Transforming Existing Neighborhoods – Part Two

This home was collectively purchased and turned into the Common House for N Street neighborhood in Davis, CA.

In last week’s blog, I wrote about bringing more community to your existing neighborhood. This week, let’s discuss what it will take to make this happen. If this is the path you’re considering, here are several important characteristics you’ll need – starting with patience. To be successful, you’ll be speaking with the households on your block and the surrounding blocks to determine if they wish to participate. Be prepared for this process to take time and lots of it. You’re introducing a new idea and people need time to digest something new and make the time in their already busy lives.

Leadership is another key trait. Transforming a neighborhood needs a champion, someone to keep everyone and everything moving forward. If you’re that leader, consider finding a co-leader as soon as possible. You will need to coordinate ongoing events, including planning and implementing social and educational activities. A political effort may also be needed if a  zoning change is involved or to create an HOA, if one doesn’t already exist.

Vision is a third necessary characteristic to see the blueprint of what’s possible and the importance of increased community on your block. Add to  vision, strong communication skills as you’ll be sharing your idea to a diverse group of people understand your vision, including existing residents, current landlords, city officials, potential future residents and design professionals. Communication tools may include your creating a neighborhood newsletter, a community bulletin board,  email list or distributing a flyer about upcoming events to people’s homes.

Tenacity is the final trait required. Some people will find the idea exciting. Others will be opposed. It will require ongoing effort over time to transform your existing neighborhood into group of households that is aligned with a community version.

“Transforming something that is already there involves overcoming the inertia of what is for the benefits of what could be,” said Zev Paiss, sustainability educator and author of From Here To There: A Positive Story of America’s Future.

Models to reference include “retrofit cohousing” where existing cohousing neighborhoods have been turned into supportive communities. In this model, residents start with a few existing homes on a block and adapt the houses, alleys, backyards and courtyards to make them more pedestrian-friendly and community-oriented.

One example is N Street Cohousing in Davis, California, a 19-household neighborhood that started forming in 1991. This community was created by future residents buying up houses in the neighborhood and then taking down the side and backyard fences between the homes. Another example is Temescal Creek Cohousing in Oakland, California, which took only three months to get started.

Retrofitting an existing neighborhood has the advantage of adapting existing structures and not needing to build new construction. It offers innovative opportunities, such as outreach to your friends and family members when homes in the neighborhood go on the market. Another option if for neighbors to buy a home together and convert it into a shared space for meals, meetings and guest bedrooms for out-of-town guests.

The largest disadvantage of transforming your existing neighborhood is the resistance you may meet from current homeowners on your block. However, it may only take five to six households who get behind your idea to make a difference in the amount of community you and others will enjoy.
If you’re interested in this neighborhood process and other ways of creating community in your housing arrangement, please contact me.

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Women For Living in Community