Sunday, October 28, 2007

10/28 Housing and Community Development

As we have said numerous times throughout the semester, holistic approaches are the key to sustainable development. In order for a city (or any community) to stand the test of time and live lightly upon the Earth, it must understand the complex processes that govern its life. We must continually return to this truth as we consider the future of Ithaca and any possible changes that we would like to make in the city—especially changes that deal with Housing and Community Development.
Unlike some of the more idealistic readings that we have analyzed, Roseland’s chapter entitled “Housing and Community Development” provides a lot of concrete examples and ideas for improving contemporary American communities—many of which emphasize the importance of community involvement and connectedness. Below are several ideas (some mine, others Roseland’s) that we could use in Ithaca:

1) Although we cannot force residents to interact with one another or build community, we can certainly build upon existing infrastructure to encourage interaction. One useful strength might be the extensive network of programs within Ithaca that target children and their families (sports leagues, after school programs, community centers, schools, etc.). Perhaps if Ithaca’s children get involved in the community, then parents will have no choice but to follow their example. In practice, we might intensively promote existing youth programs within Ithaca and then follow up by targeting the parents of the participating children. Not only could we generate a lot of rhetoric about community development, but we could also branch out from the youth programs and start offering comparable programs for adults. These programs could serve both recreational and practical purposes. For example, parents with extra time might get involved with an adult sports league while those with less time might benefit from cooperative childcare and carpooling networks.
2) The creation of public space is also a crucial element of building community. Although I know very little about zoning ordinances, land use regulation, or actual land usage within Ithaca, I imagine that a lot of residents within the community have built fences around their property. I do not suggest that we eliminate private property rights, but perhaps we can find a creative way to encourage residents to take down their fences and eliminate the physical barriers that separate neighbors. Perhaps we could even find some creative uses for the open spaces that result (community gardens, common space, etc.)
3) Looking more at affordable housing, Roseland provides many ideas for generating long-term (and even permanent) affordable housing. I particularly like the idea of sponsoring community land trusts within Ithaca. Such trusts purchase land at market value, remove the land from the market, and then use the land for affordable housing, public facilities, or some other meaningful cause. After construction is complete, the trust takes care of the land and monitors upkeep.

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