Sustainable Communities

Newly completed - Hillcrest Community Building

  Schemata Workshop is pleased to announce the completion of Hillcrest Terrace Community Building. Hillcrest Terrace is a senior housing community operated by Renton Housing Authority located in Renton, WA. The new Hillcrest building provides amenities for the surrounding apartment community that include a laundry room, kitchen, and dining space for up to 50 people. Residents of Hillcrest Terrace now have the ability to cook communal meals and host community events in the building.

The narrow site and its close proximity to the adjacent apartment buildings posed many design challenges that defined the building design, form, and fenestration locations. The design utilized a simplistic shed roof with overhangs and fenestration on the south exposure to capture light in the winter and provide adequate shading in summer.

The site encompasses a rose planter abutting the sidewalk for the senior residents to tend and enjoy. Previously the site housed a rose garden and two maple trees – one of which stayed in place and the other was relocated to the outdoor space east of the community building. The entrance sequence begins with a covered entry and seat wall facing west offering a place for the residents to enjoy the evening sun. Beyond the entrance is a narrow corridor illuminated by a series of skylights that lead to the dining room complete with a fire place and ample space for meals, card games, or simply visiting. The dining room also has a series of skylights and large windows that contribute to a light filled space. The Schemata team utilized the Integrated Design Lab for daylight studies and carefully located skylights and overhangs to decrease glare while maximizing natural light.

At the recent grand opening ceremony we were able to visit with the resident seniors and witness them using the community building and celebrating its completion.


Ron Sims rocks the house!

[caption id="attachment_261" align="alignleft" width="700" caption="Grace with HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims"][/caption]

Ever since attending the InterIM CDA's Gala Luncheon on Friday, I can't stop talking about Ron Sims.  He's a passionate and charismatic speaker.  As the son of a preacher, he could deliver a talk with the same fervor and presence. 

But even more impressive is that as Deputy Secretary at HUD he's making some exciting changes.  He's decentralized power so that District offices are empowered to make decisions.  He understands the interrelationship of poverty, housing, transportation, environment, healthy food, and health...and has forged powerful collaborations with other departments and agencies to create new programs that might actually help poor people realize the American Dream.

The first of these programs is called Sustainable Communities.  HUD, EPA, and DOT have joined forces to issue a produce a grant that will address not only housing, but sustainability, and transportation - woo hoo!  The reason why this excites me is that low/moderate income people have very few choices about the type, condition, and location of their housing.  As a middle income American, it's easy to sit back and judge those who don't buy organic produce, live in a new "green" condo, and drive a prius as not being concerned about the environment.  However, consider for a moment, if you had to choose to buy a head of broccoli (forget it even being organic) or a full meal deal at McDonald's for your two kids (example courtesy of the movie Food, Inc.).  Yes, the choices are clear...when you have lots of choices. 

One of the other reasons I was excited to hear Deputy Secretary Sims is that as he was describing the synergy of having various departments collaborate on funding projects from the standpoint that our tax dollars are able to go farther, it was clear to me that mixed income, intergenerational cohousing communities are an exemplary model of the sustainable communities for which he was advocating.

Since it's introduction to the US almost 20 years ago, cohousing has been a fairly middle income phenomena.  While the founding members of most cohousing communities start of with ideals of social justice and ethnic/income diversity, the resulting communities have tended to be fairly white and middle class.  And because those living in cohousing tend to hold high regard to social justice, they often feel guilty and resent not being more inclusive.  But hopefully the demographics of those living in cohousing will see a major change in the next decade.

As a board member of The Cohousing Association of the US, I am chairing a Task Group that is developing an advocacy plan to help policy makers, builders, and planners understand the potential cohousing has for creating sustainable mixed income communities that are close to transit, close to jobs, and close to daily services.  We are just in the early stages of this work, but come next June when we convene in Washington DC for our National Cohousing Conference we will be ready to walk to the Hill with our allies and talk with informed leaders such as Ron about how cohousing can be one alternative for creating communities that will empower low and moderate income families to succeed in a life of financial independence.

Hey, if Ron Sims can dream big...why can't I?