Gender equity in urban planning

What would happen if there were more female perspectives in planning the spaces around us?  That was the question we came to discuss at “A gender-friendly approach to urban planning and design” event organized by UN Women USA Los Angeles Chapter and facilitated by James Rojas of Place It.  The method uses found objects to allow participants to build their own models and envision spaces.

It was wonderful to have the opportunity to look at the issue of gender and place.  We were invited to use our own intuition and feelings, think about “the sensory experience of place,” and that our experiences have value.

IMG-4329One prompt was to build a place that we thought of as very male or masculine.  My group built freeways, skyscrapers, and monuments, and talked about the ideas of inflexibility, sole-purpose, and individual uses of space.  Then, we were prompted to build something we thought of as a female or feminine space.  Our group turned the space into a center where people could walk around,  filled with green space and trees, paths and smaller roads where people could go different directions, housing near businesses.  This brought up ideas of community, inclusivity and accessibility for all people.

This exercise shifted the questions we ask, and how we ask them.  Instead of a meeting held by government agencies with a list of project benefits or problems, this showed that a ground-up approach is possible and produces a different design.  This workshop was full of life, conversation, and connection.  We are all planners, we can change the planning process, and we can change our city.

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New Los Angeles ordinance on backyard homes

After several years, the city of Los Angeles passed the new ordinance on ADUs, SB-1069 Land use: zoning.  These housing units are termed “Accessory Dwelling Units” (ADUs), or nicknamed granny flats, in-law units, backyard cottages.  The laws change requirements for parking, setbacks, fees, and permits, reducing some of the barriers that previously made it difficult to build ADUs.  It expands on the California state law that was passed in 2016, setting the process in motion to simplify adding secondary units on most properties. The Tiny Advocacy Network helped organize constituents to attend meetings of the city council over these many months.  Their advocacy ensured that council members heard from those of us who want to build tiny homes, and that movable tiny homes were included in the language of this ordinance.  Learn more about LATCH Collective and the Tiny Advocacy Network, and sign up for their newsletter at the bottom of the page.

I am currently wading through the text of the ordinance, and working on an infographic to communicate the information in an easier format.  There are new definitions for Junior ADUs and movable tiny homes, and requirements that each must follow.  In addition, all new units must stay within the requirements for their existing zone and height district, specific plan, historic preservation, and other ordinances.  This may present complications, but I hope Angelenos start building all over the city!

Real estate investment cooperatives are breaking ground

This is happening! Look at the exciting example of the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, which is organizing community investment into community property for affordable housing.  I attended their presentation at the CA Cooperatives Conference in Sacramento this Spring.  People are taking leadership, joining together, and doing business differently.  I couldn’t believe the amount of talented, driven yet down to earth people in attendance!  Now that we have this project a a concrete example, it will help us spread the word about cooperative investment as a model. 

Check out the PREC FAQs and FAQ on PREC Finances.

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East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative graphic

 

Video: workshop on tiny house cohousing communities

View this video from our September workshop, hosted with LATCH Collective!

Participants put questions up on the wall, and then we had a discussion about the information available.  Tiny house communities are not yet a thing, but we are going to change that!  The interest is there, and people are excited.  The barriers and considerations are the zoning (needs to be multi-family or multiple properties) and the time and effort needed to create something that doesn’t yet exist.  The next steps are building our communication and decision-making skills as a community, so that the group is strong and grounded in a shared vision!

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New guide available: brief on intentional communities, cohousing, and cooperative housing in Los Angeles

I’ve just published “Guide to intentional communities, cohousing, and cooperative housing in Los Angeles.”  This brief is intended to provide an overview of what is happening with these housing types in LA, what is important to know, and how to get involved.

PDF Available for download:

Guide to intentional communities, cohousing, and cooperative housing in Los Angeles

 

Carla Truax, At Home Housing

https://athomehousing.org

September 2018

 

Does community housing exist in LA?

Yes!  There are many communities across LA.  LA Eco-village is one of the only cohousing communities as well as having a cooperative as the legal structure.  Other communities are co-living houses.  See below for links to communities and definitions of terms.

 

Where can I put a tiny home?  Are there tiny house communities?

Backyard units are now easier to obtain permits to build, thanks to new California legislation.  This would be a smaller unit behind a main house.  See “ADU” definition below.  There are not yet any tiny house communities, but a current planning project with At Home is research on creating tiny house communities.  These would be zoned as multi-family or manufactured housing lots.  Also see LATCH Collective information below on everything related to tiny homes, permits, codes, parking, and zoning considerations.

 

How do I create or join in the planning of a new community?

  • Form or join a group of interested people and get to know one another. Do social activities and create lasting relationships.  This “community glue” needs to be strong in order to do the work of planning a community.
  • Create a vision, purpose, goals, and values together as a group. Learning about other examples and other communities, then deciding what is important to you, can take a significant time commitment to having frequent meetings over many months.
  • The property, legal structure, and details are secondary – they stem directly from the vision and good communication in the group. Experts such as real estate agents, lawyers, nonprofit groups, and coop groups are often called in to help with the process.
  • Books and lists of steps to guide planning groups are available, such as https://www.ic.org/wiki/starting-a-community/

Isn’t land expensive in LA?

  • Yes, and that is why many people would like to pool their resources in order to purchase property, share common spaces, and work together in order to create our own affordable place to live. There are unique opportunities to purchase odd-shaped lots, housing in need of renovation, or land with specific uses such as transit-adjacent or affordable housing.  We believe that continuing to live in LA County is possible.  See “Activated Villages” for realtors who specialize in this area, and additional resource organizations below.

 

Can we make a community on a single lot, or buy an apartment building?

  • A lot that is zoned for single family use may not be suitable for multiple separate units. Properties that are zoned for multi-family use can be more expensive, since very large buildings would be allowed, and a bid may compete with a developer.  Planning groups can work with a real estate agent to identify properties and develop a budget.  Buying an apartment building is not always feasible, since laws prevent the eviction of existing tenants.

 

How does a group of people own land together?

  • The group can form a cooperative (in which each member owns a share and participates in the operation of the group), a Home Owners Association, a corporation, a nonprofit, or other business entity that legally owns the land.

 

More about creating community goals, values, and purpose in a vision statement

  • A vision statement is an outline of the ideals, aspirations, expectations, and goals that the members are trying to achieve in forming a community. Example group exercise: everyone get several index cards and write your answers:  What values do you think we share in common?  What is one thing that you think everyone in the community needs to believe?  What are three values that are important to you?
  • Group decisions and communication process: Who are members?  How are decisions made?  How will meetings be run?  How will conflicts be handled/resolved?

Key resources

Browse these resources to become familiar with how many groups have created their planning process and structured their organization.

 

  • Visit for a tour of Los Angeles Eco-village, http://laecovillage.org/,  a main resource center for cooperative communities.  They also hold workshops and trainings in group communication.  Examples include group decision-making and governance, non-violent communication (NVC), and conflict resolution.
  • Watch the videos by Activated Villages, a real estate company that focuses on intentional communities: www.activatedvillages.com
    Helping communities find and purchase their property and live their vision.
  • Join the mailing list of the Fellowship for Intentional Community. This site also has the directory of existing and forming communities.  http://www.ic.org/

 

Communities to visit and events to attend

 

Los Angeles Eco-village, http://laecovillage.org/

Synchronicity  http://synchronicityla.com/  Join a community dinner by reservation.

Emerald Village, Vista, CA  http://theemeraldvillage.com/   Tours by reservation, and watch for public events.

Regenerative Housing Co-operative of Pomona (Regen), Pomona, CA, http://www.regen.org/
Public events such as the Annual Sustainability Seminar in the spring.

Latch Collective  http://latchcollective.com/
A network of tiny house enthusiasts supporting each other in designing and building tiny, transportable homes. We organize opportunities for sharing and receiving skills, knowledge, experience, tools and support. We also advocate for increased housing options in Los Angeles, specifically for spaces that are affordable, sustainable, well-designed and safely built.

A list of websites and notes about communities At Home members have visited:   https://www.diigo.com/user/carlacommunity/?query=%23Communities

 

“Required reading” books and articles

My Advice to Others Planning to Start an Ecovillage.  Author: Lois Arkin.  Published in Communities Magazine Issue #156.  https://www.ic.org/my-advice-to-others-planning-to-start-an-ecovillage/

This list is updated often with new articles:
https://www.diigo.com/user/carlacommunity?query=%23community

Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities. By Diana Leafe Christian http://www.dianaleafechristian.org/creating_a_life_together_practical_tools_to_grow_ecovillages_and_intentional_communities.html

Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community. By Diana Leafe Christian http://www.dianaleafechristian.org/finding_community_how_to_join_an_ecovillage_or_intentional_community.html

Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities by Kathryn McCamant & Charles Durrett  http://www.cohousingco.com/products/creating-cohousing-building-sustainable-communities


Glossary of terms

Definitions of frequently used terms.  These terms are not separate categories, and in many cases they overlap or describe different aspects of communities.  

Collaborative Housing – an umbrella term that encompasses the large variation of collectively self-organized and self-managed housing forms, including co-housing, housing co-operatives, and community land trusts (CLTs), amongst others.  (https://co-lab-research.net/aboutus)

Intentional Communities – the broadest term that encompasses a wide range of groups who intend to live together as a community.  There are many ways people describe their intentional communities: cohousing groups, ecovillages, community networks, support organizations, as well as people seeking a home in community.  A planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. (http://www.ic.org/)

 

Cohousing – a community planned with private homes and common use buildings.  Often includes smaller size homes, environmentally friendly design, and pedestrian friendly layouts. Often has shared areas like yards, gardens, community kitchen, workshops, and more. (cohousing.org)

 

Co-living – Multi-bedroom houses leased by groups of people. Residents share the desire to live cooperatively, and share spaces including kitchens, living areas, garages, and yards.  Also called “co-householding.” (www.coliving.org)

 

ADU – Accessory Dwelling Unit.  Term to refer to secondary houses in backyards, granny flats, converted garages, and structures like tiny homes.  ADUs are regulated by the state and cities.

 

Ecovillages – intentional communities whose goal is to become more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. (http://gen.ecovillage.org/)

 

Co-operative “co-op” – Housing cooperatives are businesses owned and run by and for their resident members.  Members own the property together as shareholders in the co-op.  (https://www.cccd.coop/co-op-info/co-op-types/housing-co-ops)

Community Land Trust – a nonprofit organization that owns land and oversees its use for a specific purpose.  For example, the Beverly Vermont Community Land Trust for affordable housing (http://www.bvclt.org)

Going to the 2018 CA Co-op Conference

Great newwwwws…  I will be attending this conference to learn some great info to share:

2018 California Co-op Conference, hosted by the California Center for Cooperative Development.

It’s this weekend, April 29‐30, in San Diego.  Conference website

I’m excited to learn more from the workshops:

Legal Entity Options for Worker Cooperatives

Directors Roles and Responsibilities

Making Meetings Awesome

Six Steps for Cooperative Housing Development

Cooperatives in the Age of Social Enterprise

Mediation in Co-ops

Tending to Power Dynamics in our Teams through Democratic Communication and Decision-Making

And the pre-conference session on Sociocracy led by Sheella Mierson, The Sociocracy Consulting Group.  Sociocracy is a whole systems approach to collaborative decision making and governance.

Thanks LATCH Collective for registration funds, and CA Center for Coop Development for a scholarship!   I’ve joined the co-op team of LATCH Collective (LA Tiny Co-built homes). The team is on a path to form an official co-op by this summer.  Will keep you updated on the progress.

 

Tiny House Village Design

The design charrette for a tiny house village was a great exercise! I found that I had so many similarities to what others had in their designs. A main feature was central community gathering space where residents can eat, play, have a concert, sit around a fire, and other wonderful ideas.  There were so many new people, as well.  This movement is growing, and we can create this.

This was part of the Tiny House Design Expo organized by LATCH Collective, an amazing group of tiny house enthusiasts.  Thanks to LATCH advocacy, the City of Los Angeles is taking our ideas into account as they design new planning laws for backyard homes.  This village idea could also be presented to planners as an example of where we want to live.

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Should we think about “de-colonizing” our movement?

I recently attended a tele-seminar hosted by Transition US, an organization dedicated to living locally, cooperatively, and with a fossil fuel-free future.  It was called “Decolonizing Resiliency Movements.”  The speaker, Susan Juniper Park, is an Oakland-based activist and community organizer engaged at the crossroads of food, ecological and economic justice efforts.
Susan challenged us to think about the following in our projects: whose ancestral land are we on?  What are these people’s struggles?  Are we building relationships with them?
The information participants learned included many examples of people taking knowledge from indigenous or communities of color and using it without its cultural context or for financial gain.  For example, problems with Permaculture can include:
“…losing the context – whose “technology” is it?  When the knowledge is branded and commodified, who profits?  Is proper recognition and reciprocity provided?  Are relationships built with the communities?”  – Susan Juniper Park, Transition US tele-seminar, Oct 17, 2017.
The information also included being sensitive to terms like “homesteading,” which was how colonists physically claimed the land in North America.  Now, it’s used to refer to producing food and working your land, but the term has been removed from its history.
These problems also extend to housing, when people with more privilege are purchasing land in places where indigenous communities are also struggling to have rights to their homelands.  This is not a topic that comes up when talking about creating our own housing, it can be difficult to think about, and we may not feel we have privilege.  However, this makes sense to me that our work should always be in step with marginalized communities in LA.  Working together ensures that we learn from one another and build strength together.  If we don’t take into account the history of the place we are in, we will not be able to create change in the world the way we envision.

As a person with privilege, I know I have a responsibility to include and support the work of communities of color and indigenous peoples.   I hope members will join me in that goal and share their own insights and energy.