On Martha's Vineyard, a co-housing project sets an example of sensitive development, affordable housing and community building.
Summary: Co-housing communities — small, deliberately planned neighborhoods of 12 to 35 homes — offer an alternative approach to land development. Here a builder explains how his company’s participation in a co-housing project in an area with high land costs and a shortage of affordable housing produced a viable, thriving community that is ecologically responsible and economically diverse.
Harvey Arden, who edited the writings of Native American activist Leonard Peltier and wrote the book Wisdomkeepers, once visited a Lakota tribal elder who had no telephone. Arden knocked on the door, and when it opened, he said to the old man who answered, “Hi, I’m Harvey Arden.” The elder said, “Come on in. I know why you’re here. You white folks lost all your instructions, and you’ve come to get ours.” Co-housing is a new set of ideas for making good neighborhoods in a culture that has lost its instructions and values about housing.
Like many beautiful places, Martha’s Vineyard has a serious affordable-housing crisis. Our problems are not unique, but they are intensified by a wildly inflated real-estate market and by fixed boundaries. As my colleague Derrill Bazzy says, “There’s no down the-road on an island.” The shortage of good housing for residents of moderate income endangers the island’s diversity, charm, social health and economic prosperity. We’ve done well with the preservation of open space, but making progress with affordable housing is like trying to turn around an ocean liner in a sea of molasses.
Far too often, development has been an ugly word and has had unfortunate results. But that doesn’t have to be the case. When you think about development, ask the following question first: Are you proposing to invent something that the community needs? If not, why bother? Martha’s Vineyard needs high-quality affordable…