A new home that answers 'the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor."
April 19, 2021 6:31 PM   Subscribe

What specific practical examples can you help me find to help a remarkable group of elderly nuns to build a new home? These sweet, bad-ass ladies are really really into 'Integral Ecology.' They want to build sustainable, holistic place for their community to live their later years that will 'combat poverty, restore dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protect nature.' Think convent, community center, city park, wildlife preserve, and spiritual respite for the poor" rolled into one. Can you help with a bunch of cool ideas? (see snowflake details inside)

They aren't engineers, architects, urban planners, landscape designers, anthropologists, etc. so they'll need some help establishing a "menu" of possibilities to spark and inspire their imaginations envision and plan their new home.

These ladies aren't scientists, but they are smart. So we need ideas that would not already be obvious to a well-informed octogenarian who taught school all her life (e.g. solar energy? Got it.) The idea is to expand the menu selection, so to speak.

These ladies live in Houston and are committed to serving that community.

These ladies are older and many have issues with mobility, so we need to keep stairs and steps to a minimum. They'd want anything they build to be accessible anyway.

If you can point to sources for them to read, that'd be ideal. They're Dominicans, and "Study" is one of their four pillars. Future visions are okay, but actual working examples elsewhere would be great.

Bonus if you can integrate the spiritual aspects and benefits of nature into the mix. A la Pope Francis' encyclical 'Laudato Si.," of which they are big fans.
posted by cross_impact to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
It reminds me a little of these nuns in New Orleans. Houston could use similar landscaping to help with flooding.
posted by pinochiette at 6:35 PM on April 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

There's a Facebook group called Women In Permaculture that is dedicated to this concept and demographic. They would be a very good beginning resource for practical ideas.

Here in Los Angeles, Lauren Bon instituted a project called The Cornfield that became a community garden in a downtown area that was an abandoned railroad site. It's been tied to a reclamation project of the Los Angeles River, which is currently just a concrete spillway to funnel runoff into the ocean. It's being regreened and turned into a park. At any rate, The Cornfield is used a greenspace by a number of people who live in downtown Los Angeles and really never had access to viable green spaces.
posted by effluvia at 6:47 PM on April 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

There's an Eco-Neighborhood just down the road from me and it's so lovely. Their About page might have lots of good ideas for you. https://www.earthsong.org.nz/
posted by (F)utility at 7:13 PM on April 19, 2021

I don't know anything about them, but the Ethiopian church forests at least seem to have that eco part covered.
posted by aniola at 7:44 PM on April 19, 2021

you've probably heard of an Earthship, well, I was surprised to find out they are still going, and after all these years they still make them out of old tires with pounded dirt inside, this is, apparently, the best building material they have found. I learned this by watching a documentary Don't Flush your Freedom

Official website

I've owned and maintained several homes and I feel like they have everything covered - ventilation, water systems, roofing, heating and cooling and more. They know how to make a healthy environment inside a home.
posted by cda at 7:53 PM on April 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

I know the Solas Bhride Centre in Kildare was planned by the Brigidine sisters to be an ecologically sustainable facility. Maybe the sisters in Houston could consult with them?
posted by corey flood at 7:55 PM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Maybe the folks here could help?
posted by feistycakes at 7:59 PM on April 19, 2021

I've answered here before with the example of the Cheesecake Consortium (their planner/architect's webpage). I've found info on the project very useful for thinking about community creation.

You certainly need an architect and planner who enjoy creating community - many designers are too insular (or simply don't care) to create social space IMO.

Designed for eleven friends who want to grow old together - complex includes live-in nurse accommodation. They'd be a good place to start or articles covering Cheesecake Consortium.
posted by unearthed at 8:32 PM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Women in Permaculture group isn't just on FB - They have an actual web site here.
posted by amtho at 8:42 PM on April 19, 2021

The first one I heard about: Arcosanti.
posted by evilDoug at 9:23 PM on April 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

They may want to look at choosing for the community-creation aspects (https://www.cohousing.org/directory/wpbdp_category/comm/) and can visit other communities for the day or overnight depending on the group.

I visited several in WA but found years-long waiting lists and lack of affordability. However affordability and ecological impacts were clearly important to those communities (but affordability is difficult to implement without outside funding).

Certainly chatting with them would likely delight your elderly friends! If they want to do a virtual visit, I found the one in Bellingham wa to be the most organized and used to visitors fwiw.

Wish I could be a fly on the wall for their conversations - no doubt they will be fascinating and delightful!
posted by esoteric things at 11:00 PM on April 19, 2021

Mondo X Cetona Italy was a Convent [core chapel built by St Francis is still there] and is now an upmarket gastro-retreat staffed by recovering urban drug-addicts. It is an interesting business model where the top 2% and bottom 2% are in mutual support.
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:37 AM on April 20, 2021

Stanbrook Abbey is a sustainable Benedictine convent in Yorkshire that might have some ideas/be a group to reach out too. There is a link at the bottom of that page to a video interview on the structure etc. as well.
posted by halcyonday at 1:53 AM on April 20, 2021

Saw this documentary about the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They might be worth looking into.
posted by wowenthusiast at 6:18 AM on April 20, 2021

Check out the Wrath of Gnon twitter. The account regularly tweets out age-old building techniques used in old monasteries and other 'natural' and inexpensive building techniques. This monastic fishpond is one example. It's a fishpond built off to the side of a stream to capture fish to feed the monks. This link is just an article, but the actual thing looks amazing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:55 AM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

These people teach classes on straw bale building. Straw bale construction has many many benefits including affordability, sustainability and relative easiness.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:27 AM on April 20, 2021

Here is what I'd want to consider:

Any community is going to be better with a mix of older and younger people, so I'd think seriously about how to integrate and bring in younger members of their order, but also to make a chunk of their space open to the public in a very specific, educational, mission-focused way.

For example, I'd love for there to exist, in one place, a collection of alternative building examples. This could be an amazing resource for everyone in the community, and would do a lot to encourage more people to use alternative building techniques.

People would visit, some just out of curiosity or because they wanted to do something as a family that involves walking around, or because they care about the environment and want to see whether they could do something real, like build a better house, and still live well.
posted by amtho at 12:58 PM on April 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Please take a look at Bridge Meadows, a purpose-built housing complex in Portland (now with 3 locations). Each Bridge Meadows community is designed to encourage connection between the generations. They support children in the foster system as well as older adults. A community garden could easily be incorporated into a site like this.
posted by hydra77 at 1:04 PM on April 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

What fun!

Practically, since they are not engineers, architects, or planners--and since those services all cost money, and you didn't say if there were budget restrictions-- it might be most empowering to start with:

(1) Real Estate: how much land they can afford to purchase (and pay tax on, indefinitely) and where is that located, generally
(2) Based on answers to (1), then what is actually permissable from a zoning perspective?
(3) Exit strategies for individual members to get money out (this being the most common tragic oversight of otherwise well-intentioned communal living to discover after-the-fact. Truly).
(4) There may be grants/public money available. If budget is a concern, that would also be worth investigating locally!

THEN work backwards from there to add the inspiration. Perhaps its a moot point, and what you need is inspiration and not realism. But certainly financing the project governs the inspir-o-meter (unless they have a ton of capital) not the other way around.

To the list of examples above, I can also think of:
-"Baba Yaga" movement in France (if they like the model, they can duplicate it!)
-Monasteres Des Augustines (Quebec City, Canada)
-We Moon
posted by abuckamoon at 1:30 PM on April 20, 2021

Response by poster: Not wanting to thread-sit, but let's assume for now that money/budget is not a constraining issue.
posted by cross_impact at 1:51 PM on April 20, 2021

Have they heard of/ visited with the White Violet Center for Eco Justice?
posted by theweasel at 3:35 PM on April 20, 2021

Village Homes (DavisWiki page) in Davis, CA is a neighborhood designed so the houses face communal park/garden areas with biking and walking paths. The streets run along the backs of the houses, so cars and driveways aren't the central features of the neighborhood. (Back when it was built the city required street access and car parking for all houses; Parking Reform is a fairly new movement to eliminate/change car parking requirements worldwide.) It's really pleasant to bike & walk though, and seems like it can be a nice place to live. Not sure how well they do at affordability, apart from maybe the student co-op house.

Maybe also look into Composting Toilet Systems. There's new code coming through these days (like IAPMO WE*Stand) that's making more & better compost toilets legal in various jurisdictions. Note that there are a lot of different types of compost toilet with various pros and cons; you may have to do some research to find the right one for this purpose.
posted by sibilatorix at 6:32 PM on April 20, 2021

The Humanure Handbook is a pretty good starting point for compost toilet research.
posted by sibilatorix at 6:32 PM on April 20, 2021

« Older Flat walking paths/walk options in Atlanta / North...   |   How to Become a Tax Policy Consultant or Lobbyist? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.