New Solutions for Land Development

From: Kim Rosenberg

New Solutions to local land development in Manzanita

I bet we’ve all heard this chestnut in some form or another–If you keep doing what you’ve always done you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.

In Manzanita we keep doing development the same old way. A few people with a lot of money and not much imagination buy up land to build second homes for people who don’t live here. They plow under wetland areas, cut down healthy trees and raze lots to the ground. They build huge houses for small families and leave little room for native plants or trees. The trees that would remove carbon from the atmosphere and reduce greenhouse gasses. The trees that help prevent flooding and keep the air and water clean.

The resources we need for the future are being sold to developers along with the lots they buy. This year, according to the National Weather Service, the Nehalem River is at 38% streamflow volume–its lowest volume ever recorded. When you turn on the tap or do your laundry in Manzanita do you ever wonder where the water comes from? Imagine when all the houses being built right now are occupied as vacation homes or short term rentals–the big ones with the multiple bathrooms, and hot tubs and sprinkler systems. What will residents do when the drought we’re experiencing now continues? Where will water for all those new second homeowners and their guests come from? The developers cash their checks and walk away to go back to where they live which is not here. When they’re gone, the rest of us will live with the results of their greed and avarice for decades. Maybe we won’t recover.

In demolishing what’s here and replacing it with the very things we’ve been running from–too many houses at too high a cost for people who don’t need them, the destruction of the land on which we live with the wildlife we take for granted. We are building homes for the wealthy to buy and not the type of housing we actually so desperately need. We need affordable rental units for the people working here who make our town a town. We may not see it as readily as we do in Portland or Seattle but homelessness is here and it’s gutting our workforce and our businesses.

People say it’s just how it is. The people in power use their power to keep their power. They don’t seem to feel any connection or responsibility to this place or the people and wildlife that were here when they came. They do what they do because they can and it makes them money. A great deal of money. They have no commitment to the greater good of the community because they aren’t part of the community.

I was feeling pretty hopeless until I read on my news feed a few days ago that the city of Silverton, Oregon decided to partner with Habitat For Humanity to buy an empty lot in town and instead of turning the project over to a for profit developer, they are partnering with the PSU School of Architecture to design and build affordable multi use housing for their community.  The city will own the development so they can ensure that the rents are affordable and that it serves the community.

And that’s when I thought of Sam Mockbee and the Rural Studio. Located at Auburn University in Newberry, Alabama this innovative design and build program works to train aspiring architects to build structures like houses, libraries, preschools, farmers market stands and even chapels for families and communities that have a need. The structures are made mostly out of recycled and free materials to keep costs down. First year students meet with families or the community where they’ll be building to understand what is needed. Over the course of the program students not only learn about the fundamentals of architecture but they design and source materials, meet with communities and families where their projects will be built and, in their senior year, they complete their projects. Over 200 projects have been completed since Rural Studio began and more than 1,000 aspiring architects have been trained. There are two documentaries about the program and its founder, The Rural Studio and Citizen Architect. You can also go online to see some of the projects they’ve completed by googling Rural Studio.

The situation in Manzanita is different and would require a different approach but imagine what we might borrow from these innovative programs to build affordable housing for the people who work here? Imagine all the things we could do if we didn’t believe it was impossible?

We have an ethical responsibility to each other and the planet we share to do better. There are consequences if we don’t change. We’re beginning to experience some of them now–we’re running out of water all over the country, our land is burning up from fires, the highest recorded temperatures in the west have killed hundreds, too many people are working full time without a place to live. We need to think beyond what’s been done in the past. We need to find new solutions to our problems and we don’t have much time. We need to try new things. We need to use our imaginations. The clock is ticking. The first thing to change is our minds.

Kim Rosenberg