Press "Enter" to skip to content

MendoVito: Salvation Or Fantasy?

Thursday night, November 20, the University of California and the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians hosted a community conversation about the proposed MendoVito settlement. Bill and I attended, and these are my thoughts. For information on the ideas and the site plan you can go to the MendoVito website http://mendovito.com/.

What is it?

A new development concept for creation of a self-contained town of 10,000 people to be located in McDowell Valley, Southeast of Hopland on 423 acres. A “VillageTown.” The brains and energy of it belong to Claude Lewenz, a native of Baltimore.

Before MendoVito could become a reality, 5,000 county voters would have to sign a petition to have it put to a vote either by the county supervisors or by registered voters in the county. The petition would be in support of an initiative to change the general plan and the zoning to permit the MendoVito settlement.

Is it a good idea?

MendoVito would be the first of its kind, a fact important to consider when pondering what it could mean for the county. The concept has been around at least since 2007 when Lewenz published How to Build a Village. In 2010 he presented the idea to an audience in Sonoma County; it did not take hold there. In fact, it has not taken hold anywhere although the concept endures in Lewenz’s worldwide presentations and Amazon sales of his four books.

Interestingly, at least to me, is Lewenz’s early connection to Libby Rouse, wife of Jim Rouse, the developer of the new town Columbia that is located half-way between Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland. By way of comparison, Columbia now has a population of 100,000 people on 32 square miles. (MendoVito would put 10,000 people on 423 acres, 3,000 people per square mile compared to 10,000 people on 6/10ths of a square mile.) According to Lewenz, Libby Rouse told him that many of Lewenz’s ideas were considered but rejected for Columbia because the industry was “too rigid at the time.” Now, we have suburban sprawl 45+ years on, and so the question is put to us, the county voters: Do we want MendoVito in our midst, and if so, what will happen to the rest of us?

I lived in Columbia in the mid-70s, and my daughter lived there for her entire schooling from first grade through high school. She says she realizes now that her experience in a truly economically and racially integrated community was unique. Since then, however, the rest of suburbia has caught up. Integrated suburbs were the issue then. Today, we face the question of how we are to live in the face of climate change and a myriad of social and economic problems. Lewenz offers one answer.

Lewenz is on today’s cutting edge. He would ban cars in the town area; his denizens would live in high-density villages, and work in the same town. Life would be conducted in plazas, not in backyards or rec rooms. Old people would stay in the VillageTown among friends. All manner of activities would be provided in the surrounding green space. A vision of cradle to grave care, all using way fewer resources than are required to maintain life in suburbia and most other places.

Who would pay? Jim Rouse found investors for Columbia at a time when the development industry may have been rigid, but there was enough idealism in 1968 that even hard-nosed financiers were willing to take a chance. As a testament to its success, Columbia is still expanding.

As for MendoVito? Lewenz says that the county would pay nothing, and that the MendoVito would return big bucks to the county treasury in the form of property taxes. Still, a certain amount of capital is required to get it going: One to Two Billion Dollars. To generate this amount, all the houses would be contracted for simultaneously and built within a matter of months. Et voila—the inhabitants, the money, and the housing would all come together and MendoVito would be a reality.

It is true that we need to change the way we live. Can we use Lewenz’s ideas in our existing communities or does their implementation require an entire new town?

19 Comments

  1. Mitch Clogg November 26, 2014

    I lived in Baltimore when Jim Rouse was starting out in his developing career, before Columbia. His first visionary project was the Village of Cross Keys, in the suburbs where I lived.

    When Rouse died in 1996, the NY Times obit said this: “Mr. Rouse was an anomaly among real-estate developers, a man who sought not just to make profits but to transform the landscape and the quality of civic life. Long before he retired in 1979 as chairman of the Rouse Company, his development concern, to devote full time to his effort to build affordable housing, he had made his mark as a socially conscious developer…”

    I don’t know if his successors maintain the same standards, and I don’t know whether the proposed MendoVito is a good idea. I put these remarks into the conversation because I know the Rouse name is associated with quality and excellent planning.

    Mitch Clogg
    Mendocino

    • Claude Lewenz November 28, 2014

      Mitch Clogg wrote:

      “I lived in Baltimore when Jim Rouse was starting out in his developing career, before Columbia. His first visionary project was the Village of Cross Keys, in the suburbs where I lived.”… “I don’t know if his successors maintain the same standards, and I don’t know whether the proposed MendoVito is a good idea.”

      ==========

      Hi Mitch,

      Looks like we come from similar backgrounds, as I grew up near Cross Keys as well. Teddy Rouse was in my class in Gilman (until I shifted high school at Towson) and his parents knew my parents in the small world of Roland Park-Ruxton society. What Jim and Libby did (and she was the moral compass in that relationship that influenced significantly the moral character of their real estate ventures) during those years greatly shaped the direction of my life.

      If you read the web sites: http://mendovito.com and http://villagetowns.net, as well as the books I wrote (http://mendovito.com/index.php/more/buy-the-books), I hope you will see those high standards presented. There is so much more possible today than in Jim and Libby Rouse’s day, through new technologies, through more open-mindedness and through new threats, such as the present day drought as a wake-up call.

      The biggest challenge when presenting these ideas are the numerous sharks in the industry that presume they are entitled to the profits and begin to position themselves for the kill. Our forays into Australia encountered this constantly. The pleasant surprise when we were invited to Mendo was the absence of real-estate and investment entitlement-sharks. So far the dialogue in Mendo is on the merits of what is being proposed, not the sharks working out how they can make a killing on it.

      The first part of the community conversation on MendoVito is one of explanation and understanding so that people can inform themselves and decide if it is a good idea or not. It is not a plan, but a framework. The emergence of a plan will be shaped by the community conversation.

      Thanks for your comments

      Claude

  2. Pinky Kushner November 26, 2014

    Does the upper, upper Russian River have the water to add 10,000 inhabitants in one fell blow? Not whether existing users will be able to water lawns but whether the endangered Coho salmon will be further pushed into oblivion. 10,000 new inhabitants could also stress the water table, wrecking havoc all around. Water alone argues against expanding like this. Let’s wait until Lake Mendocino returns to its historic HIGHS for several years in a row and then think about the options, here, there, or nowhere.

    • Claude Lewenz November 28, 2014

      Pinky Kushner wrote:

      “Does the upper, upper Russian River have the water to add 10,000 inhabitants in one fell blow? Not whether existing users will be able to water lawns but whether the endangered Coho salmon will be further pushed into oblivion. 10,000 new inhabitants could also stress the water table, wrecking havoc all around. Water alone argues against expanding like this. Let’s wait until Lake Mendocino returns to its historic HIGHS for several years in a row and then think about the options, here, there, or nowhere.”

      =========

      Hi Pinky,

      Thanks for raising real concerns, and let me address them, as there is no way I or my fellow stewards are interested in trashing the rivers, killing the fish or messing up the ecosystem. The whole point of this idea is to find effective ways for society to stop doing so.

      My colleague Andrew, also a VillageTown steward, is encouraging me to write shorter, so let me refer you to this web page on the subject rather than repeat the details: http://mendovito.com/index.php/65-q-a/39-water-q-a-read-more.

      To address your concerns:

      – No water will be taken from the Russian River (which is over three miles away and about 400 feet lower in altitude)

      – There will be no lawns, hence no watering of lawns – this is not a proposal for suburbs.

      – There will be no water taken from wells, and we are told that the water table in McDowell Valley is not suitable for wells because the soil is deeply permeable except for a clay pan about six feet under the Pinole soil surface that causes springs to flow into the McDowell Farm’s 340 acre/foot reservoir.

      – There will be no water taken from Lake Mendocino.

      Please see http://coastalwatersheds.ca.gov/Portals/1/Watersheds/NorthCoast/RussianRiver/docs/Ukiah/McDowell_1998_rpt.pdf for an in depth scientific study of McDowell Creek which runs through the greenbelt. No Chinook salmon or coho salmon have been found in the creek, only a small number of steelhead spawn. The creek currently is in a zone that permits livestock. If the plan goes through, it would have higher protection as a greenbelt.

      Under the 2012 Rainwater Harvesting Act, no permit is required to harvest rainwater from roofs. Scientists tell us that only 1% of falling rainwater flows into creeks, the rest is absorbed into the earth. The catchment basin of McDowell Creek (a seasonal creek) is 8,500 acres. MendoVito will harvest 135 acres of rainwater from the roofs. This very limited harvest would have no adverse impact on the creeks or the water table. Unlike gasoline which is destroyed when it is burned (giving us energy and pollution) water is never destroyed. It is a carrier. The water that falls on the greenhouse roofs is borrowed, used by our bodies to carry in nutrients and expel waste, used by society for cleaning and carrying wastes, and then returned (in MendoVito’s case) clean to Nature where it eventually flows into the ocean to come back in the winter as fresh rain to be harvested again.

      The difference between how Ukiah uses water and MendoVito is in the harvesting and reuse. Water is precious, and as a society we need to change how we use it. However, we can’t blame the people of Ukiah who are stuck in a wasteful system, or the people of Redwood Valley who were told to suffer for using water the way it was approved before the drought. We need to implement new ways of using and reusing water so people waste less, but get access to the water they need, be it harvested or purified & reused.

      How California uses water is wasteful, and even if the climate were to stabilize and be like it was for the past century, the projected 20% growth in population by 2049 (from 40 to 50 million) demands a new approach to water. If the climate does change, and the rains shift north toward Oregon and Washington, then the urgency becomes greater. Please do read the link above, in order to appreciate how different an approach to water is being proposed.

      MendoVito is not a development proposal. It is not conventional. Indeed it is so far outside the box that on first presentation of it, it’s hard to get ones head around it. It’s easier for Mendo folk because so many of them challenge the status quo all the time, but it still has so many details that it takes a while to digest it all.

      Thanks again,

      Claude
      707-320-1185

  3. Lois Cook November 26, 2014

    I have some real doubts about each family raising
    their own food on a “roof top” garden (greenhouse?)
    Vegies maybe. Not many in any area want to put in
    the time and energy it takes to keep a garden going
    no matter how efficient the system it still takes a
    minimal amount of water. It would seem more
    realistic to have some type of community garden(s) as part of the green space.

    • Claude Lewenz November 28, 2014

      Lois Cook wrote:

      “I have some real doubts about each family raising their own food on a “roof top” garden (greenhouse?) Vegies maybe. Not many in any area want to put in the time and energy it takes to keep a garden going no matter how efficient the system it still takes a minimal amount of water. It would seem more realistic to have some type of community garden(s) as part of the green space.”

      =========

      Hi Lois,

      Thanks for the comment, and we agree.

      MendoVito is not proposing that each family does their own gardening in a rooftop greenhouse. Families that want to are welcome, but it’s likely that will be less than 10% that are farmed by the people living below.

      We probably will garden our own rooftop greenhouse in MendoVito, but that’s because today, living on the land, and harvesting seasonal rainwater for all our needs, we have a 2,000 square foot raised bed garden, as well as a kitchen herb and medicinal garden, olive trees, fruit trees and bee hives that give us manuka honey from our three acres of covenanted native bush (a legal preserve). We have no illusions about the work required to grow food, but there is no replacement for picking food and eating it minutes later.

      The first purpose of the rooftop greenhouse is to harvest rainwater to be separately stored and purified, solely for drinking, cooking and tooth-brushing.

      Its second purpose is to improve health, lower the cost of food, eliminate (or substantially reduce) the petroleum content of food, create a local supply for the Ukiah Food Coop that says it finds it very difficult to source local food, introduce a Slow Food ethos to MendoVito, and ensure food independence in the 21st century at a time when Food Inc. is pushing us toward patented factory-foods that come with royalty charges.

      Its third purpose is to include solar PV and heat collection systems that enable energy independence without interfering with the light requirements of plants.

      Its fourth purpose is to absorb CO² and provide better air for the homes below as well as provide a thermal heat sink to smooth out the indoor climate with less energy demand.

      And 5th, it provides a warm, semi-outdoor place to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder. It should be warm enough in winter to bask in the light when it is close to freezing outside.

      It is not expected to use hydroponic gardening, but most likely will use Terra Preta soil science (developed 2,000 years ago by the Amazonian Indians). Our soil scientists tell us that using Terra Preta type soils (which include substantial biochar) will see real-food yields up to eight times that of conventional soil. It will be real food, not the wine grapes presently grown, and the enriched soil gives the food essential minerals lacking in most store bought fresh foods, including in many cases organic foods.

      In regard to the water, greenhouses using computer-controlled LED lighting may find that the growing season begins when the autumn rains fall, and stops when the 340 acre/foot reservoir gets too low, near August.

      As an example, the soil scientists told us that one acre of greenhouses will grow 33,000 pounds of heritage tomatoes, requiring three acre/feet of water per growing season. With LED lighting, there can be three growing seasons per year, and the plants can be staged with different varieties and variably programmed lighting, so that the county has fresh, local tomatoes every week of the year. It may be that there are only two seasons, with high summer being left fallow if there is not enough water in the 340 acre/foot reservoir. On the one hand, this is not eating seasonal, but on the other, it is food independence. BTW, in November heritage tomatoes were $5 a pound at Safeway Ukiah. We expect that eliminating the middleman should see them selling for $1/pound in MendoVito. The USDA tells us that 85% of the food dollar goes to the middleman.

      Some other details:

      In addition to the rooftop greenhouses, it is expected that MendoVito will work with county growers to provide the full range of foods possible in the climate. This gives farmers an alternative to the limited monocultures spreading over the North Coast today. By cutting out the middleman and lowering the cost of transport, the farmers earn more, the people pay less. This should stimulate more local buying options for the Ukiah food coop as well.

      At present, the framework (not yet a plan) for MendoVito suggests that homes would have external wheelbarrow-sized elevators so farm workers can access the roof. This has the side benefit of making every home handicapped accessible, and when one orders thousands at a time, the elevators are affordable. It also may be a sufficient order to merit opening a domestic elevator manufacturing company at the old Masonite property as part of the green technology industries that may eventuate.

      It’s all connected.

      Thanks again,

      Claude
      (707) 320-1185

  4. Sherry Glavich November 26, 2014

    We don’t have the jobs or the water to support a project like this. It is nothing more than a land developer’s pipe dream.

    • Claude Lewenz November 28, 2014

      Sherry Glavich wrote:

      “We don’t have the jobs or the water to support a project like this. It is nothing more than a land developer’s pipe dream.”
      =============

      Hi Sherry,

      Thanks for joining the conversation on what world we create and leave to future generations.

      Just to provide some clarification so we are all on the same page:

      1) There is no land developer

      2) The water is there, but not the way Californians use water. See http://mendovito.com/index.php/65-q-a/39-water-q-a-read-more

      3) The jobs exist, but not in Mendo. The proposal is to focus not on selling houses to whoever may come, but on attracting head-of-household jobs… Attract small to medium enterprises (SME) drawn by the socially and culturally enriched environment that has hundreds of millions in establishment/construction net profits to help those SME businesses thrive.

      Will they come? That question has to be answered before a petition is filed with the County Clerk.

      You could be right, it could be a pipe dream, not of land developers but of social entrepreneurs. Your question must and will be answered before anything happens. No petition will be filed with the County Clerk and no land will change ownership until that question is answered. The people have to step forward and commit before the proposed land-use change can be put before the citizens.

      If it is answered in the affirmative, then it’s not a dream, pipe or otherwise.

      If it does not attract the jobs and businesses, then at least it will have planted a seed and started a conversation.

      The status quo is not an option. We can act to leave a better world or we can do nothing and leave it worse, it’s up to us to decide.

      Claude
      707-320-1185

  5. Laura Fogg November 27, 2014

    I think this MendoVito idea is fascinating, but probably inappropriate/impossible for Hopland, for the reasons mentioned in previous comments. How about encouraging the proponents to re-think the location and refine the concept to create something that is ready to happen… in Ukiah?

    Does anybody remember the Form-Based Zoning process we went through some years ago? Hundreds of residents and leaders from all aspects of our community worked together for days to achieve consensus about how we would like to see our downtown corridor develop and grow in the coming years. As I remember, the major desires were: a walkable community, a thriving downtown business district, increased downtown building height and density, infilling as opposed to sprawl, mixed age, social and economic levels, beautiful and safe parks, and restoration of Gibson Creek as it winds through downtown. Even if I have forgotten a few, don’t these ideas sound pretty similar to what Lewenz is proposing for Hopland?

    I believe at least part of downtown Ukiah is already zoned to encourage the kind of development envisioned by the Form-Based Zoning participants. We already have people, roads, schools, parks and a hospital… all of which could grow in a well-planned way to accommodate increased downtown density. Maybe Lewenz wouldn’t have the wide expanse of pristine open space that attracts him to Hopland, but it seems to me that some creative thought could integrate his exciting plan, bit by bit, into a place that would probably welcome him with open arms.

    • Claude Lewenz November 28, 2014

      Laura Fogg wrote: “How about encouraging the proponents to re-think the location and refine the concept to create something that is ready to happen… in Ukiah?”
      ————————

      Hi Laura,

      Let me address your several questions, starting with “How about encouraging the proponents to re-think the location and refine the concept to create something that is ready to happen… in Ukiah?”

      There are many people focused on retrofitting existing communities, indeed which was the core of Transition Towns when it spread around the world recently, among others. In fact, Jim and Libby’s Rouse’s son Ted put that question to me in that very first meeting at Libby Rouse’s home in Baltimore 30 years ago when the VillageTown idea was first put forth (in a much less evolved form). And without a doubt, thanks to the Rouses. Marty Millspaugh, Mayor Schaefer and a ton of other Baltimore folk, many of whom were friends of my parents, the city is better for their decades of work. Marty began visiting kitchen tables with his Baltimore vision in the 1950’s – I was very young, but his vision and his effectiveness impressed me.

      However, while they were saving the heart of a city, suburban sprawl was destroying far greater volumes of some of the most beautiful land on the East Coast… and not just the East Coast but almost all of America. And not just America. From 1997 – 2001, I built our fully sustainable earth-brick home, studio, office, bard hall and herbal, medicinal, vegetable and fruit gardens on an island off Auckland. But every month, when I would take the car ferry to town to get supplies, I drove along a country road that had a wide range of vegetable farms on both sides when I began. By the time I finished building our place, that farmland was completely covered with suburban houses for new Chinese immigrants . I realized that in the scheme of things, our one little sustainable home meant nothing for the future of the world as long as sprawl remained the dominant model.

      So my focus is different than retrofitting. It’s about finding a sustainable alternative to suburban sprawl. The other alternative is the Shanghai model – that future generations will live in soulless skyscrapers. No thanks. As Christopher Alexander wrote in A Pattern Language (Pattern 21 Four-story limit): “There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy.”

      Retrofitting Ukiah is a bit like converting a 1951 Cadillac with a rusted chassis to an affordable Tessla (the $35,000 one due in 2018). You can make the Caddie electric but it still is a beast of a different era. MendoVito is about creating a walking home-range, which has many interwoven patterns that would be exceptionally difficult to retrofit into Ukiah.

      After the first “easy” greenfield settlement is established (and by easy, I mean relatively speaking only), an urban brownfield retrofit could be done, but it needs to start with a disaster area like Detroit. West Baltimore, with its blocks of completely board-up buildings might be a good candidate, because no one is there, yet the buildings are attached, with flat roofs, and the streets are no longer being driven. However, many of those projects are homesteading projects, which means well-educated, privileged white people colonize what was a black ghetto. If we really want to change America, those brownfield projects need to empower the people who already live there, to enable them to create their own local economies, not move them to the hand-me-downs of the past-their-use-by-date worn out suburbs, which is what is happening now as the cities gentrify. But that would not be a smart first project to select. The first one needs to have as few challenges as possible, because even at the minimum, in MendoVito we are proposing something hugely ambitious.

      The big challenge in retrofitting Ukiah is to attract a critical mass of jobs – in the thousands. There are just too many things running against it. However, if MendoVito is built in McDowell Valley (which is about four miles east of Hopland), it may create the critical mass that then brings in the capital required for Ukiah to thrive.

      ——————————-
      Laura Fogg wrote: “Does anybody remember the Form-Based Zoning process we went through some years ago? Hundreds of residents and leaders from all aspects of our community worked together for days to achieve consensus about how we would like to see our downtown corridor develop and grow in the coming years. As I remember, the major desires were: a walkable community, a thriving downtown business district, increased downtown building height and density, infilling as opposed to sprawl, mixed age, social and economic levels, beautiful and safe parks, and restoration of Gibson Creek as it winds through downtown. Even if I have forgotten a few, don’t these ideas sound pretty similar to what Lewenz is proposing for Hopland?”
      ——————————

      The geographic similarities are there. What is missing is the economic foundation and the critical mass that enables a community to become self-supporting.

      I can’t count anymore the number of local government and planning workshops I attended in our local community. The consulting fees paid to nice facilitators, the groups of my neighbors working at tables and reporting on white boards that were then photographed and transcribed in pretty reports that went nowhere. Why? Because they did not inherently support the ability of the people to create and retain local wealth. Instead, we see proposals for Costco, a big-box store that wires all its daily cash take out of the county every night, leaving less money in the county than it extracts. Slowly the private and common wealth of the county diminishes. The workshop plans are lost in dust as the big box stores grow on the edge of town. We need a different model.

      http://ashoka.org is a web site for social entrepreneurs. It defines social entrepreneurs like this:

      Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.

      Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to move in different directions.

      Social entrepreneurs often seem to be possessed by their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are visionaries, but also realists, and are ultimately concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else.

      Social entrepreneurs present user-friendly, understandable, and ethical ideas that engage widespread support in order to maximize the number of citizens that will stand up, seize their idea, and implement it. Leading social entrepreneurs are mass recruiters of local changemakers— role models proving that citizens who channel their ideas into action can do almost anything.

      Having tried the government and business sectors and seen no effective results, we, the VillageTown stewards have been focusing on what is not working and have sought out experts all over the world to weave together solutions that will work. We are social entrepreneurs.

      We invite you, as a local change maker to take back your community, use the direct democracy that is reserved by the people as a right, and bring about the positive change.

      Again, thanks for your comments

      Claude
      707-320-1185

  6. Claude Lewenz November 28, 2014

    Janie,

    Thank you for alerting everyone about the Hopland meeting, and now for writing a well-considered and well-balanced essay on the MendoVito and VillageTown proposal to stimulate thinking and discussion.

    If I can digress with a story: For five years back in the 1970’s I pursued post graduate classics study in Bellingham WA under John Bremer, who had developed and established The Parkway Program, the first school without walls concept in the 1960’s. Prior to coming to Western Washington University, John had been appointed Commissioner of Education in British Columbia with a mandate from the new Premier to “reform education in BC”. So John proceeded to charter a plane and fly to remote school districts throughout the province where he would call a community meeting and ask “The Province has hired me to reform education in British Columbia, what does ‘educational reform’ mean?” The communities would take up his question all evening, and then begin to focus on learning, and contrast that with what was actually happening in their local schools, asking “we do it, but does it foster learning?”. And that is how John began to reform education… by focusing attention on the question. As the Maori elders in New Zealand put it: “Energy flows where attention goes. To change experience, shift attention.”

    No matter whether MendoVito ever gets built in McDowell Valley or not (and I do hope it does, I want to live there), what we are doing now is putting forth a positive vision that can become the focus of a community dialogue.

    Another story: Several years ago, my friend James Samuel called together the first Transition Towns meeting for New Zealand and invited me to attend. When the talking stick got to me, as someone with a reputation as a local activist, folks were surprised when my comments were not wholly confirmatory. I said “tonight I have heard about Peak Oil, Global Warming and Economic Collapse, and how we need to fortify our community in advance of these coming catastrophes. Let’s take the initials and call it POGWEC, the boogey-man of doom. While I respect all of you very much, and know most of you as passionate, committed leaders, I don’t believe we can build a community based on fear. POGWEC is fear-based, in essence saying as a society, we will be impoverished if we don’t cook first. I would rather be a member, not of Transition Towns, but of ‘Vision Towns’ in which we focus on our needs and aspirations and what we can change to secure our needs and pursue our aspirations.” Transition Towns had a few meetings after that, but it was preaching to the choir. Then James moved on to Food Forests and we gave him a surplus charitable trust (like a 501-c-3) that we had originally set up to successfully fight a developer who wanted to trash our community with a bad development. A decade ago, we were fighting, defending and winning, but when done, there was an empty feeling, and some disappointment that we raised $170,000, a lot of money in our community, to pay lawyers and expert witnesses rather than invest in our community. We saw the necessity to take that energy and redirect it into positive visioning that could be implemented… to turn the sword into the plowshare.

    The Maori elders have a saying for that one as well. Actually there are seven core sayings, and perhaps this is a useful place to repeat them all. While they are local where I live, they are not unique… other indigenous societies have similar principles:

    Seven Principles of Aotearoa

    1. The time is now.
    2. The place is here.
    3. Energy flows where attention goes. To change experience, shift attention
    4. If we can conceive of a vision, can hold and sustain it, it can be achieved
    5. The less we imprint our will, the more the creative vision will unfold
    6. All power comes from within. There is no power outside that has any power over us. If it appears to be so, we are giving it that power.
    7. Effectiveness is the measure

    Next I will address the comments made by folks to your posting

    Thanks again,

    Claude
    (707) 320-1185
    email me using the contact button at mendovito.com

  7. Claude Lewenz November 28, 2014

    Pinky Kushner wrote:

    “Does the upper, upper Russian River have the water to add 10,000 inhabitants in one fell blow? Not whether existing users will be able to water lawns but whether the endangered Coho salmon will be further pushed into oblivion. 10,000 new inhabitants could also stress the water table, wrecking havoc all around. Water alone argues against expanding like this. Let’s wait until Lake Mendocino returns to its historic HIGHS for several years in a row and then think about the options, here, there, or nowhere.”

    =========

    Hi Pinky,

    Thanks for raising real concerns, and let me address them, as there is no way I or my fellow stewards are interested in trashing the rivers, killing the fish or messing up the ecosystem. The whole point of this idea is to find effective ways for society to stop doing so.

    My colleague Andrew, also a VillageTown steward, is encouraging me to write shorter, so let me refer you to this web page on the subject rather than repeat the details: http://mendovito.com/index.php/65-q-a/39-water-q-a-read-more.

    To address your concerns:

    – No water will be taken from the Russian River (which is over three miles away and about 400 feet lower in altitude)

    – There will be no lawns, hence no watering of lawns – this is not a proposal for suburbs.

    – There will be no water taken from wells, and we are told that the water table in McDowell Valley is not suitable for wells because the soil is deeply permeable except for a clay pan about six feet under the Pinole soil surface that causes springs to flow into the McDowell Farm’s 340 acre/foot reservoir.

    – There will be no water taken from Lake Mendocino.

    Please see http://coastalwatersheds.ca.gov/Portals/1/Watersheds/NorthCoast/RussianRiver/docs/Ukiah/McDowell_1998_rpt.pdf for an in depth scientific study of McDowell Creek which runs through the greenbelt. No Chinook salmon or coho salmon have been found in the creek, only a small number of steelhead spawn. The creek currently is in a zone that permits livestock. If the plan goes through, it would have higher protection as a greenbelt.

    Under the 2012 Rainwater Harvesting Act, no permit is required to harvest rainwater from roofs. Scientists tell us that only 1% of falling rainwater flows into creeks, the rest is absorbed into the earth. The catchment basin of McDowell Creek (a seasonal creek) is 8,500 acres. MendoVito will harvest 135 acres of rainwater from the roofs. This very limited harvest would have no adverse impact on the creeks or the water table. Unlike gasoline which is destroyed when it is burned (giving us energy and pollution) water is never destroyed. It is a carrier. The water that falls on the greenhouse roofs is borrowed, used by our bodies to carry in nutrients and expel waste, used by society for cleaning and carrying wastes, and then returned (in MendoVito’s case) clean to Nature where it eventually flows into the ocean to come back in the winter as fresh rain to be harvested again.

    The difference between how Ukiah uses water and MendoVito is in the harvesting and reuse. Water is precious, and as a society we need to change how we use it. However, we can’t blame the people of Ukiah who are stuck in a wasteful system, or the people of Redwood Valley who were told to suffer for using water the way it was approved before the drought. We need to implement new ways of using and reusing water so people waste less, but get access to the water they need, be it harvested or purified & reused.

    How California uses water is wasteful, and even if the climate were to stabilize and be like it was for the past century, the projected 20% growth in population by 2049 (from 40 to 50 million) demands a new approach to water. If the climate does change, and the rains shift north toward Oregon and Washington, then the urgency becomes greater. Please do read the link above, in order to appreciate how different an approach to water is being proposed.

    MendoVito is not a development proposal. It is not conventional. Indeed it is so far outside the box that on first presentation of it, it’s hard to get ones head around it. It’s easier for Mendo folk because so many of them challenge the status quo all the time, but it still has so many details that it takes a while to digest it all.

    Thanks again,

    Claude
    707-320-1185

    • Pinky Kushner November 28, 2014

      Hi Claude,
      If you say water is never going to be used by this community, let’s move on to another topic—why a separate entity? why not a out-growth of an existing one? such as Talmage? or Hopland? or Calpella? Ultimately, no matter how ‘soft’ this development is on the earth, it does mean paving over land that is open space now. It does ‘smell’ like a typical suburban enclave suitable for commuters or weekend escapes. Is there any example where people are not, guaranteed not, using cars to commute to work? How were the data quantified? How can they be verified?
      Pinky

      • Claude Lewenz November 30, 2014

        Hi Claude,
        If you say water is never going to be used by this community, let’s move on to another topic—why a separate entity? why not a out-growth of an existing one? such as Talmage? or Hopland? or Calpella? Ultimately, no matter how ‘soft’ this development is on the earth, it does mean paving over land that is open space now. It does ‘smell’ like a typical suburban enclave suitable for commuters or weekend escapes. Is there any example where people are not, guaranteed not, using cars to commute to work? How were the data quantified? How can they be verified?
        Pinky

        ===========

        Hi Pinky,

        The last thing I am interested in doing is to provide more hollow homes for the comfortable class or more dormitory bedroom housing for commuters. The island where I live has 15% hollow homes (2nd homes used on weekends or high season and left empty the rest of the time). When they do arrive (by boat since we have no bridges), they bring their shopping with them, and they create a boom-bust economy that wreaks havoc on the local businesses. In our valley, we used to have the annual tinny race (tinnies are 8-10 foot long metal rowing boats, and the races were for fun, with the prize being a frying pan kept until the next year). We discontinued it when so many homes were sold, converted to hollow homes that gutted the community. The local folk got gentrified out, and while it is quieter in the valley (except when the helicopters fly in), it’s sad.

        As for a place with car-free commuters, I live in one. A thousand people commute to town on the ferry because we have no bridge, but it is still not the answer, because it hollows out our community during the day. In Italy you will find the best examples in the smaller towns that still have artisans, still make clothes, shoes, and see a lot of people on bikes. Old Europe worked exclusively this way until the American model seeped in, but now they are going back to the older ways.

        However, as we look to the future, it is the shift in technology that will be the big change agent. When I was on Maple Avenue in Ukiah, Mendo people would call me at (707) 320-1185. They are still calling me at that number, not knowing that it was to a home-phone device plugged into the internet in my house there, and now is plugged in 6,500 miles away in my home on Waiheke Island. This shift means that people no longer need to drive to offices. In fact, if you go into a modern office, you will see most people work on a computer, phone or equivalent device that no longer needs to be there. Increasingly machines work by wire or wireless. The younger generations are far less interested in cars, because theirs is a virtual world. Detroit is worried because cars hold no passion for them. The implications of this shift are profound – and they can either further destroy communities or they can rebuild them.

        To answer some of your specifics.

        Policies will be put in place at the onset and teeth given to those policies that will be enforceable. In addition, we expect that peer pressure will provide non-official protection as well. In a community established to eschew commuters and hollow-home buyers, people who try will feel peer pressure from the majority, especially since hollow homes adversely impact their economy and social structure. During the establishment phase, people will be asked about their intents and the only hollow-home buyers to get in will be those who lie.

        However, beyond these soft measures, MendoVito as a Civitas Corporation will have powers to regulate and if necessary enforce its policies. It all depends on how severe the problem. Remember that all cars will be parked in the motorpool with a single in-out road, like in an airport rental garage. It won’t take much for the person at the gate to work out who is leaving and arriving back on schedule every day. MendoVito will own the land, so it can regulate it. It can set a fixed number of commuter permits, a small number that will neither burden the roads or be sufficient to have an adverse impact on the economy or social structure. It is expected those permits will be for nearby farm workers, workers in Hopland and perhaps some public service employees in Ukiah who cannot afford housing in Ukiah.

        Commute without a permit and the Civitas Corporation brings charges against you in the Tribunal that has a range of powers, the most extreme of which is to boot you out and require your home be sold or leased.

        In regard to hollow homes, a similar system is planned. Begin by understanding how it is proposed to handle rentals. In our research, the biggest problem in rentals is the landlord from hell or the tenant from hell. These are best solved by the Civitas Corporation handling all arms-length rental units. Their mission is to keep the units occupied so the local economy keeps turning dollars – vacant units means a smaller, less effective economy, as well as a less interactive society. Again, policies are put in place.

        Commuters mean the building is empty during the day, and often that the commuter shops somewhere else. That one is already discussed above. Hollow homes would be defined as a certain number of consistent vacant days, and most likely the annoyed neighbors will alert the Civitas Corporation to check it out. However, that is adversarial, that’s the stick. The carrot is to build travelers’ inns with suites that people can buy for occasional occupancy. They can be as homey and luxurious as the owner wants, and they get priority on use, so if they say they will use it for a weekend, it’s theirs. But when they are not there, it becomes visitor accommodations.

        Visitors will come to MendoVito both because of the social and cultural enrichment (5% creative class, slow food, etc) but also because it is likely to be a mecca of sustainable technology. If MendoVito builds a showcase of solar, water management, zero waste, car-free and all the other aspects, that will attract the green industries that not only will have provided the technology, but then have a living example for the world to see – visitors will come to see it in action. The benefit of visitors over tourists is that visitors come year-round, for a specific purpose and generally they bring as much energy as they take. They don’t expect to pay to be entertained, and they don’t exhaust their hosts. They also tend to be better for the local economy as they smooth out the spending, not the boom and bust of tourist spending.

        When we talk about a framework, it is this kind of weaving… combining the interest of the part-time person who otherwise would buy a hollow home, with the interest of visitors who now will use that hollow home so it rarely is hollow (vacant). Smart design makes it more attractive. Design sliding, locking walls, behind which are the personal effects of the owner. An owner can keep their clothes there or even a wall with valuable works of art that the visitor never sees. None of these are new ideas, all we have done is collect them and weave them in. Also, none are cast in concrete. As a framework, not a plan, when the time comes for professionals to make it happen, they will work out the bugs.

        The other thing to keep in mind with part time residents and visitors is how different the balance of public and private space will be in contrast to conventional America. The design of the village plazas, that includes home-style foods (not overly rich restaurant food) served in cafes collectively-owned by each village and leased to proprietors (who must serve healthy, flavorful and affordable foods or the villagers may not renew the lease) generates a more public way of living. People will not build home movie theaters, home gymnasiums, home bars and all the other private entertainment stuff that bloats the modern American home. This means that part time people, be they residents or visitors, will spend more time in public space because it is more engaging than sitting at home. Their private space will be when they need privacy. The village plazas, with the conviviality of their long-table travelers’ inns and taverns, and the cultural enrichment sponsored by the artist guild halls will compete with Netflix and cable TV, and for most be far more engaging. This too should have an impact on how physical space is designed and used.

        *******

        You asked about paving over land that is open space. True – no way to avoid it. The land that is currently 8 feet of tractor-row bare-earth and 2 feet of grape row will become human-scaled streets and attached, multi-floor buildings with rooftop greenhouses. In answer to this, let me first introduce a different mode of thinking than how the mainstream in America thinks.

        I live in New Zealand, and though a series of completely unplanned and unexpected events having to do with an ancient castle in Slovenia and a conference hosted by Miha Pogacnik, a violinist and cultural ambassador, over the subsequent decade, I and my family found ourselves brought into deep recesses of the traditional indigenous culture of New Zealand, the Maori. The word Maori means “normal”, and what we learned is that what passes for normal in western society today is anything but. Western society is like a hormone-addled teenager, wreaking havoc because of its immaturity. In some places, such as Mendocino County, there is more maturity, but in general as a social order, we engage in toxic, self-destructive behavior made worse by the power of our technology.

        The Maori (elders, not all of them) are more mature, with a longer cultural memory, as are most other indigenous peoples. In planning, they speak about the responsibility to plan for seven generations, about 175 years, presuming one generation is about 25 years. In New Zealand, the Maori are mainstream; indeed our current Governor General, Jerry Mateparae, the titular head of state and representative of the Crown is Maori. Their influence is embedded in our laws, such as the Resource Management Act, that include Maori principles such as “sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations; and safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil, and ecosystems”.

        So it is within this context that the MendoVito land use is considered.

        It may be helpful first to read “Paving Paradise: A New Perspective on California Farmland Conversion” by the American Farmland Trust (AFT) (http://www.farmland.org/programs/states/CA/documents/PavingParadise_AmericanFarmlandTrust_Nov07.pdf) Let me quote from it:

        “The efficiency of development is another key issue – perhaps the most important, given that city­ centered growth in California will almost inevitably convert high quality farmland, placing a premium on not wasting it. This report measures the efficiency of development with the ratio of the number of people in an urbanized area to the number of acres of land occupied by al of the urban uses that serve them, from residences to shopping and schools, workplaces and roads; in short the entire urban “footprint.” The result is reported as “people per urban acre” or “PPA.”

        Ukiah has a PPA of 5.32. San Francisco is 27. Manhattan is 108. The seemingly compact and walkable town of Mendocino is low at 0.19 because many of its residents live further out. Sea Ranch is even lower at 0.13 PPA. In the AFT report, they say that the California average land coverage (excluding ranchettes and LA) the PPA in 2004 was 7.2 people per urbanized acre.

        If we think in terms of seven generations, it is important to think about people per acre, and to find the right balance between sprawl and packing people in so we cease to enjoy what it is to be human. When I was born, about 2.5 generations ago, the US had 150 million people, and California had 10 million. Today, the US has 316 million and California is inching up toward 40 million. Earlier this year, the state predict California will hit 50 million by 2049 (about 1.4 generations from now).

        So in planning for seven generations, we looked at PPA and asked “what is the optimal size?”

        In A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander writes in pattern #21 Four-story limit “There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy. In any urban area, no matter how dense, keep the majority of buildings four-stories high or less. It is possible that certain buildings should exceed this limit, but they should never be buildings for human habitation.” This is why we propose that MendoVito have three story (plus the rooftop greenhouse) attached buildings in the villages, and four story in the town center.

        Density increases when cars are eliminated from the urban core. The width of roads is no longer determined by sidewalks, parked cars and two lanes of driving, but ensuring enough sunlight gets to the street. Pedestrians need less street width than sunlight. The rule of thumb is 1:1, meaning in a 10-acre village, 5 acres is open and 5 acres are for buildings.

        In MendoVito the density will also be determined by the rainwater harvesting and storage. As such, the roof area to population ratio will result in bigger rooms since too great a PPA could result in insufficient water in a worst-case drought that lasted multiple years.

        The projected PPA of MendoVito is 46 people per acre. This will make it the highest density in Mendocino County, but still human-scaled. It is higher than San Francisco because it won’t have four to six lane streets. Our sense is that this is the right number for future generations. Some of this is based on ancient human patterns and this is why we propose a town made of villages, rather than a single town.

        Numerous studies looking far back show that people get along with each other best in communities of 250 to 750 people, say an average of 500. They naturally look after each other, and they sort out how to get along. They cooperate as well as compete. They tend to take care of their elders, look after all the children, not just their own. They tend to be safe, rarely needing police to keep the peace. Of course, in villages of that size, they can drive each other nuts if gossip becomes a contact sport. They also lack an economic critical mass necessary to become self supporting. For that, you need a larger number, you need a town. The town tends to naturally control gossip because there is enough to do that people engage in life. Economically, it supports both wealth creation and sufficient internal spending that money keeps turning. The obvious answer was to build a town made of villages, side-by-side, but each with its own plaza, its own local facilities and its own identity.

        In designing it, it becomes important that it has built in anti-gentrification policies so it does not become another Healdsburg that was saved from oblivion by the monied class moving in and driving the price of everything through the roof. The goal is to build complete communities, not elite ones, yet a place with this level of attractiveness runs the risk of gentrification unless that is planned for from the onset. To do that, it must have jobs for people who do not have the education or the interest to command, or demand and get, high pay, and to have permanently affordable housing commensurate with their earning power. Someone needs to farm the rooftop gardens, teach the children, care for the infirm, yet we live in a society that pays these people less. Forget trying to change the fundamental monetized structure of the inequities of the national economy. That’s a prescription for failure, as failed 20th century experiments show us. We need to approach it from a different direction. The current method is to create affordable housing zones, but this comes with a stigma, sort of an other-side-of-the-tracks feel that creates a cultural divide.

        The answer we found was the parallel housing market. Just as doctors must have certain qualifications to practice medicine, what if we established parallel housing markets based on certain qualifications – such as affordable housing if you work in blue collar industrial zone jobs? This is explained in some depth on the web site and in the books, so I won’t repeat the details here, and it is not perfect, but it is a way to ensure a complete community, not an elite one.

        Thus, while it is true that 235 acres of land will be paved over for higher density of people per acre, it is our sense that if we are planning for seven generations, the 20th century model of much lower densities is obsolete and toxic, and the solutions proposed by present day planners, such as transit-oriented communities where we replace car commuters with train commuters – are not much better. If they were, we would not be here proposing MendoVito.

        ***********

        Finally, you asked why instead of McDowell Valley, the proposal would not be to select an existing community like Hopland, Talmage or Calpella. There are many answers, and I am aware I have already written 2,500 words this morning answering your much shorter questions. So let me try to be briefer.

        We considered Hopland and Talmage. Calpella is totally unsuited, as it is hemmed in by 101, 20 and the flood zone – too small, and a completely car-based home range where the people already there would feel invaded.

        Hopland would have potential to the east, except the available land is a flood plain. You have to get far into Sanel Valley to find enough land above the flood zone… which was considered, but it is in multiple ownership and had less water storage. Reducing the variables such as finding a willing single owner makes a difference.

        Talmage had some potential, but it had location and floodplain issues, as well as concerns about cross-boundary conflicts both with farms (spray drift) and the long-term presence of the City of 10,000 Buddhas that may have its own growth plans. Also Talmage proper does not have a kernel to define it, but instead is a series buildings alongside a busy road.

        Your idea about building around an existing community as a kernel is a good one, and when we were invited to Mallorca in Spain, the best candidate sites were ancient clustered towns owned by extended families where the young have left and the need to find an alternative to the tourism industry was understood by the remaining elders. Mallorca is a fertile place that now imports 90% of its food, yet its half-abandoned old villages and towns were designed before cars and are compatible with VillageTown design. However, no such suitable kernels were found in Mendocino County.

        As for the “‘smell’ like a typical suburban enclave”, I hope these detailed answers have dispelled that odor. Suburbs were designed after WW-II to sell cars, petroleum and chemicals. The war was won on gasoline, and the swords-into-plowshares was a gasoline-powered war machine kept going by paving potato fields into suburbs. More post-war millionaires were made subdividing American land than any other way. It was a glorious riot of roads, lawns and split-level ranchers that spread across America. Now the cheap oil is gone, and America is fracking to squeeze out what’s left underground. A more mature species would look at us and shake their heads in sadness.

        But while we still have the energy to build a bridge to the future, the time to make changes is now, not when the next gas crisis hits. The MendoVito proposal is very simple… move destinations not people. Don’t build a transit-oriented community, build a community-oriented community.

        Doing it on a single-owner, greenfield farm in an isolated (but near 101) valley with few inhabitants and biodynamic vineyards nearby helps reduce the number of variables to a manageable level. Sure, someone can try to retrofit Ukiah, but getting 6,500 building owners to agree, plus asking CalTrans and the city to cooperate would easily take a decade and tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars with a low likelihood of success… the phrase herding cats comes to mind.

        In conclusion, Pinky, my apologies for writing so many words in reply, but I suppose the teacher in me wants to transmit everything I know so that others get the big picture as well. Writing succinctly is a great art, regrettably not mastered by me.

        Hopefully, when the dust settles, Andrew and I will be able to take these answers and distill them into the Q&A section of mendovito.com. And, if there is anyone out there with more talent in wordsmithing, please join us. This is an open-source model.

        Thanks
        Claude

        • Pinky Kushner November 30, 2014

          Hi Claude,
          Please reduce the number of words in your replies. Can you be succinct and reply with one sentence answer? As an example, using many words you state that the project will ‘not take water from the RR.’ Never mind the words, a river is not a channel, but a system; and the project will take water that now goes directly into the greater RR.
          Pinky

  8. Mary Jane Sheppard November 28, 2014

    Hi Claude–
    Thank you for your replies to the concerns expressed by the commenters. I think the comments and your responses to them are among the most useful I have seen in the county on any worthwhile topic.
    I intend to circulate the link to the article again and ask people to read your comments.
    This is a county full of iconoclasts and I am certainly one of them, but, for sure, what you are proposing is worth serious consideration by anyone interested in figuring out how best for the human race to survive climate change, population increase, widespread ill-considered development, box stores, and internet shopping, oh and I forgot to mention war.
    Thanks for coming to Mendocino County and stimulating the discussion.

  9. Mary Jane Sheppard November 30, 2014

    A friend, an “early adopter” in Columbia wrote:

    Your article was interesting and I think, a public service to the community. In answer to the title question though, I think the answer is fantasy, not salvation.

    It wasn’t clear to me where this developer expects to get financing. When Jim Rouse began Columbia, he already was a successful mortgage banker and developer of shopping malls. And while he was, from what I know/saw, a committed Christian and somewhat of an idealist, he was always a practical businessman. I remember hearing him speak at Kittamaquundi Community, back in the early days when My husband and I attended, about his conviction that “what is good is profitable”. At the time, I remember raising questions about how easily that could become “what is profitable is good”. In addition, while I think Rouse came from humble beginnings on the Eastern Shore, by the time of Columbia, he was tied in with other old, moneyed Baltimore families like the Leverings, who were involved in the same socially active Christian community.

    Rouse also envisioned a place where people could live where they worked, but 30 commuter buses a day is evidence that that never became a reality. A community will always need skills that residents don’t necessarily have/want – from garbage collecting to brain surgery – and some residents will have skills in oversupply or not needed.

    Also, I can’t imagine anyone in your area living without a car, particularly in a community as small as 10,000 people. They might be able to keep town center for pedestrians only, but you’d still have the additional traffic on the residential fringe and on connecting county roads. Again, to refer to the Columbia experience, the village centers, which were expected to be gathering places where every day shopping needs could be met, have never lived up to that expectation. They were closer to it in the early days, when other shopping options were at a distance, but as development progressed both inside and outside Columbia, the village centers became more marginal operations. They’re even considering designating the Long Reach village center an urban renewal area. Meanwhile, the Wilde Lake village Center has been partially demolished and is being recreated as a mixed residential/retail development

    Libby Rouse was Jim’s first wife, much more religious and much more idealistic, than Jim so I don’t know that that connection lends any credence to the achievability of the Hopland plan.

    • Claude Lewenz November 30, 2014

      Hi Mary Jane,

      We are slowly getting caught up on the many questions asked subsequent to the Nov 20 meeting. Below I paste in the Early Adopter’s points and then write a reply.

      Thanks,
      Claude

      A friend, an “early adopter” in Columbia wrote:

      “Your article was interesting and I think, a public service to the community. In answer to the title question though, I think the answer is fantasy, not salvation.”

      Our own view is that MendoVito is not salvation, but a better vision for the future than what is on offer today. Whether it is fantasy or grounded in achievable common sense is a question we can allow to unfold rather than render premature judgment either way. The way it is structured, it will either work, or vanish – leaving no trace on the earth. No ground will be broken until all the elements are in place and funding is secured.

      “It wasn’t clear to me where this developer expects to get financing.”

      The stewards are not developers. There will be no developer. A Civitas Corporation will do the job. The financing will require a $78 million line of credit, about 4% of the total budget, and the balance is based on buyer commitments, construction/mortgages packaged by a local bank into mortgage-backed securities. The key difference is that the target market is not restricted as Columbia’s was, because it is a new era where technology redefines the meaning of distance, and nothing is done on speculation.

      In today’s world there are a large number of potential benefactors who have signed the Giving Pledge, and all it will take is one of them, or someone of similar means and head-space, to provide the line of credit… not as charity, but as a social entrepreneurial investment. If they see the people and communities of Mendocino County behind the idea, the stewards believe the right benefactor will emerge. If the stewards are wrong, it never gets past the talking stage.

      When Jim Rouse began Columbia, he already was a successful mortgage banker and developer of shopping malls. And while he was, from what I know/saw, a committed Christian and somewhat of an idealist, he was always a practical businessman. I remember hearing him speak at Kittamaquundi Community, back in the early days when My husband and I attended, about his conviction that “what is good is profitable”. At the time, I remember raising questions about how easily that could become “what is profitable is good”. In addition, while I think Rouse came from humble beginnings on the Eastern Shore, by the time of Columbia, he was tied in with other old, moneyed Baltimore families like the Leverings, who were involved in the same socially active Christian community.

      True. It also needs to be understood that the role of the stewards is not that of Rouse, but is closer to that of Marty Millspaugh, a Baltimore Sun journalist who went from one social connection to another painting a vision of a restored, revitalized Baltimore starting with its harbor. Marty was not a mortgage banker, his vision attracted a big-hearted, visionary mortgage banker, as well as an amazing mayor (William Donald Schaefer) and hundreds of other open-minded people who made that vision happen.

      What happened in Baltimore (and the offshoots of Cross Keys and then Columbia) needs to be understood as a social movement among the establishment that was best described as “amiable”. The social elite of Baltimore was small, as it was a blue-collar town, but it was also generous. Religion did play a part; most everyone went to church, but it was more a comfortable religion of decency and good will, than the evangelism of today. When Marty wrote in 1958, wrote “Experts and laymen can agree that slums breed a hopelessness in people’s hearts. Amid the piles of rotting garbage, tumbledown porches and junk-filled back yards, the human spirit seems to wither away.” he captured the feelings running through Baltimore at that time. Sure, there was racism and class elitism woven into the fabric of society, but there also was a caring conversation that made it possible for Rouse – and others – to play leading roles.

      MendoVito is neither Columbia nor the Baltimore renaissance. It is an idea for the 21st century. It is one that will lay the groundwork that will attract Rouse-type talent when the need for those professionals arise. To be clear though, none of the stewards are qualified, none will take a Rouse-type role – for a lesson in failure, look at nearby Reston Virginia where socialite Robert E Simon conceived of the idea, but then took on the leadership job which resulted in bankruptcy.

      Rouse also envisioned a place where people could live where they worked, but 30 commuter buses a day is evidence that that never became a reality. A community will always need skills that residents don’t necessarily have/want – from garbage collecting to brain surgery – and some residents will have skills in oversupply or not needed.

      True, but Columbia is not the model, and this is not 1963. There will be in-residence garbage collectors with permanent affordable housing so the community never loses its recycling collectors; probably no brain surgeons though. Some people may need to reinvent themselves to remain in the community when they lose their career, others will move away and sell their home. That’s life and sometimes life can be hard. A major difference is that Rouse kept the profits, whereas in MendoVito it is proposed that those profits are left in the community and used, among other things, to provide a safety net of standby jobs so people can continue to earn and pay rent/mortgage until they get back on their feet.

      Also, I can’t imagine anyone in your area living without a car, particularly in a community as small as 10,000 people. They might be able to keep town center for pedestrians only, but you’d still have the additional traffic on the residential fringe and on connecting county roads.

      Most Americans find it hard to imagine life without a car, except of course for New Yorkers. But that is a limitation not of what is possible, but what is imaginable.

      There will be no residential fringe. This is not the conventional model. It is much more like an Old Europe Country Town surrounded by countryside. There is only one road, State Highway 175, built for 6,000 to 8,000 cars a day, and used by about 1,000 cars a day. The traffic engineers will have a very interesting challenge on the traffic study since there are no conventional tables to estimate traffic when all day-to-day destinations are within walking distance. That’s their job; however, part of the EIR. We don’t need to imagine it, they, as experts, will be required to quantify it.

      Also, just to be clear, there will be both private parking and rental cars kept in the motorpool, so that anyone needing or wanting to drive away will walk or take an electric cart with baggage over to the motorpool and hop into a car. MendoVito does not take away cars, it takes away the need for cars on a day-to-day basis.

      Again, to refer to the Columbia experience, the village centers, which were expected to be gathering places where every day shopping needs could be met, have never lived up to that expectation. They were closer to it in the early days, when other shopping options were at a distance, but as development progressed both inside and outside Columbia, the village centers became more marginal operations. They’re even considering designating the Long Reach village center an urban renewal area. Meanwhile, the Wilde Lake village Center has been partially demolished and is being recreated as a mixed residential/retail development.

      The 1963 Columbia model is not being proposed. It is an example of lateral thinking, but it is primarily discussed because it happens to be the context out of which the idea was born. In fact, there are many aspects to Columbia that are lessons of what to avoid. It still is suburban and car-based. It’s an integral part of the BOS-WASH corridor. It lacks a certain character because it was master-planned… something that is an essay unto its own. It would be an exercise in frustration to evaluate the MendoVito proposal based on Columbia. It is a pity that Christopher Alexander did not publish A Pattern Language until ten years after Columbia began.

      Libby Rouse was Jim’s first wife, much more religious and much more idealistic, than Jim so I don’t know that that connection lends any credence to the achievability of the Hopland plan.

      No credence is asked. Libby died in 2010. She played a role thirty years ago as the spark of what has become called VillageTowns. She kept up her interest in it until her mind gave out in her old age. The achievability of MendoVito will be assessed on its own merits, not a historic connection to a change agent from an earlier era.

      MendoVito is structured in a way that the answer to the key question (will it work?) will come very early in the process. It either will attract the businesses who will provisionally commit to moving there or not. If not, no petition will be filed with the Clerk, nothing will happen in McDowell Valley, and relatively small money will have been lost procuring that answer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

-