Thursday, August 13, 2015

Happy Cities (4) N Street

N Street is a wonderful story from Happy City.

It started in 1986, when Kevin World and Linda Cloud, a pair of young environmental activists, bought neighbouring homes on N Street on what was then the edge of the university town of Davis. At some point they tore down the fence between those homes and their roommates starting sharing meals in the bigger house. As more community-minded people bought or rented the adjoining properties, more fences came down, and more people dropped for dinner.

The core of the block had been transformed into a lush open green. There were no backyard fences left inside the block. There was an orchard of apple and oranges, a chicken coop, gardens and lawns scattered with children’s toys.

I told Wolf the place felt a little bit like a commune. “But it is not” he corrected me. “None of this land is communal. All the lots are privately owned. We live in our how homes and have our own yards. It’s just that we choose to share those yards and some of our resources.

The setup is remarkably simple. Some take turns cooking meals for dozens of neighbours in the big kitchen. Some prefer to cook and eat alone. Some mix it up. Some have chipped in for a Jacuzzi, which they share with their neighbours for a small fee. Others wouldn’t dream of hot-tubbing with the gang. People do what they want with their yards, but they agree to maintain common paths through them.

Amid all this voluntary intimacy, remarkable things happen... When a single woman died of cancer, the change in her child’s family life was organic. As her mother’s health declined, the child spent time with key neighbours, sleeping over at Kevin and Linda’s house more and more often. The bonds of intimacy and care were so tight that when her mother finally died, the child had already transitioned into a new loving household (and she was formally adopted). The village had become her extended family and wrapped itself around her like a cocoon (p.143).

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