Nothing endures but change: lessons in community resilience

[this blog post was originally published May 30 in the CHS Seattle blog HERE]
A couple of years ago, I helped to facilitate a retreat at an old Boy Scout camp near Monroe. It was a cold wet November weekend and the accommodations were Spartan, which is generally code for uncomfortable and in this case, moldy.

Somehow the weather and smelly cabins didn’t faze the participants, a few dozen bright eyed volunteers with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). These 20-somethings had agreed to be paid $100 per month and live in shared housing for a year while working in various direct service jobs in the Pacific Northwest. The theme of the retreat was “living in community.”

PRAG House

(Image: PRAG House)

Some folks love communal living. PRAG House on Capitol Hill is “an urban housing cooperative that seeks to foster community and sustainable lifestyles” and many others live on Capitol Hill in less formal shared arrangements because it’s more affordable than a 1-bedroom apartment and it can be nice to have a ready group to hang out with on the weekends.

At the retreat I opened my talk with a quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus, aka the “Weeping Philosopher,” who said, “Nothing endures but change.” Heraclitus was a recluse with few friends, which is not so surprising. He reminded everyone that the universe is dynamic, ever changing, and that shit happens. That makes for a good bumper sticker, but isn’t a very popular message.

I don’t think people actually dislike change as much as they dislike the ambiguity and chaos it implies. The gray area between now and then that makes us anxious and causes us to dig in our heels like four-year-olds faced with a trip to the doctor’s office. “Ambiguity aversion” causes people to react as if they have received no information at all when what they really have received is ambiguous information. Ambiguity is the unpleasant first cousin of uncertainty.

Here’s where I introduced my audience to unpopular idea number two: Communities are complex systems and complexity increases uncertainty. When you’re living with a bunch of people, things will blow up that may be hard to predict. Some of these will be more annoying than devastating, like when your roommate enters a relationship with a barnacle-like boyfriend who insists on addressing everyone in the house as “bro” and consistently leaves your towel wet on the bathroom floor. Or worse, the rent suddenly goes from a third to half your paycheck. Or perhaps a big bad wolf is coming to blow your house down to make room for shiny new apartments over a gastropub.

“Our ability to cope with uncertainty is one of the most important requirements for success in life, yet also one of the most neglected. We may not appreciate just how often we’re required to exercise it, and how much impact our ability to do so can have on our lives, and even on the whole of society.” – Dylan Evans

We constantly face uncertainty and change in our homes, especially when we live with multiple people. I suggested that the JVs look to natural ecosystems for clues on how they’ve managed to keep calm and carry on during eons of uncertainty and change.

The resilience of natural ecosystems stems from two key ingredients: diversity and interdependence. Genetic diversity within a single species prevents the rapid spread of diseases and helps a species adjust to changes in their environment. A diversity of species allows for ecosystems to adjust to disturbances like fires and floods. For example, if a single insect species goes extinct (I vote for mosquitoes), a forest with 200 other insect species is likely to adapt better than another forest with only one type of insect. Interdependence means that every organism needs other organisms to survive, and every species needs other species—to eat, to shelter, to breathe, to reproduce, and to thrive. As John Muir, the legendary founder of the Sierra Club, famously said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

So, how does this translate to the resilience of communal living?

LESSON 1: Respect diversity. When you’re living with a bunch of people, take time to understand what each person brings to the table in terms of skills and biases. Also, make sure everyone is heard in your house decision-making. The diversity of opinion is important. Understand that people have different communication styles and needs. Honor your introverts! You may think a game of drunken jenga is a great way to wind down after a long workday, but your introverted friend might disappear with a book.

LESSON 2: Practice interdependence. Have clear expectations about what communal living means to each housemate and make sure that every person has a role in keeping house. When something changes, and you know it will, don’t wait too long before bringing it up. The obnoxious boyfriend won’t become less annoying if you try to ignore him. Share stuff and skills. Perhaps most importantly, establish clear lines of communication and be intentional about checking in on how things are going.

Dealing with the complexities of communal living takes trial and error. This is true in any complex system. Most habitat conservation organizations practice adaptive management, which is a science-based resource management strategy that assumes a degree of uncertainty. It involves exploring alternative ways to meet management objectives, using scenarios and modeling to predict the outcomes of the alternatives, then implementing one or more alternatives and closely monitoring its impacts.

Adaptive management is a group-learning model that involves careful experimentation based on “the current state of knowledge” or what’s more commonly called the “best available science.” The term “best available science” suggests humility: “Here’s our best guess, but keep in mind there’s a bunch of stuff we don’t know.” Scientists use the term to remind us that natural systems are complex and dynamic, which means they can change and that making decisions based on current knowledge should be done cautiously and with great attention.

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Adaptive management framework

Experimentation and shared learning are critical in resource management and in shared housing. The model also applies in urban neighborhoods. Capitol Hill is experiencing rapid change and a lot of uncertainty. Last winter, Resource Media hosted focus groups to determine what Hill residents love about living in the neighborhood, and what most concerns them about where the neighborhood seems to be going. The focus groups revealed that residents feel uncertain how to influence the rapid changes to the neighborhood, and that development is happening to them, not with them. Residents don’t know where or when the next shoe will drop or what to do about it. The neighborhood is bristling with ambiguity aversion.

The Kresge Foundation defines urban resilience as “the capacity of a community to anticipate, plan for, and mitigate the risks—and seize the opportunities—associated with environmental and social change.” This suggests that changes can be anticipated. Some can, like the fact that more people are going to move to Capitol Hill and want places to live. Other changes will surprise us, so how do we as a neighborhood address our own resilience?

As with natural systems and shared housing, diversity is a critical asset for neighborhoods. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs writes: “Dull, inert cities… contain the seeds of their own destruction and little else. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.”

Of course, diversity itself isn’t enough. The seeds Jacobs describes will only germinate in a community committed to its own resilience. In his recent post on this siteCHCC’s Zachary Pullin writes: “If we continue building community, if we further seek a connection to our land, our history, and our neighbors, then we can shape the change happening to us. If we continue building connectedness, we will avoid becoming refugees from our own community.” Sounds like interdependence to me.

Next comes careful experimentation, or to use a less scary word, innovation. The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict hopes to be a catalyst for innovation in the neighborhood, a place to try promising strategies for building resilience. Last fall we launched a community solar project to help finance renewable energy on affordable housing. It is the first project of its kind in the state. This past week, we published a report that lays out a vision for piloting a shared parking district in Pike Pine, the first of its kind in Seattle.We are doing some interesting things, but we need to broaden our work to include more of the neighborhood’s diversity. One of our next big initiatives, assuming we can get it funded, will seek to engage renters, a group often missing from important community decision-making, in helping to define how the next wave of development flows through the neighborhood. This will be an experiment in democracy that honors the diversity of the EcoDistrict’s residents, and we hope builds a greater sense of power in a neighborhood that has been rocked on its heels by a succession of changes.

If you live in an apartment, either by yourself or in a shared living situation, we need you and your perspective! The EcoDistrict renter engagement effort will inform future EcoDistrict efforts and, we hope, the next update to the Capitol Hill neighborhood plan, which hasn’t been updated since 1998. We will be recruiting “Building Ambassadors” from apartment buildings across the neighborhood help lead this effort. Please email me,jsisolak@capitolhillhousing.org, if you wish to be involved.

Nothing endures but change. Thankfully, Capitol Hill contains the seeds of its own resilience. We hope the EcoDistrict provides fertile ground where we honor diversity, practice interdependence and where, through shared commitment and innovation, we come together as a community to seize the opportunities before us.

CHH is hiring a Sustainability Manager

The work of the EcoDistrict and Capitol Hill Housing’s internal commitment to green building continues to expand. Yesterday, we posted a new job announcement to hire a Sustainability Manager.  The Sustainability Manager will need to have good communication and community development skills, passion for all things sustainable, business development savvy, and know how for taking a project on her/his shoulders and running like the wind. A sense of humor is a big plus.

More details about the job can be found HERE on the CHH web page. Interested?imgres

District Shared Parking Report Released

Parking is one of the most local of transportation issues, a hidden factor shaping the built environment and with significant costs associated with it. Parking is expensive to build and operate in dense urban neighborhoods like Capitol Hill.  Oversupply and inefficient use of parking can needlessly drive up the cost of living while subsidizing car ownership.  Lack of on-site parking can also motivate property owners to demolish treasured older buildings.

To address these issues the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict has developed an exciting new parking management strategy: district shared parking.  The potential for such a strategy in Pike Pine is detailed in our 2015 report District Shared Parking: Program, Policy, and Technology – Strategies for a More Resilient Parking System in Pike Pine.cover

District shared parking is the idea that many parking garages in a growing, walkable district should work together and share users almost as if they were one garage.  The concept combines the benefits of many types of sharing – people in buildings without enough parking can lease spaces from buildings that have too much parking, new buildings can lease spaces from existing buildings that have excess supply, and daytime users and nighttime users can share a pool of spaces to reduce overall demand – with the scale, flexibility, and redundancy of a distributed district system.

In 2015, Capitol Hill Housing is beginning to implement recommendations from the report.  For more information please contact Alex Brennan at abrennan[at]capitolhillecodistrict[dot]org

EcoDistrict Update – May

 Hello EcoDistrict supporters, enthusiasts and friends!

We have some exciting news to share! Thanks to the vision, hard work and support of a whole lot of people, Community Solar is now a reality on Capitol Hill – and, as of this week, fully SOLD OUT! Thank you to everyone who participated and made this exciting development possible.

Check out the rest of our updates below to learn about the exciting things happening in our neighborhood and see how you can take action to promote a sustainable and equitable community. Thank you for your ongoing interest and support.

we did it update

Community Solar – Capitol Hill is SOLD OUT! Participants, including our EcoDistrict Solar Sponsors, will be receiving credits back on their utility bills from the energy produced. In 2020, the system will then be donated to Capitol Hill Housing to continue to support affordable housing in the neighborhood. Thanks to everyone who supported the project! (And stay tuned for a Community Solar celebration event happening this summer!)

bike to work

May is Bike Month! And there is a LOT going on. Check out all the events coming up, especially Bike to Work Day on May 15th! See below for more information.

Reflections on Earth Day On Capitol Hill we celebrated Earth Day at a Climate Action Festival hosted at Seattle Central College. Didn’t get to make it? Catch a recap of the event here.

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mark your calendar

THURSDAY MAY 15th: Bike to Work Day! 

We’ll be celebrating all of our awesome bike commuters with a Bike to Work Station  co-hosted with Sustainable Capitol Hill at 12th and Pine in Capitol Hill. Bike on by between 7-9 am for some tasty treats and fun activities! Check out all the stations here.

THURSDAY MAY 28th: Capitol Hill Community Council Meeting: Pedestrian Streets 

This month’s Capitol Hill Community Council meeting will be an opportunity to learn about and share your opinions on the idea of creating temporary pedestrian street(s) in Pike/Pine. More information coming soon! 6:30pm, Pike/Pine Room, 12th Ave Arts Building (1620 12th Ave)

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May is Bike Month!

May is National Bike Month. The EcoDistrict supports active transportation that leads to a healthier and happier community, so let’s get riding! There is a LOT going on–here’s a look at the month ahead:

MAY 2nd:

Bike Month Kick-off Party, Cascade Bicycle Club, 7787 62nd Ave NW, 11am-2pm

Start Bike Month off with a BAM! There will be free repairs, activities, snacks and much more.

Pedaler’s Fair, Russian Community Center, 704 19th Ave E, 10am-5pm

The Pedaler’s Fair is an annual marketplace for Washington based, bicycle-inspired small businesses to exhibit their goods. In addition to exhibitor booths we have live music, workshops and presentations.

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MAY 6th: National Bike to School Day

Part of Bike to School Month, more information and resources from Cascade Bicycle Club.

MAY 7th: Bike Everywhere Breakfast, Sheraton Downtown 7–9 a.m.

Join Cascade Bicycle Club for a morning of fun, laughter and inspiration. Proceeds benefit Cascade Education Foundation’s efforts to get more people on bikes with safer places to ride.

MAY 8th: Ride to the Movies, meet at Roanoke Park Place Tavern 2409 10th Ave E, 5:45pm

Cascade Bicycle Club invites you on a ride to Central Cinema for a screening of the Triplets of Belleville. You can buy your ticket before the event here

MAY 10th: Seattle CycloFemme, *Capitol Hill option: Meet at Cal Anderson Park, 3:15pm

Celebrate Global Women’s Cycling Day with Seattle Critical Lass! Multiple rides from North Seattle and South Seattle will meet at Lake Union Park for a picnic at 4pm. Just bring yourself, we’ll bring the food! 

MAY 15th: Bike to Work Day *Capitol Hill option: 12th & Pine station 6:30-9:30am

Commute stations will be popping up all over to provide treats for our awesome bike commuters. Keep your eyes open for an extra special station at 12th & Pine co-hosted by the EcoDistrict and Sustainable Capitol Hill! See map of all stations

MAY 21st: Bike Happy Hour, Elysian Brewing, 1221 E. Pike St,  5:30-7pm

Join our Education team as we celebrate our Bike to School Supporters.

MAY 24th-MAY 31st: Shop by Bike Week, all participating stores

Support your local economy by biking to your nearby grocery store or other shops. Check out the bicycle benefits here and see some participating Capitol Hill businesses below:

bike benefits

And there’s more!

Check out all the action at Cascade Bicycle Club and the Seattle Bike Blog

Earth Day Celebrations on Capitol Hill!

On Capitol Hill we celebrated Earth Day at a Climate Action Festival hosted at Seattle Central College.

mayor

The Climate Action Festival brought together students, speakers, community members and over 20 environmental and community organizations along with art, music and activities to celebrate and inspire action! 

As the 45th annual Earth Day, this was an opportunity to rethink traditional “environmental” concerns and bring together broader social and environmental justice issues that are so intricately tied together (and that make up the foundation of our EcoDistrict). Along with speeches by Denis Hayes, the co-founder of Earth Day, K.C. Golden, 350 Chair, and organizers from Got Green?, the mayor also announced the launch of a new Seattle Equity and Environment Initiative to better address the intersection of these critical issues. 

The original vision and goal of Earth Day was to bring people together to inspire and initiate collective action to address some of our most pressing social and environmental concerns. Today those challenges are greater than ever and taking adequate and effective action can often seem more than daunting. Stepping up to take action–no matter how small–is vital; sometimes getting connected to the right campaign, organization or other individuals is all it takes! This event was a reminder of the energy, vitality, creativity and diversity of our neighborhood, our city and the people that are actively working to make progress. As the Earth Day motto this year points out, it’s our turn to lead.

Check out the photo booth pictures from the event!photo booth

More coverage of the event via the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and the Stranger.

The EcoDistrict was one of the organizations tabling and helping to support this event, as we believe neighborhood solutions are key to overall climate action. As a recent Shareable article on Earth Day says:

“Creating stronger, friendlier, more engaged communities is not a sideshow in the urgent cause of saving the planet; it is a central strategy. Because, when people connect, roll up their sleeves, and get down to work protecting the places they care about, anything is possible. There’s a whole world of people out there ready to dream big and then put it into action.”

That’s the EcoDistrict vision for Earth Day and every day.

EcoDistrict Update

HAPPY SPRING! 

Check out our updates below to learn about the exciting things happening in our neighborhood and see how you can take action to promote a sustainable and equitable community. Thank you for your ongoing interest and support.spring extended

EcoDistrict Receives Equity and Environment Award The EcoDistrict is a proud recipient of a Futurewise 2015 Livable Communities Award for Equity and Environment. Learn more about the award.

Diving into the “Dumpster Issue” As reported in the CHS Blog, we are working with the City of Seattle, Recology CleanScapes, the Capitol Hill Chamber and local businesses to identify alternatives to the permanent placement of dumpsters on sidewalks and in parking spaces within Capitol Hill’s retail corridors. As residents and day workers know, the dumpsters are a health and safety hazard and after a weekend can be downright nasty come Monday morning.dumpsters

A Tool Library Comes to Capitol Hill! Our EcoDistrict Spotlight series highlights the awesome things that are happening in our neighborhood. Read our first feature on the Capitol Hill Tool Library!

It’s Solar Season! With the Spring Equinox officially behind us, we are well on our way to more sunshine–and down to the final 100 units of our Community Solar project. Buy in today to show that Community Solar works and matters in Seattle! (Our project was also recently featured in a Grist article highlighting the sharing economy!)

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Shout out to our EcoDistrict Solar Sponsors:

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In The News:

Check us out on facebook and twitter to catch all the updates!

A Tool Library is Coming to Capitol Hill!

Curious about what a tool library is? Thanks to the folks at Sustainable Capitol Hill, you will now have the chance to find out first-hand!

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Sustainable Capitol Hill tables about the Tool Library at the Broadway Farmers Market

After a long search and with the generosity of the First Covenant Church, Sustainable Capitol Hill has finally secured a location! The tool library is expected to be up and running at 420 E. Pike St. (between Pike and Pine with the entrance from Crawford Pl.) this coming fall. 

What is a tool library?

The idea of a tool library is simple: build up a collection of tools in an established location, make them available to check out and return as needed, and in this case, foster skill-sharing and community-building in the process.

As the Capitol Hill Tool Library puts it:

Imagine borrowing a food dehydrator, a ladder, a fishing rod, much like you would borrow a book from SPL. Imagine learning how to fix your broken toaster, building a worm bin, preserving your summer bounty. Enjoy a local community of knowledgeable fixers, tool lending, and workshops at the new Capitol Hill Tool Library.

A tool lending library is by no means a new concept, but with the rise of interest and projects associated with the “sharing economy,” tool libraries have made a comeback. For a wide range of economic, social or environmental reasons, more and more people are turning away from “traditional” consumption and looking for more creative ways to meet their needs. See all Tool Libraries in Seattle.

The West Seattle Tool Library

The West Seattle Tool Library

Instead of everyone buying their own tools–ladders, food dehydrators, pressure washers, etc.–people will soon be able to check out these tools just for the amount of time that they are needed, thereby saving money and storage space in the process.

By providing access rather than ownership, a tool library can have a multiplier effect on the value of the items while reducing consumption, waste, and inefficient use of space. At the same time, having a space where people can meet for workshops, skill-shares or to collaborate provides an opportunity to not only build new skills, but to directly strengthen connections between people, projects and community.

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Talking about what a Tool Library could look like in Capitol Hill

Ultimately a tool library builds off of and magnifies one of our greatest resources: each other. By connecting people and shared resources (tools, knowledge, labor), we are creating wealth for our community in both a material and social sense. A truly successful tool library goes from Do-It-Yourself (DIY) to Do-It-Together (DIT) mentality and everyone wins in the process.

And there’s still a lot more work to be done! We need YOU to help make the Capitol Hill Tool Library a reality.

Check out Sustainable Capitol Hill on facebook or twitter for all the updates!

Spring Equinox: Launch the Solar Season!

HAPPY SPRING!

Today marks the Spring or Vernal Equinox—the first official day of spring and the start of more sunshine!

Let’s launch this Solar Season by showing (and renewing) our commitment to our natural resources and the health, vitality and resilience of our communities.

solar panels

Looking ahead, the days will be getting longer, the air warmer, the sun shinier…And that means that NOW is the perfect time to sign up for Community Solar!

One way to do that is to participate in a local Community Solar project, located right here in Capitol Hill. We talk about this a lot, but right now it’s at a critical stage: we’re close to 80% sold, but we need YOUR support and participation to make this project a success and get our last 200 units sold

SIGN UP TODAY!

(All enrollment is done directly through Seattle City Light; you’ll need your account number!)

By buying into this “community array” you are joining your neighbors in collectively putting your consumer power behind your values and showing that Community Solar works and matters in Seattle. Everyone should have access, information and a stake in a sustainable energy future and this is one step in that direction.

Learn more about the project and view real-time data from the system here.

This is your chance to participate in and support solar at a size and price that works for you. 

Sign up…

sign_up_now

To show your commitment for clean, local, renewable energy

To learn more and actively participate in local solar

To offset your energy use and earn credit back on your City Light bill

To support the first Community Solar project on affordable housing

To invest your money locally

…the list goes on!

 

If you’ve already signed up, consider buying another unit or passing on the information to friends and families!

“I just signed up for #CommunitySolar on Capitol Hill. Live in Seattle? You should, too! http://www.seattle.gov/light/solarenergy/commsolarcurrent.asp @HillEcoDistrict.”

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Read more about the goals of the project and the broader work of the EcoDistrict and feel free to get in touch if you’d like to learn more or get involved!

Check out facebook and twitter for all the updates.

EcoDistrict Recognized for Creating Livable Communities

Futurewise Award

The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict is a proud recipient of a Futurewise 2015 Livable Communities Award for Equity and Environment. The EcoDistrict was chosen for recognizing the role of smart growth in meeting community needs and for fostering a healthy, vibrant and diverse neighborhood.

“The Capitol Hill EcoDistrict was chosen because of their vision and leadership in finding solutions to Capitol Hill’s most pressing sustainability challenges. From promoting equitable transit-oriented development to facilitating public funding for pedestrian improvements, the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict’s collaborative and innovative approach is creating socially equitable, environmentally resilient and culturally vibrant neighborhoods for present and future generations.”

Capitol Hill Housing and the EcoDistrict were presented with the award at the Futurewise annual luncheon on March 17th.

futurwise

(Though on vacation, Joel still made an appearance!)

Futurewise is a statewide public interest group working to promote healthy communities and cities while protecting farmland, forests and shorelines today and for future generations.

About the award

Overall Excellence in Creating Livable Communities recognizes an outstanding, comprehensive approach to creating more livable communities on a variety of fronts. Not just for a single plan or project, but at the neighborhood, corridor, city, county or regional level. Awardees demonstrate transformational improvement to the environmental health and economic vitality of a Washington State community.

The Equity and Environment Award recognizes projects or policies that recognize the role of smart growth in meeting the needs of underserved communities and individuals that work to achieve environmental justice while fostering places that are healthy, vibrant and diverse. The 2015 Livable Community Equity and Environment Award will honor the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict.

 

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