Friday, April 4, 2008

Why Belvedere (Bret's Thoughts)

Taking a break from obsessing about our house, I thought I would add my piece on why I am looking forward to living in a community like Belvedere. It certainly seems implausible that someone who moved to Vermont just five years ago in an effort to find wilderness and independence is now moving into a neighborhood with small yards and neighbors close by.

Like Kate I am passionate about nature and the outdoors. I have studied survival and nature awareness and have served on the board of directors of a wilderness school. Like many who rediscover the beauty and power of the natural world I really felt a need to "get away" from the city and suburbs and be able to live with nature around me, with land around the house to wonder in. That was a large part of moving my family to Vermont. And that is still a fine thing to be able to experience.

But what I came to realize, slowly, grudgingly, was that as much as I felt it was "right" for me, it was not the best thing for my family. In Vermont, even though we lived close to town, we still had no close neighbors with children for ours to play with. So we were constantly arranging play dates - which might involve a 20 minute drive to and from the other house - repeated again for pick-up.

The sheer physical distance also affected my relations with friends who I had hoped would be a close community when we moved there. Instead, with most of us busy with work and children and geographically far apart we had to settle for a more remote community where we would gather for occasions, but we lacked the close-knit support network that would have made a huge difference in all our lives.

Furthermore, when I really faced up to it, I realized that I was not completely healthy in that environment. I work from the house, and the isolation plays into my solitary nature, leaving me a bit lonely for ... well, neighbors. And as much as I loved that land, the people, and even the winters, a part of me simply missed the mid-Atlantic forest I grew up in. And most of all I missed being close to my (and Kate's) family.

So when we decided to move to Charlottesville we faced the choice that I believe many have: to live in a neighborhood close to or in the city, or to take advantage of the beautiful land in the surrounding counties and to some extent, re-create our Vermont experience. As they say, it was no contest. Every time I felt drawn to the countryside I found myself thinking of more driving to and from play dates and other children's activities. And I would find myself looking forward to the first time my son could just "go over to a neighbor's house to play". (That has happened here already in River Run, by the way - hallelujah!)

Living in Belvedere will mean compromises in how I choose to live. I do not have the same level of trust that Kate has that everything will come together as planned. But as I told another Belvedere prospect a few days ago, I view the community as a place where the easel and paints have been laid out but it is up to us to really paint the picture. From what I have seen, heard and read, Stonehaus is doing a huge amount of work in designing and creating the structure and nature of a successful community. To fill out that community, to give it life, vibrancy and fullness is the task we home buyers face.

Yet to some extent, the very choice of living here will involve every resident to some extent in the experience of the Belvedere community, because of the way it is designed. I believe this is one of the main things that sets Belvedere apart from the the co-housing communities that are also gaining popularity - and is actually one of the things that I like. People will be free to contribute to the extent that they like, given their time, interests and personal nature, and that is just fine.

I am ready to help Kate in any way I can in settling our family here and in helping build the kind of community that is satisfying for us. I will still have nature close by - the oaks, sycamores and tulip poplars I love. I have red clay to track in. I look forward to Saturday rides from C'ville Bike and Tri. And I get to do it all while living in a beautiful, energy-efficient house that I have helped make special.

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