Wish me luck as the semester tidies up. I have two events this weekend, two papers due at the end of net weekend, a shindig I'm putting together next Saturday, and a month-long stay in Lincoln when the semester ends. Whew. Good luck to everyone else dealing with end-of-semester madness.
Addition: If you haven't noticed, I guess I am a "twit" or something now that I tweet. You can find me @HaikuBaker, and I have the widget here on the blog.
I have an idea. It is a little crazy and somewhat silly, but I have it and I can't get it out of my head. My idea has to do with housing ourselves. In short, I argue that housing cooperatives—also known as cohousing—are a better way to shelter ourselves than our current dominant resources. The reasons are many, more than I will hear touch on, but they are enough to act creatively and a little strangely.
We are not adequately served by our current housing. By “we” I mean we graduate students at Northern Arizona University; abundant overworked people in Flagstaff, Arizona; the clever and resourceful—though increasingly broke—youth across the United States; the people who have been swindled by an unjust banking system; and a nation of people struggling to create the homes they want. This service is not strictly economical. This economic disenfranchisement arose with political marginalization. The two are interlinked: Insecurity of residence prevents a political, environmental, or interpersonal appreciation and understanding of place. Before people can engage with where they are, they require a security and connection to that place.
This is the problem: If our communities are to be sustainable, economically independent, or resilient (all related terms), then the people of that community must be able to stay and invest in those places. This provides us with a definition of community: A group of people set in a particular place over a period of overlapping time in secure ways. People constitute meaning; collaborative work of those people—in active, generally nonconscious ways—builds culture in the form of shared experience. This experience is a function of shared time and shared space; collective experience produces stories that constitute culture. Security in this sense means that community members have legitimate claim to this place and time and will be able to continue participating there.
Housing in Flagstaff—and more generally—is inadequate in various ways relating to this elementary extrapolation of community. First, the people of Flagstaff are prone to transience for three immediate reasons: access to affordable housing, access to gainful employment, and a resulting “culture” of impermanence. Cost is affected by an abundance of second homes that inflate property values which encourages higher than average renting; both of which are non-resident ownership which do not support longevity in staying. Employment and savings are limited by too few jobs, a lower than living wage standard, specialized skills amongst the well-paying businesses available, and little accessible capital to fund novel enterprises. These conditions produce a “culture” in a contradictory way: the exception are those who can stay and the stories that propagate suggest staying is out of reach. These stories are built on the experiences of those who are capable of staying—who act as witnesses to others' departures—and undermine an imaginary that staying is possible or likely. In this way, the “culture” of Flagstaff is based on an absence of culture, it is an unculture where building reflective, generative community is restricted if not denied.
My research is interested in clarifying a vision of housing that allows Flagstaff to develop a more generative culture. Clearly, this enterprise is unwieldy. I bring to this project my own experience (graduate student), my own expectation (staying in Flagstaff), and my own aspirations (cohousing). I recognize that I am party with many other conspirators interested in more responsive housing in Flagstaff. Others have worked at great length on housing. With that in mind, I define my focus: What is the vision for Flagstaff's housing amongst its organizers, planners, and activists specifically engaged with this question?
With this question, I want to learn 1) what has been done and what is underway, 2) what barriers have limited success, 3) what can be done to encourage success, and 4) what is the vision of these individuals. To learn these, I must network with existing movers-and-shakers to learn, and hopefully embed myself within, this network. This is the preliminary work of my research. Then, with these key figures, I am interested in hosting an “envisioning” session modeled on the work of the Transition Movement. This exercise creates an imaginative space for encountering a future Flagstaff in which these projects have come to fruition. Participants create useful fictions around people and places that they believe will benefit the community. For the Transition Movement, this is about building a vision toward resilience, an ecological term relating to an ecosystem's ability to bounce back from trauma. This exercise reveals narratives around a positive future state, an aspiration and potential route to achieving that state.
My own vision is part of this, but it is part of a larger landscape of ideas. Assuming that my own project moves forward, it can be informed by others' experience, deal with similar obstacles, for which I ought to be prepared (even if that means first modifying or playing with the rules, codes, and laws). In addition, this can inform the party of conspirators of one another, of difficulties experienced, and develop strategic responses. This constitutes a second phase of research in which we develop tactics for realizing these fictions.
A final phase is project-based. It is about taking these insights, strategies, connections, and other resources into a generative phase. At present, this is the most vague and speculative. It will be informed by the first two phases. I bring my own conceptualizing of cohousing in the form of Resident-Owned Green Urban Equitable Housing, or ROGUE Housing; but I recognize that if I cling too tightly to such a vision, it will restrict the potential outcomes of the research process. I have considered ROGUE Housing a model for cooperatives, but if it survives in some form, it may be about changing the field and providing resources for others' aspirations. In a deliberate and necessary way, I must leave behind my own expectations to research wisely.