Re: Density, detached vs. attached
From: Eric Hart (harteFree-Net.Mpls-StPaul.MN.US)
Date: Wed, 25 Jan 95 20:55 CST
   Here's my response to the input that's been posted on my original
message.  Thanks for your input, its most interesting.  

Graham Meltzer writes
"The other advantage lies in land-use principles.  Even if you have 
unlimited space, compactness of development makes for
efficient use of land and residents time and energy in getting about. If
you begin with spread out housing then the common house, the vegetable
gardens, the playing fields, the stables, the woods etc will be that much
further away from the residents who use them. They will be used less
often and less spontaneously."

  I definitely agree that a compact design saves people travel time
and can enhance interaction.  At Riverside we were going to (and haven't
done it yet) quantify how much per foot it would cost to significantly
away from the majority of the development.  We would figure out the road
costs, extra utility costs, and extra maintenance costs of living away
from the majority of the development.  People choosing to live away from
the development would have to pay the extra costs of services to their
unit or do without them (i.e.  have a composting toilet instead of a flush
toilet; independently generate your own electricity).  A few members of
the group might go this way.  Another thing I would like to do is to
quantify the economic and environmental costs of say a triplex vs a single
family detached home.  This is a little more tricky, but can be done. 

>Eric, what particularly are your members fears? Are the issues noise,
>loss of privacy, loss of individual identity, loss of personal control of
>their environment? Have people clearly expressed their fears so that
>there is an honest basis for discussion? 

       You hit on alll of their fears.  We had a good process to evoke
these fears in a non-threatening atmosphere (one member of the group did a
sort of guided imagery exercise) and the information was going to be
compiled at a later date and some generalizations were going to be made. 
However, the second part of the workshop was to tie down development
principles which guided development of the site and individual units. 
People became split over the need for such principles and the whole thing
(fears exercise and principles exercise) got put on hold when the group
shortly thereafter took a 1 1/2 month break from the development process. 
They ran into the issue of whether or not they should be more of an
ecological intentional community and adopt strict ecological guidelines or
should just be a residential (cohousing) type community.  This hasn't been
resolved yet.  It will be in time and we can't force the decision. 

>Please keep us posted. I feel this is a very important issue. 

   I think it is an important issue also.  Unfortunately most people just
go on the aesthetic approach to architecture and their culturally
sanctioned predjudices and never consider alternatives. 

      Ray Gasser wrote:  
>EcoVillage is going with duplex arrangement. We wanted shared walls to 
>decrease energy losses & buliding costs, but going with more than 2 units 
>per group would have required us to install more elaborate (read: expensive) 
>fire prevention systems & would have resulted in other zoning constraints.  
>So we took the middle ground. 

     The fire code also has lead us to conclude that we can have only four
units that would have shared walls, any more would be qualified as an
apartment building and require sprinklers, etc.  This is a definite
consideration since if you want to have affordable as well as ecological
housing then you need to avoid excessive code requirements.  We are
getting around this (or are proposing to) by having a 'greenhouse' street
inbetween four units on either side.  Each unit is designed to have 2
exits to the outside (not the greenhouse) so this satisfies code
requirements.  The units are still 'connected' by a space that is both an
amentity and serves a similiar function that a shared wall would. 

        Rob Sandelin wrote:  
>In a rural environment, attached wall townhouses do not have much 
>appeal.  Attached wall townhouses are an urban architecture in our 
>area.  Too much like city apartments.  The original concept for 
>Sharingwood was attached duplex and tri-plexes and no one, not one 
>person in three years had any interest in investing in such a design.  
>Later it was set up as single family detached and the core group bought in. 

    That's the kind of answer we get from some people at Riverside. 
Why does a shared wall design have to always be a townhouse?  I have seen
many designs with shared walls that aren't even close to looking like a
townhouse and fit into a rural setting very well.  Rick Peterson, the
Riverside architect, has been designing 'low rise, high density'
communities for many years and his designs fit well into a variety of
situations.  Its not necessary that all walls be shared or that you have
10 or 15 in a row be connected.  Even one shared wall has significant
benefits and doesn't detract from the 'single family character' of it very
much.  I like designs that balance the benefits of shared walls with
aesthetics and human scale.  

>So in our case, attached wall dwellings have not been attractive to 
>buyers.  I wonder if their are appraisal issues as well?  Would a bank 
>value a home less that is a townhouse rather than a single family dwelling? 
       I doubt that shared walls would impact property values that much. 
The way they are divided into units and or lots (condo vs individual lots)
would probably impact the banks opinion of its risk.  People may avoid
shared walls in a housing unit because those type of units don't sell well
in their area.  This is due to the predjudice of buyers, not the inherant
characteristics of the unit. 

        Jean Pfleiderer wrote:  
>One of the great benefits of cohousing is, of course, that the community 
>designs what it wants to have.  If your community wants to have some single 
>and some attached homes, why not have both? 

        I don't see anything wrong with this, and it looks like this is
the way it will go.  The only thing I regret is that we didn't get a
chance to present some research on the costs of single family housing and
we didn't explore further people's fears about shared walls.  We might
still do those things. 

        Vicky de Monterey wrote:  
>Eric, Jean, et al:  
>The issue appears much more basic to me -- either living lightly on the land 
>is important to the group from the beginning, or it's not.  
>I'm a bit surprised that responsible caretaking of the land is not a 
>more unifying and universal idea, since it is one of two major reasons 
>why I want to be involved in cohousing. (the other is intentional 
>community for spiritual and emotional benefit.) What IS holding groups 
>if not such basic values? After the call for values statements, I thought 
>the response was rather slight. After I get permission, I will hopefully 
>be able to share the values statement of a group I much admire and hope to 
>join, which includes very prominently the goal of living lightly.  
>For myself, the commitment to cohousing includes my commitment to coexist 
>more carefully with the rest of the biosphere, and the small sacrifice of 
>some loss of privacy, or even of lower home value (if this is truly the case), 
>is more than compensated for in closer community and in savings of materials 
>and energy (hey! and money). Since this is my approach going in, 
>I would never join a group that didn't echo my commitment about this issue. 

        My philosophy is very similiar to that of Vicky's.  I want to
belong to a cohousing group that acknowledges and acts on ecological
concerns.  This whole thing does bring up one large underlying question: 
Should cohousing communities have 'values'?!  The traditional rhetoric
says that cohousing communities have no political ideology or commonly
held belief except that they want to share and be in community.  When
someone asked for value statements I thought to myself, 'I thought
cohousing groups weren't supposed to have values!'.  I would agree with
Vicki that we need something to keep us together besides wanting to share
things.  We need more values.  Of course we have values regardless of what
we do.  The status quo has a built in set of values so saying we don't
have a set of values is absurd. I think the only way to make cohousing
communities better is to allow values and ideology to be discussed and
allow and encourage a diversity of opinions.  If communities aren't open
to different opinions, then the vitality and long term survival of them is
in doubt.  I have different opinions that most people and I feel
uncomfortable with groups that don't openly discuss differences because I
can't express my beliefs in a safe place.  I don't want to live in a
community that is a cult of people with identical beliefs but we should
acknowledge that the status quo is essentially forces people to have
identical beliefs.  Anyway, I've gotten a bit off topic, but I hope the
point about values in cohousing communities was well taken.  

Eric Hart
harte [at]






















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