doing more with less. Written by Roger Tomalty.

Where we’ve been

This seemed like a good time for a recap of what this group has done over the last year and half. We started in early 2015 as a few people interested in a way to live more cooperatively.  We had many questions: what are cooperatives and cohousing? Is this possible to do here in Los Angeles? What have other groups done? How do we learn about types of decision-making and planning processes?

We visited several other communities, which we learned about through the knowledge and initiative of group members. These were LA Eco-village, Regen Co-op in Pomona, and Emerald Village in Vista. I felt very fortunate to hear from members of these communities about their goals and how they operated.  We also benefited from hearing group members share their experiences living in community at cohousing and other types of communities previously or in other parts of the country.  Through discussions and activities, we listened to each other describe our goals and visions for a community.  Through a great collaboration with the Meetup group “You Are Here: Los Angeles: Intentional Community,” we explored fascinating types of design, ways of holding thoughtful discussions, and collaborating with other amazing groups around the area. Also, through wonderful expert speakers and members contributing articles, we started to put together a list of resources available to the group as well as anyone interested in the topic.

Group members discovered we had many shared goals, as well as a lot of enthusiasm for a different way of living. However, several barriers to planning are apparent, including the time that people have available to meet, different expectations for what the group was doing, leadership capacity, and a lack of formal structures such as an organization. I have learned a lot about myself through these experiences; I found that my ideas of what community housing could be were greatly expanded after seeing other examples. I learned that my strengths and interests include reaching out to others, connecting this with different issues, and finding tools to research and document the individual, group, and policy changes that may come.

It is time to take the next steps and shape what the next year will look like. Members, it’s time to weigh in! 

Stay tuned for the next post: where we are headed.

Shipping container design at Adams Gateway

With You Are Here intentional community Los Angeles, we visited the shops at Adams Gateway, a series of stores made out of shipping containers set alongside the delicious JNJ’s barbecue in West Adams. Great designs and examples of materials reuse, indoor outdoor spaces, and a wonderful community spot. 

Building the World We Want: City Repair and Mark Lakeman

After hearing a talk by Mark Lakeman of City Repair, I feel completely inspired and hopeful that we can start a community and take hold of the place we live.  It’s the perfect time to get this project started. This talk helped me see that many of the obstacles are not what they seem, and realize that we do have the capacity to make these ideas happen.  The examples of what is possible broke down my assumptions what is needed to do the things I want to do.

Grab the taproot, stand your ground, and commit to place!

The examples of what has happened in Portland are much more than changing physical spaces, which I had thought.  The projects, such as tea houses and murals, are the result of neighborhoods coming together, not the other way around.  It started with small ideas, and people helping support each other.  It gained momentum and led to community potlucks, and everyone getting to know one another.  This was the key – once you have the awareness of so many different people, you have ways to advocate for projects in ways that one person would not be able to do alone.  If a whole block wants to mulch its leaves or paint an intersection, the city starts to listen and the rules start to change.  It was amazing to see the pictures of neighborhoods transforming how people, plants, water, and structures move, changing a block into a sustainable, friendly, safe place to be.

Placemaking Guidebook
Articles about City Repair

Mark started by putting our Western cities into context: when we moved through the Americas to colonize and settle, our city plans lacked city centers, the heart of most cities and towns around the world.  Without such spaces, we live separate lives, and this really rings true in Los Angeles.  I am identified as a consumer, moving through the world through products and services I purchase, and small spaces I rent.  The spaces welcome shoppers, and people who don’t have this purpose or spaces are made to feel unwelcome.  Many of our designs are built on what we don’t want, keeping people out, rather than thinking of better solutions for our shared problems.  We need common spaces to help us feel a sense of connection to our city.

Now is the time to change our cities into what we want.

Values in planning

I was very intrigued by these words from urban planner James Rojas:  
“Collective community values should be the foundations of all planning decisions, projects, plans but planners rarely dive deep enough to engage the public’s imagination to establish values. 
Planning today lacks the creation of values: How do we value ourselves, each other, and the landscape? Instead planners ask people what they want or need which is similar to asking a child what they want for Christmas.  
The planner creates the list that might include more parking, less congestion, more bike lanes, a subway, a bigger house, etc. Then they prioritize the list by popularity, or financial constraints rather than by values to make sure we are growing, developing in the right direction. 
Individuals have values that dictate their everyday decisions. For example a person might value raising a child, establishing a career, leading a healthy life, etc. Everyday most people make decisions based on their values, which will help them achieve or sustain theses goals.  
The communities have values, like individuals that should dictate the planning decisions. People need to imagine, collaborate and negotiate to create and establish these collective values. Everyday planning decisions and practices should uphold these values. Time and time again communities need to come together be reminded of them time or update them.”

– James Rojas
What do you think about this?  Should we change our planning approach to focus more on values, and less of a list?   
James has a fabulous method of getting people of all ages into planning, and it’s an exercise we can try out.   
Participants use found objects to create their design

Scene for “what’s your favorite childhood memory?”
More of James’ work is on and here is his recent presentation at the New Partners for Smart Growth

What’s your story?

During a meeting of the Moving Forward Network last week, the group spent an entire morning talking about storytelling. The leaders felt it was so important because facts and data do not change people’s minds, but stories do. I was fortunate to attend this meeting of environmental justice advocates through my work at the USC environmental health outreach program, helping support this work since 2005.

We were all asked to share our stories. Often I shy away from this question, because I worry my story sounds bland and cannot relate to others’ stories, with their firm sense of place and purpose. But the workshop convinced me of the power of sharing our stories to bond together and making our voices heard.  Let’s continue sharing our stories at our meetings. 
I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, and early on the leaders of my Girl Scout troop exposed me to the values of protecting the environment and reducing our impacts.  Even as kids, we talked about what it meant that we consumed more resources than other parts of the world.  Coupled with watching Captain Planet, it just seemed like the right thing to do. In college at Hamline University was the first time I heard the phrase “creating community ” in the programs in the dorms. As a student and resident assistant, I went through trainings, discussions, and experiences that led me to work to create a community where we talked about everything. The programs and current events on campus also taught me about social constructs and the privilege I had, and the realities faced by students of color. There were many ways to get involved in activism because we were centered around this campus base in close proximity, had time between classes, and because this was in the spirit and atmosphere of the university. These are things I wish to re-create. The shared learning, cooperation, and action that is inherently part of a space. 

In environmental classes, I kept reading about the glittering places in Davis and other parts of California, the places that were the leaders in sustainable living. It was the place to be. After college I moved to Long Beach with my husband, and quickly fell in love with the landscapes, the problems, and the people who were dedicating their lives to solving those problems. I met many inspiring leaders of nonprofits and felt lucky to work among them. After time that word “community” kept coming back to me, and by searching online I found Our Time Bank and others interested in living cooperatively as a means to help one another and change the place we live. 

Visit to Ojai Foundation

We had the opportunity to visit the Ojai Foundation and tour the beautiful grounds and ask questions about the community.  They focus on sustainable practices, being stewards of the land, and creating a space for retreats and connecting with the land.  We all felt inspired by being out in this place in the middle of the natural setting.

The intentional community has a small group of residents over the past 25 years, and it was very interesting to see the practices that helped with communication, including Council sessions.  These are conversations held in a circle in one of the special buildings that were constructed for this purpose.  They involve a facilitator starting off the session, each person offering their part, and keeping an awareness of the group and self.
I loved the different types of indoor and outdoor structures, and hearing from the designers, artists, and others who helped build them gave me a sense of awe and appreciation for what they accomplished.  They are testing different materials, and I hope that these techniques can be used in other parts of the city some day.  This field trip was organized by You Are Here, a group on focused on exploring intentional community.