Pass the Olives

Jumbled Opinions on Living, Democracy, and Making Things

About Strong Neighborhoods

The purpose of Strong Neighborhoods is to provide information, tools, and opinions on how to strengthen our neighborhoods. The one thing we can all affect in a positive proactive way is our immediate environment. What makes a neighborhood strong? What does my neighborhood need? This is what I hope you can find here.

In early 2004, I began blogging on self-organization and governance, particularly in cohousing, at Sociocracy.info. In 2020, I became frustrated that after 30 years of development in cohousing, there are still not the same number of housing units available for those who earn less than the median income. In fact, you have to earn more than the median to afford units in most cohousing communities. There are a few subsidized units here and there but not nearly enough to meet demand. Cohousing is still a middle- to upper-middle-class movement. Not that it hasn’t tried. But in the housing market in the United States, there is almost no support for building strong neighborhoods for those earning less than the median income. 

Writing about ways to self-govern a community became more frustrating as I realized that as much as cohousing was trying to build neighborhoods for diverse income and levels of wealth, it was wasn’t happening. Before people could live in self-governed, strong neighborhoods, they had to have a neighborhood.

I set up a new blog, Affordable Cohousing,* and began researching methods of low-cost construction. As I wrote post after post, it quickly became clear that there were many ways to build low-cost cohousing to create strong neighborhoods and it has been done where it is allowed. Low-cost construction methods are ample and are used all over the world. Neither ideas, intentions, nor construction were the problem.

Discriminatory Zoning Favors Expensive Housing

The problem in the United States is that zoning laws prohibit multi-household buildings, smaller lot sizes, and smaller homes in any of the areas that it makes sense to build them. Larger homes on larger lot sizes are effectively legislated. You cannot build a Tiny House or even a house that would be considered spacious in other parts of the world in most cities. Nor can you build two or three small houses on one large lot or multi-household dwellings in almost any neighborhood. “Single-family homes” are preferred by builders and town councils alike because they produce higher taxes and higher profits on construction. 

The prime advantage of cohousing communities is that they are communities designed to be neighborhoods. Self-managed and self-governed communities of 25-30 households designed to become neighborhoods of social cohesion and support. Over the last 30 years, cohousing has learned many lessons about community design and management. It has proven itself to be a viable model. Since they are designed and financed by the prospective homeowners, however, it remains an option for those making more than the median income, considerably more in some cases. 

Broadening the Concept of a Strong Neighborhood

To emphasize the ability to develop strong neighborhoods wherever you live, I wanted to write about more than cohousing or even to hold cohousing out as the idea. It’s one strategy for building community. But what about designing and strengthening all neighborhoods to become communities? To make changes where you live now instead of dreaming of one other there. That’s what Strong Neighborhoods will be examining and collecting resources for people to use to develop the neighborhoods they are in now.

Strong Neighborhoods Are Egalitarian, Diverse, Inclusive, Connected

Strong neighborhoods are clusters of people living in egalitarian, diverse, inclusive, and connected communities. This is more than a housing ideal. It requires a change in understanding how we govern ourselves. How we live. How we think about our neighbors.

There is much discussion after four years with a United States president who did not accept democracy and proclaims that our democracy is imperiled.  The basis of a democracy is that every citizen is equally important, their welfare and rights equally respected. We have national and local institutions that support a democratic government and many of us work in those institutions. Too many proved incapable of resisting the will and ruthless tactics of an autocrat. This was a good experience for Americans who believed in a dream that only some of us have accomplished. The experience exposed the weaknesses of our civic society. We have become politically weak and unable to defend our own rights and maintain control of our government, at all levels. A radical statement, perhaps, but this is the danger of democracies. They depend on each citizen to defend their rights and promote the ideals that democratic governments are based on.

Strong Neighborhoods Depend on Neighbors

If democracy is intended to ensure the rights of each citizen, organizations and power need to be strong at the level of each citizen. The most immediate citizen base is the neighborhood. By building strong neighborhoods we enrich and strengthen ourselves individually. We can form incubators that provide comfort and security that is within our control. It takes a village. 

The website will develop in bits and pieces zigzagged together. I’m more interested in the development of ideas than presenting a final product all tidy and focused. Strong Neighborhoods is still transforming from previous incarnations and will undoubtedly continue to go through more. But it’s developing, just like your neighborhood will be when you make a commitment to form a community.

*Some posts still contain the name Affordable Cohousing, but you are in the right place for Strong Neighborhoods.

Why Not Rent?

Renting and Owning Both

Except where otherwise noted, the statistics on Strong Neighborhoods are from public sources like Statista, an independent, global source of statistics and data-related services for businesses, and the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping the world.