The Apartment Complex

19 thoughts on “The Apartment Complex”

  1. This post and your posts in general speak to me of Christopher Alexanders’ work and writing in “A Pattern Language” and his other texts.

  2. Garden apartments are indeed uninspiring. But so is much of the single family housing built in the last 40 years: bland lego-like cookie cutter layout without any character. Bleh. Those quirky land trust houses on the other hand are just marvelous. I’ll take hippie woo woo over HOA jackboot any day. Especially interesting that both housing types have a similar level of density, but physically and subjectively feel so different.

  3. To some extent both of those places suffer from the same problem and that is the lack of workplaces. If you can’t or don’t want to drive then neither is suitable.

    1. No. Both these places are within a short walk of a village that is in need of workers. The problem is the gap between hourly wages and the cost of real estate.

  4. “They relentlessly organized pivotal members of the community, raised funds, negotiated the endless intricacies of multiple bureaucracies and – miraculously – actually got the place built. It took a couple of decades just to get all the required puzzle pieces in place, but they persevered and got it done.”
    I can understand that completely. Never knew something like this existed. It’s been a dream of mine for many decades.
    The problem is, as mentioned in the quote, that local govmt’s do not want anything like this. Along with utility companies, grocery chains, car dealers, developers, ad infinitum.
    Around where I live there are some similarities in that not all the houses look the same and the is no HOA. A mile away the city limits mark the zone of lawns (silly in SoCal perpetual drought), sidewalks, and people that call Nine-One-One if there is a leaf on a driveway. That’s not much of an exaggeration.
    Most California cities just want to build more SFHs, minimum 5,000 SF, 2 story, and 12 ft from the neighbor’s who they never speak to. Lately this has slowed somewhat due to the “recession” and also the end of the Community Redevelopment Act which took the property tax from a “blighted” area and gave it to a developer for several decades so that “Community redevelopment” could happen. This amounted to mini-malls and overpriced condos. With less than 5% “affordable” units. And affordable means taxpayer subsidized at maybe 15% below market rates.
    The working people around here live near noisy things like freeways, railroads and shopping centers (with no apartments above the stores). The sewage plants are hidden out of town and there are few school bus yards. Any mention of school bussing to “middle class” people will likely get a hostile response due to memories of “de-segregation”.

  5. Love it- beauty and utility can take many forms. It takes incredible perseverance to make this happen but worth it in the long haul. We need more of these alternatives for those on limited incomes.

  6. Another great article from GS. I love your guys’ stuff. I’ve been reading this site off and on for years since I found it via an RSS feed for “New Geography” (god knows how I found that one).

    As a person with a college degree and a good (great?) job and above average income who still cannot afford to buy a home in SoCal, I very much identify with your overall vibe.

    Great journalism, please keep up the good work. I hope someone is archiving all of this – including the photos! – for posterity.


    -Mark V in LA (South Bay / Pasadena)

  7. Wow! That is really cool. Thanks for the pictures and post.

    It’s unfortunate that Americans have been conditioned to regard any sort of collective or community effort as a half step short of a totalitarian hell filled with jack-booted security forces repressing freedom. I’ve suggested (cautiously) to some friends that a handful of us should move into a cheap neighborhood in order to split childcare, cooking, and home upkeep duties. The looks and comments that I’ve received in response basically accuse me of trying to herd people into a cult. Oh well. Maybe people will be more interested when the economy craters again, and they want to save money.

    1. It’s far too difficult to build eco villages and intentional communities from scratch. I always recommend like minded people pool their modest funds and buy a small existing building or a few nearby homes and cobble together an unintentional village from spare parts. Faster, cheaper, and gets the job done. For example, it wouldn’t take much to transform the landscape around the “New Jersey” complex with permaculture style gardens, add extra insulation to the apartments, and install solar panels and such to the current structures. But that assumed the management and inhabitants are all on the same page and have the right to tinker with things.

      1. This is sage. Having pitched in to organize such a community, it’s such a big hurdle to get the money together to buy a piece of land and build. An existing farmlet, old hotel, these are easier ways to get started.

  8. Johnny,

    Great Blog! Hope you don’t mind if I share it locally. The natives will appreciate it. It a fascinating glimpse into what an “offislander” notices and what their particular reading points are. As the administrator of the Sewer District, it bears mentioning that you walked through the gate with an open invitation, as it would be highly unsafe for people to actually hop the fence. (Winky face). We are very involved in both of the housing projects mentioned and they both have a very clear and vital role in our burgeoning community. I would love to take a moment sometime to walk you through many of the unique, unmistakable Lopez facets. It’s a paradise like no other. Thank you for taking the time to recognize us.

    1. Monico – The first rule of full employment. “Cover your ass.”

      Locals always have a predictable set of responses. There are people happy to have their town highlighted, no matter how obscure the publication. There are people outraged at all the details that are completely wrong or misrepresented. And there are the people who don’t want the outside world to find out about them. Have fun… For the record, Lopez Island really is a magical place full of kind lovely people.

    2. Monico,

      You say you’re heavily involved in both housing projects. I’m interested in knowing why you would develop/support the New Jersey complex so much if the Hippie one was such a success. It’s hard to imagine the same group having vision for both. Like Johnny said, it would be fairly easy to add small but productive touches to New Jersey without turning it into a commune.

      1. I’m not Monico, but the answer seems pretty evident to me: not everyone wants the same thing, especially older folks with mobility impairments and young parents with kids who just can’t make time for anything except work and family life.

        1. Anything that deviates from the norm is assumed to be either a luxury option for “elites” or a low class magnet for “the wrong element.”

          I spent a chunk of my childhood in a suburban apartment complex that was far less appealing than the one shown here. In order to scrape by my family had to pool resources with my aunt, cousin, and grandmother in a two bedroom apartment in a not-so-great neighborhood. That was the solution for low wages and high rents. We had one semi-reliable Ford Pinto between us in a location where walking or transit weren’t great options.

          The point of a land trust is to create a stable home situation where lower income people like local shop clerks, teachers, nurses, etc can live at a price they can afford even when market rate real estate is insanely expensive. Once families aren’t spending the majority of their income on rent, utilities, car payments, gas, auto repairs, insurance… they suddenly have time to spend with their children in the garden.

          1. Johnny, not trying to diminish your point. My simple but unstated point is that there are some people who are utterly uninterested in growing much of their own food. For them, the “standard” apartment at the same price might be fine.

            I am, as you might guess, one of those people. My parents gardened in the middle-class ‘burbs when it was uncool, because they were raised in poor families in the Great Depression. And we went to u-pick farms for things to preserve. I grew up on it, but got burned out on it in my first house after trying to keep up with a demanding job, interior home improvements, and managing garden and fruit trees. The cost/benefit ratio is pretty out of whack for me; fruits and vegetables have never been beyond my means even when impoverished by divorce and BK and working in a 6-day, 50-hour manual-labor job to keep my son and me housed and fed and clothed.

            So yes, I’m a bit at risk if there is a SHTF moment. But I do have other practical (handyman) skills to barter. Those lumber and stone piles looked like more fun to me than the gardens.

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