Bloomington Indiana is now in the end stages of finalizing the details of a new UDO (Unified Development Ordinance). Change is hard. According to latest stats, Bloomington now has a total population of 85,000, with slightly more than half of them Indiana University students. Like other university towns, there has long been a town/gown divide, largely centered on the values and lifestyle differences between young people and old. It is in this context that I offered a Guest Column to the local Herald-Times newspaper a few days ago. It was published this morning, exactly under the limit, 600 words, and with the title they gave it.
I will be interested to see if this column can help open a discussion to new ways of solving our common problems.
Change is inevitable. But what kind? And in what direction?
I attended a recent City Council meeting concerning “plexes” for core residential neighborhoods, as outlined in the draft UDO. Within minutes, during the comment period, a generational division became obvious. Millennials were FOR the plexes, since single family housing is too expensive. And my boomer generation was AGAINST them, saying that core neighborhoods were built for families, who can then later retire in place.
My peers, I began to think, are selfish. I had never thought that before, though I’m sure it’s occurred to the millennials. However, the millennial need for new duplex, triplex or quadriplex housing is, in part, directed into what “developers” always propose as THE way to increase density. And, as many folks made clear, it’s not at all certain that the plexes wouldn’t be luxury housing, catering to the rich.
After two hours, I went home, to where I, nearly 77 years old, live with two young men in their 20s, grateful to have escaped the usual way of growing old, living alone and habit-bound, less flexible, and likely, scared of falling down the stairs and having to unscrew jar lids by myself! Yes! I had actually caught myself in time to begin to think differently.
But in truth, the first thing that changed my way of life was the recognition that, if I got two housemates in my 1200 square foot three-bedroom home, my energy footprint would lessen by 2/3 and my income level would rise by 50%. This recognition led to a revelation. I had imagined this shift as purely economical, efficient and politically correct (given our concern about resource use on a finite planet). But what I have gained from actually living with young people is immeasurable! I feel so grateful.
Intergenerational living offers a way to bridge the generations, sorely needed in college towns. Furthermore, by opening our homes to energetic young people we can also offer rent reduction in exchange for services (mowing the lawn, doing errands, making meals, whatever!). A win-win!
I could go on, about how my first decision, to open my home to young people, led to another, and yet another, each one building on the one before, so that now, ten years later, I own three contiguous homes, all with one older person and two young people, surrounded by permaculture gardens and other commons (patio area, chickens, greenhouses), all interconnected with winding paths. From this gradual, organic evolution has emerged Green Acres Permaculture Village (www.greenacresvillage.org) inside the existing Green Acres Neighborhood. We see our experiment — “Building Community From The Ground up” — as one viable template for the future of suburbs all across America! Why not? What have we got to lose?
Oops! I don’t mean to scare you! But it does go to show how one basic decision can lead to another, until, voila! Our whole world has changed!
So to return to my main suggestion: why not open our imaginations to a new way of opening space within existing core neighborhoods for others to move in, especially young people with their vital energy and new ideas? Why not open our old crotchety selves to the idea of changing the way we live, not by building new infrastructure, but by reimagining our lives in existing housing stock.
Bloomington’s Housing and Neighborhood Development (HAND) and/or Area 10 Agency on Aging could institute a program for just such a service. It’s not new idea. Evansville, for example, once had such a program. Check this out: https://aging.ny.gov/livableny/ResourceManual/Housing/III1g.pdf
Remember! Change is coming! But what kind? It’s up to us.