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!

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.

 

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.

Why are new forms of housing important?

Recently I was asked, “Why is it important to have these new types of housing as an option in LA?”
Things are changing.  People young and old don’t want to drive as much, and want to work in the community in which they live.  We want to collaborate and do things together, rather than try to be involved in many places and wear ourselves out.   Cities need to allow us to be creative and make the solutions that work for us.  The previous models don’t work for the current problems that we have.  We won’t be able to reduce our use of resources, get engaged in our communities, and have social support if we all need to purchase our own million dollar homes.  These things are all goals of cities, and we can make them happen if we are allowed to drive the planning.

Home is where the Art is

Several group members attended the LACMA Exhibition “Home—So Different, So Appealing: Art from the Americas since 1957.”  It was so moving and powerful, and I felt it on a personal level in a way I don’t with many other types of modern or classical art.

We got to talk with urban planner James Rojas and friends about the exhibit and what is home.  A couple of things that struck me from the discussion:
“home is different for everyone, and can even be a state of mind and not a place”
“when you move around, you realize you have a piece of each city with you”

We talked about having an idealized home in mind which does not exist, but always seeking it. And feeling at home outdoors, in a book, on the subway, or in a park.

Here is the description of the exhibit, which is still going on if you’d like to visit:
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Home—So Different, So Appealing: Art from the Americas since 1957, a groundbreaking exhibition on the universal concept of home, and the first group show at a major Los Angeles museum to focus on Latino and Latin American art since the 1950s. Offering an extraordinary look at one of the world’s most basic social concepts, this exhibition explores the differences and affinities within artworks relative to immigration and political repression, dislocation and diaspora, and personal memory and utopian ideals. Home—So Different, So Appealing features approximately 100 artworks by 40 Latino and Latin American artists. This expansive exhibition will include painting, sculpture, installation, performance, photography, film/video, and public sculpture by U.S. artists from the largest historic Latino groups—of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban origin—plus artists from Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, and Uruguay, among other countries. Included in the exhibition are works by internationally recognized artists Antonio Berni, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Leon Ferrari, Beatriz González, Felix González-Torres, Guillermo Kuitca, Daniel Martinez, Gordon Matta-Clark, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, and Doris Salcedo, as well as emerging and established Los Angeles-based artists Laura Aguilar, Carmen Argote, Christina Fernandez, Ramiro Gomez, Salomón Huerta, and Camilo Ontiveros. Among the many large-scale works in the exhibition, María Elena González’s participatory sculpture Magic Carpet/Home (2003/2017) will be presented outdoors on the LACMA grounds.

Ready

Changing the way we live and altering our daily lives is a big step.  Many of us look with awe and intimidation at the established eco-villages with gardens bursting with produce and cohousing communities expertly designed with architects.  If we could transport ourselves right in place in our new home, we would.  But whether we are joining a community or creating one, the steps to making that life a reality take work.

I went through a process of learning on my way to readiness.  A very wonderful process of reading books, meeting people, and seeing places which changed my assumptions about what I really needed and what was most important.  Over time, I realized what mattered to me most was not a private house, but the chance to be outside more of my day.  And that I didn’t need to choose my neighbors based on having all the same interests as I do, but instead on their desire to be in a community.

At the beginning, there were so many questions.  With all the barriers, is this possible?  How does the group planning process work?  Am I being realistic about what I want?  How do we agree on a plan, or even have enough meetings to talk about a vision!

Visiting and being welcomed by other communities answered the question that this is possible. The people living and building communities in Southern California are inspiring!  Also learned that the process is different for every community, and it’s more about the bonds and communication within the group than any external factor.

I didn’t know that it would take me 2 years to decide I was REALLY ready.  It took many nights of writing in journals and asking myself the questions in Diana Leafe Christian’s books.  Many conversations in groups where we could think out loud and see how our ideas sounded.  And many events hosted by like-minded organizations, where I could see the connections and strength of these many groups with values that support community.

After lunar new year celebrations with friends, I joked that since it is now the Year of the Rooster, it means it will be the year I will realize that idea of the community with the chickens in the yard.  Another friend promptly gave me a poster of a rooster from her home, so I hope that means I am on my way.  I feel so grateful that I have been able to meet my coworkers, neighbors, organizers, leaders, and artists that have been part of this journey.  I can’t imagine living any other way but in community, so I will keep learning and pushing forward.