Friday, November 28, 2008

Community Development and New Urbanism

"We are really about community development," Frank Stoner said to me when I began asking him more questions about his world. I do think that Stonehaus is not your typical "developer." I am very new to this idea of building infrastructure. Most of my training in community development is about supporting a culture that supports optimal development and therefore health for human beings, especially children. I almost cried when I listened to introduction of Malcolm Gladwell's new book Outliers when he described how the health of a community in Pennsylvania stumped researchers. This very close knit community with Italian ancestry did not have heart disease. After thorough and strenuous analysis, the researchers decided it was the community design that supported their health: houses close together, three generations under one roof, constant social interaction from the front porches and in the streets. This community design supported the health of that community. I wanted to telephone somebody at Stonehaus and say, Read That Introduction! I have been telling Stonehaus from the beginning they have something special. Yet, New Urbanism is not exactly a real estate success story, at least not yet. Why Not?

I am in North Carolina as I write this. This morning I ran around a New Urbanist project called Southern Village. It is remarkably like Belvedere except for the landscape; it is too hilly for people I think to really interact on the street. Not as comfortable to preamble about. Its town center seems to be thriving with a natural food store, cinema, and many little restaurants, shops and services. There is a public school there and now a big park next to it with a soccer field. Fabulous. There are nature trails and I see children in the forest as I run past making dens and playing in the creek. Ah, this is great! Tiny little pocket parks sport small but very interesting play equipment. This is what is possible and I dwell in that. This development is about 10 years old.

Back at the house where I am staying I make remarks about Southern Village. Out come the criticisms. It's Boring. The people there are all the same, white upper middle class. There is no diversity. So, I start to clean and pack to get ready to go home to Belvedere, I begin to sort out how to make communities more diverse. We talk about this in Children In Nature Design Symposiums. How do we design to decrease the culture of fear we live in, the fear of difference? There is no common watering hole where we all come to get water and mingle. Another criticism: The community did not develop until it had programs that attracted people. In other words: The infrastructure was nothing without the people. So, how to build it so they will come (to paraphrase a line from Field of Dreams)?

I am very hopeful and also very aware of the edge upon which Belvedere sits. Somehow, there is something unkown and very important that sits just beyond the edge of my awareness at the moment. I need more information then I put it all inside me and turn it around like a tumbler on a lock. I know I can find the right combination. I just need all the information. Can you help me? Post a comment and tell me what you think I need to know. Belvedere is not like Southern Village in many ways. I just need time, input, and the co-creation of others to find the right mix.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,

Living in the DC area, this neighborhood reminds me of the Kentlands. Are you familiar?

I attempted to purchase a townhouse here in 2002, and was outbid.

While we won't be a pioneer like yourself, my fiance and I are very excited about this neighborhood, and what it will offer its residents in the near future.