Designing Shared Spaces with Bryan Bowen

Posted on May 4, 2023 by

Designing Shared Spaces with Bryan Bowen

Inside Community Podcast — Ep. 015

We’re kicking off Season 2 with a pair of episodes about Placemaking, how we design and consider creating environments for healthy thriving humans. In this first episode, I talk with Bryan Bowen about the ins and outs of designing sustainable spaces for healthy, connected, thriving humans from a design perspective.

In this episode

  • Brian’s early interest in co-housing (7:46)
  • The importance of understanding people’s needs and desires (13:28)
  • Common houses and the power of sharing (19:05)
  • Building a solid plan for a community health property (24:39)
  • Empowering people to do awesome things (30:52)
  • Making site planning fun and playful (39:39)
  • Diving into the design world (43:27)
  • When to bring in a design professional? (48:11)
  • The problem of nimbyism (52:58)
  • How do we deal with the naysayers? (1:01:11)
  • The human component of the issue (1:05:49)
  • Building community regardless of where you live (1:12:01)

About Bryan Bowen

Bryan Bowen is an architect, cohousing nerd, and sustainable community-based designer. Bryan grew up in a passive solar home in an artists’ community at the foothills of the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA with minors in art and anthropology, and has been a practicing architect for almost 25 years. He lived in Wild Sage Cohousing in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two boys for 18 years. Bryan loved life in cohousing and enjoys the simple benefits of community – friends right outside the front door, casual interactions, great food, and a rich life for his kiddos. His firm, Caddis, is a 20 year old multidisciplinary design collaborative that explores how we may live more lightly upon our earth in beautiful and healthy environments.  Caddis has become a well-respected national cohousing expert, creating beautiful, innovative, highly functioning communities. Bryan has served on the City of Boulder’s Planning Board, the board of CohoUS, and now sits on the board of Better Boulder.

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Caddis Collaborative – ⁠⁠

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Show Notes

⁠James Rojas⁠ – Urban planner

⁠The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America⁠ -Book on zoning by Richard Rothstein

⁠Superbia⁠ – Book on designing better neighborhoods by David Wann

Super Awesome Inside Community Jingle by FIC board member Dave Booda ⁠⁠⁠⁠

ICP theme by Rebecca Mesritz

Thanks from Rebecca, your podcast host

Episode Transcript

Rebecca Mesritz 0:00
For more than 50 years communitarians community seekers and cooperative culture activists have been sharing their stories and helpful community resources and communities magazine. building from the ground up communities magazines spring 2023 issue shares stories and guidance about natural building, starting new groups from scratch and developing communities both ecologically and socially. You can gain access to all back issues in digital form, plus receive current print and digital issues by subscribing now, at Gen hyphen coho us is the hub of the cohousing movement, convening individuals and organizations with a shared vision for intentional community living. expert led courses and forums on the cohousing Institute, provide the skills and expertise to build and sustain your community available both live and on demand. Join coho us for the commons, a monthly gathering space for the cohousing curious the 10th of every month at 10am Mountain learn

Rebecca Mesritz 1:20
Hello, communitarians

Rebecca Mesritz 1:22
Welcome to Season Two of the inside community podcast. I hope you’ve all been well during our little hiatus, and that you’ve been continuing to move forward with your collaborative culture goals. Over this break, Terra Lumen, our forming community in Southern Oregon has made some big steps that I’m really proud of. And I would love to share with you. We’ve remodeled one of the houses on the land that we purchased and our co founders have officially moved in. Yay. We also have started to schedule courses on the land and are moving forward with our educational mission and vision. And we just removed another 30 yard dumpster worth of trash from the land which always feels so so good. Spring has sprung here and gardens are getting started and flowers are blooming and it just feels like life is bursting forth. Everywhere we look. I am so excited to be here with you all again. And to bring you another season of the show. We’ve really been listening to what you want to hear about. And I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from folks through email and through inside community podcast on Instagram, if you haven’t had a chance to visit, we also have a survey up right now so that we can hear from you about guests and topics and ideas that you would like to hear covered on the show and what’s been working for you and what you want more of. So please take a visit over there and reach out to us and let us know. With all that in mind, we have crafted a really great season ahead that is going to get into some of the more tough and sticky and messier aspects of those beautiful and messy realities of living in community that I like to talk about. This is an we are really wanting to represent even more diverse voices and perspectives that come from different ends of the spectrum. You know, intentional community might not be for everyone. But I think that we all have a lot to learn from collaborative culture and the different ways of doing things. So for me, it’s really important that we don’t just cover one view on this show, but that we engage in deep and meaningful conversations with people from different walks of life, and with different ideas about how to do things. And hopefully, as you listen to these episodes this season, it pushes into some of your areas of comfort, and it pushes into some of my areas of comfort. And we all get to learn and grow a little bit together. I’m really looking forward to talking to people about subjects that can be challenging, regardless of your relationship to community. But I think especially in community, we just get a little bit more pushed into reflecting on some of these things. There’s a lot of times in the default world where we don’t really have to name or claim our beliefs or our values, we can just kind of either go along with whatever’s happening. Or if we don’t like something, we just can step back and no one’s really going to challenge that for us. But in community, we get these places of friction sort of shoved in our face and magnified. For example, if a community mate is dealing with aging or end of life issues and a loss of capacity and is no longer able to participate in community the way that they used to this can have a really dramatic effect on the community and just a different way than it would if they were in the default world. And if it was a neighbor down the street, those neighbors may or may not show up to support you may or may not be affected by your lack of capacity, may or may not even notice. So over the Next season, we are going to be looking at some of these tougher topics, death and dying, raising children together, dealing with sex and sexuality and consent, how to approach diversity, equity and inclusion, and so much more. And again, I am eager to be on this journey with you and for all of us to be learning together. This season is going to be a little different from last season, and now we’re going to be releasing episodes monthly instead of bi weekly. But for this initial launch of season two, we’re actually going to release two episodes at the same time. Both of these conversations are about placemaking. But my guests are coming at this topic from very different worlds. In this episode, I have a conversation with Brian Bowen, who was an architect with cactus collaborative, a design firm based out of Boulder, Colorado. And my other episode will be with reedy to Cruz, who is an activist and place justice advocate that’s based out of Portland. And this just felt really important to me to start the season off with this tone of diversity of thought and place and approach to ideas, and how we view some of these very integral aspects of community building based on our own lives and circumstances. Thank you so much for joining me in these conversations and welcome Welcome to Season Two of the inside community podcast. Brian Bowen is a cohousing nerd, a sustainable community based designer and has been a practicing architect for almost 25 years. He helped to design and then lived in wild sage cohousing in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two boys for 18 years. His firm cactus is a 20 year old multidisciplinary design collaborative that explores how we may live more lightly upon our Earth in beautiful and healthy environments. Cactus has become a well respected national cohousing expert, creating beautiful, innovative highly functioning communities. Brian has served on the city of boulders planning board, the board of koho us and now sits on the board of better boulder. Brian Bowen, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us today.

Bryan Bowen 7:22
Happy to be here.

Rebecca Mesritz 7:24
Well, I love to start by asking people to tell me a little bit about their community, their community journey. Can you tell me about what what your experience with community has been? Like?

Bryan Bowen 7:36
Yeah, I think that’s a great place to start. I, I grew up in New Mexico, in the desert kind of by myself and in a kind of artists community. And there was a lot of really wonderful things about that. But it community was not a part of my childhood, very much. And then when I was off at school in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon, for architecture, me and my friends had all these ideas about like how the world could be different, right? That’s like a big part of design school is looking at how things are and thinking about how much better it could be. And we had sort of conceived of this idea of like cooperative living where you shared resources and you had this sort of like a newer version of older commune things coming ideas. And I remember my friend Sally inclus, one day, poked her head right over my drafting board said, Brian, that thing that we’ve been talking about, it exists and it’s called cohousing. It’s totally cool. You should read this book. And so we got really enamored of the idea. And then, few years later, I joined a group in Salt Lake City, Wasatch Commons cohousing and really, really quickly I couldn’t afford to do it. It was like not had no business trying to buy a house in that project. So after that, moving to Boulder, Colorado, I was working for Jim Logan architects, and we got hired to do wild sage cohousing, which is really, really exciting. And, you know, so I was conducting workshops and learning how to do this work and, you know, learning from a lot of different people in the movement, primarily Jim Leach and others in his office. And, you know, part of the rap for all that stuff is like, hey, you know, you’ve worked through these design workshops, and you make decisions about money and life and hard things together. And by virtue of doing that you create these strong relationships. And those are the things that are the foundation for you once you move in. So after running all those workshops, I realized I had also created all of those relationships that I had been talking about. So I went to my wife was like, you know, we should just move into this thing. It’s really cool. So ultimately, we did and so we were kind of first round wild stagers and lived there for 18 years raised two little boys there and you know, have all of the stories of how, you know wonderful and challenging and delightful and brilliant at all is and, you know, have just an immense amount of love for life. If in community, and which has been interesting. So we did move out about a year ago. And, you know, we’re experiencing a different sort of phase of life just now and have a lot of nostalgia for that time, I had wild sage and still have so many strong connections there. But I can tell you two hours worth of funny stories about neighbors and things. And that could be a whole podcast, which would be boring for anybody who is not me.

Rebecca Mesritz 10:31
That’s a lot about what this show is anyway. So that’s, that’s what I’m here for. I’m like, let’s talk about when it gets real messy like that.

Bryan Bowen 10:40
Like, yeah. Oh, got some stories? For sure. Yeah. So

Rebecca Mesritz 10:43
Caddis. Can you just tell me just briefly about what, what Caddis does and how that sort of evolved?

Bryan Bowen 10:51
Yeah, I think, you know, in some ways, you know, if you follow your nose, through your professional career, you end up in the right place. And if I had tried to make up a firm, you know, three years ago, it would have actually been this firm, like, I’ve just got really great, great people who are talented. And we’re working on things that are socially valuable, whether it’s, you know, innovative forms of affordable housing, using low income housing tax credits, or other funding mechanisms, to try to help the West solve its housing woes, and house people in a dignified happy way. Or whether it’s co housing projects, or agri villages, or doing some work internationally, or you know, some like retail, and restaurants and things like that, that are fun. We also do a lot of commercial buildings, that really everything has like kind of two main threads. And those are community and sustainability or resiliency or regeneration, depending on like kind of what era and like what level I can talk people into. And so it’s been a really nice mix of of work. And we also do a lot of work still for single family, homeowners and pop tops and remodels. And we have kind of a whole slew of passive house or netzero. projects out there. So energy and sustainability have been like a real core for us.

Rebecca Mesritz 12:10
You know, the reason that I wanted to really talk to you is that I mean, we, my my crew here in Southern Oregon have purchased a big piece of land. I know there’s a lot of people out there that are in the early phases, maybe they have their land, they don’t necessarily have their whole community setup, or they have the community and they’re just looking for land. And as people are starting to think about how to be in right relation to their land, creating spaces for people creating community, you just seem like a great person to talk to about, you know, where do you even start when you are wanting to design a living space for humans? Like what are? What’s step one? And what should you be thinking about and looking towards, as you start to envision what a community could look like?

Bryan Bowen 13:10
Yeah, that’s such a great question. I think, you know, embedded in that early part of the question was essentially a lot of technical analysis of, you know, what will any given parcel be able to offer you in terms of, you know, how many housing units can you fit on it? And what kind of access to transit? Is it? And is it arable land, and what’s the climate like? So there’s a huge amount of analysis that we do for clients on on projects like that. And some of that is tied very closely to how people want to live their lives, it serves experience of their lives. And completely when it comes down to the design process, there’s sort of like some of that early analysis, and then a middle step of looking at this specific site in terms of topography and weather patterns and sun patterns and vegetation patterns in groundwater and all sorts of like, deep site analysis that we really get into, and that’s the underlay for what really is the driving, I think single driving design principle for the work that we do, which is people’s experiences. Americans in our culture, being sort of a capitalist, consumerist, obsessed society, often are most comfortable talking about things, and objects and money and square feet. And I find that what works really, really well. And also what helps to really democratize the design processes is to like get rid of most of that thinking, and to really focus on what kinds of experiences do you want to have? How do you want a typical day to feel? How do you want to come home from work? Or how do you want your kids to experience the land or other kids or community based relationships? And once you start to peel back the wish list of objects, you find that like behind that is this like really rich experience. And that experience turns pretty directly into a bunch of sort of choreographic moves. And it begins to become the armature that the whole project is designed around. And it gives it a reason to be one thing and not another thing. You know, I think a lot of architecture from the outside will appear to be sort of, like, you know, randomly generated aesthetically cool moves. But I think, for it to be strong from a, from a much broader, much deeper sense. It needs to grow out of the land and out of the people and out of the experiences. And if you get that stuff, right, then a lot of the other things are not that important, and they just sort of fall together come together out of those initial bigger picture motivations, if that makes sense.

Rebecca Mesritz 16:05
Yeah, I love that as a, as a dancer and a mover, I love the idea of an object maker. I love the idea of of choreographing movement around objects, and like letting these objects or these sort of structures be in place to form or shape the movement of the people. Can you give me some examples of like, what something like that would even look like?

Bryan Bowen 16:35
Yeah, I mean, it, it’s most banal, it’s really simple things like if you put all the mailboxes in the same place, then when people check the mail, they’re more likely to bump into each other. You know, so really simple, basic, straightforward mechanisms like that. Or like, once you’ve put the mailboxes in one place, maybe there should be cubbies there that people can use to, you know, share things, and maybe a bulletin board system and you see these things in all these communities, you know, they’re, they’re out there. And then you know, what, if you put the recycling bins in a cabinet right below the mail, well, look, people are going to have a much higher likelihood of recycling, they’re just gonna stick around there for a few more minutes. And then that way, they have a higher chance of bumping into each other. So that’s like an example of like, you know, sort of pre known example, and pretty basic example. But I think the other examples that are a lot more nuanced are like how you create circulation patterns, through the community and how you create places inside and outside and in between homes. That act as are the provide places that you can be outside that you want to be outside, anytime a day, anytime a year. So if it’s morning in the winter, do you want Sun cool, like you can go over here out of the wind, and you can bathe in the sun and have your coffee outside. If it’s afternoon, and you have a climate where there’s afternoon showers or breezes, like maybe you want to be sheltered, but still hanging out outside. So creating opportunities for people to migrate around the buildings in and around the buildings. So that you get them out of the homes, where they can connect with each other in a way that feels comfortable and not forced, you know, if it starts to feel too contrived, then people back away from it, and they don’t want to do it. But if it feels really natural, and if you get the layers of privacy around those opportunities designed properly, then you then you draw people together. And also some of those layers of create layers of privacy that you create are things that you engage with like planter beds or vegetable gardens or, or beds outside the kitchen. So things that like you have a utility and an activity that goes along with them not just like sort of a cafe table, you’d sit at

Rebecca Mesritz 18:47
how does like community building or a central community kind of kitchen or hub like does that does that typically play into your designs and do you have recommendations around those kind of structures?

Bryan Bowen 19:05
Yeah, absolutely. I think you know, in the cohousing world specifically, there’s, you know, there’s almost always a common house. It’s kind of one of the defining features and the cabinets has a kitchen and it has these kind of regularly used programmatic elements. But you know, I’ve had clients come to me and they say, oh, I want to do co housing, but I’m only going to have six units. So I think I can’t afford a 5000 square foot common house and I’m gonna go Of course you can’t that doesn’t make any sense. And also, if you have that many units, you don’t need that common house like you might need something different. So let’s talk to the people who are going to live their first step and cohousing and find out what delights them. What would be cool, let’s find out what would be cool and then do that thing for you. And so maybe it’s like you’re gonna share like a really cool outdoor firepit pizza of in trellis you know, community gardens If you start to ask him about these experiences, again, like, they start to tell you the things that kind of go along with them and support them. And if you pull those things together in a way that’s enhanced through the power of sharing, then you end up with this, like, of course, I’m gonna go out there and be the community garden because like, not only am I going to get to go and, like, do a thing I enjoy, I’m going to be able to, like do with Rebecca, and it’s gonna be super fun. And I’m going to be able to like chit chat about like, how things are going. And so I think, you know, those kinds of things, real strong community builders, in terms of the the actual buildings, I feel like the buildings need to be a manifestation of the community. There’s a lot of pattern book, or for Pattern Language thinking that goes into those. And I think that’s a valuable place to start. You know, when we do a common house workshop with causing groups, we always start with, like, here’s what most common houses are like. And here’s what they include. And here’s sort of what we think of as, like, the common house ology of the world and best practices that we’ve learned from all the other architects and thinkers on this topic. And that’s largely educational, to build a platform to say like to the people who are really gonna use it. Okay, cool. So now you know, this stuff, what do you guys want to do? What do you want to do to make this thing really sing for you? And, you know, if people are really more bent towards makerspaces, and art and metalworking, and sculpture and stuff like that, well, it’s, you know, things go in that direction. If it’s a community that has your people who are more focused on music, who maybe it goes in that direction, often things are multiple directions, and you want to make sure you’re having people in for this example, their creative outlets come together in a way that’s not going to cause future conflict, but causes like a wonderful synergy. So you can’t say like, Okay, we’re gonna have a woodshop, that’s also going to be good for quilting. You know, because you’re just gonna, like, make everybody crazy with with Dustin. It’s not gonna happen.

Rebecca Mesritz 21:54
Yeah, I like that when, when we created the Emerald village, there were a lot of sort of, like common areas that that emerged. And one of the first things that we brought was, even though the five families had their own houses, and there was a main house that a family lived in, that sort of started to become a default meeting space, which was great for everybody that didn’t live there. But for the people that live there, that was like, Okay, you guys are all in my house. And then there’s dishes, and I gotta clean and it’s a whole thing. And trying to, like, navigate around that. So we ended up putting up a yurt that became sort of our temple space. And that was one of the first things that we needed was just a place to, to me and meditate and just gather in a in a neutral space that was open and and available.

Bryan Bowen 22:52
That’s a brilliant example. I’m a, I’m going to use that in my workshops in the future, because I feel like people. I mean, it’s just important. Two pieces of that, right. One is that in the beginning, it was a good use of existing infrastructure, right? Like, well, you have this house, let’s meet in that, that’s really smart. You know, and then you have to like, notice at some point like, this is actually causing a little bit of strain of some variety, right? So like, how do we sort of mindfully reposition and like, you know, make a different decision. So as like, so you don’t end up with like these patterns kind of going on forever, if you find out later that they actually aren’t working for you, in some way. So the ability to change the agility of community is actually one of the things I think that’s really beautiful. And to that end, I think one other thing about common amenities is like, if you’re doing an urban project that’s really dense, and you have a really strict approval process, like you might really be required to almost complete everything that needs to be built. In a day one doesn’t leave a lot of elbow room for people to adapt over time. We’re working on a great project right now called routed Northwest up outside of Seattle and Arlington, Washington. And you know, they’ve got this land, they’ve got a bunch of acreage, it’s going to be a regenerative food producing business farm. Very, very amazing project. But the wonderful thing about that, that’s the point I’m trying to get is like, aside from all the wonderful things about it, is that they have a lot of elbow room in you know, so they can do a lot of things over time. And I don’t have to sort of puppet master all these things in the beginning, you can just say like, Alright, cool, here’s the foundation for what you guys will do together in the future. And that’s much more natural.

Rebecca Mesritz 24:39
Yeah, I think one of the challenges that we faced with the Emerald village and I’ve seen this actually in in other communities as well, including in the the property that we’ve taken over stewardship of here in Oregon is that there was when we moved there, there was a existing structures. And, you know, there were a lot for the Emerald village. In any case, we had five young families, a lot of remodeling that needed to happen to adapt the structures, a lot of basically band aids and so early on, we never really came up with a solid plan, like a big plan. And so what ended up happening over time was that this new structures kind of get got added and things got put in and pathways were implemented. But there was never the forethought. And I think the when you think about a well designed community of fluid, easeful, graceful, beautiful structures working in harmony, we never had that big plan. And so, you know, seven or eight years, and we looked around, and we’re like, gosh, this is feeling a little, a little bit hodgepodge, like, like, somebody just put Lego blocks in was one of my, my community mates examples. Like, it’s basically like, we got this, this little green square, and now we’re like stacking little other rectangles inside of it. And that’s not really any of our aesthetics. But that’s just what ended up happening. And I guess the question that kind of emerges for me out of that is, when you’re creating a plan, I mean, ideally, you do it early on. You don’t wait till you’re like, Oh, crap, we have a bunch of buildings, but like, but But what are the things that you want to? What are the elements of a solid plan? And what kind of things should be included in a plan for, for community health property?

Bryan Bowen 26:41
Oh, yeah, such a great question. I think that’s beautifully put, I think there’s elements of a plan, but it’s also more elements of a process. And I think, you know, the ability to organically react to needs, like your community did is an important part of it, you know, and to be able to do that in a kind of relatively fast and light method, right? Like, okay, cool, like, we have this need, let’s go ahead and do it. It’s, you know, good enough to try safe enough, you know, if it fails, we have no problem, we can fix it. You know, that motto is a really good one for this, but having a framework that you’re operating within can be super helpful, because then, you know, essentially, are like, are we executing our values by doing this or not? And I think, you know, the process if you if you can really get a good set of values pulled together that are like real values, not just like, you know, I mean, every group will say they, you know, they value sustainability and diversity, it’s more like, what are you really trying to do with your project, get into like some sort of more detailed guiding values or principles that you’re trying to that hold your project together, and then having a master plan that is good enough to inform that, but not too rigid. And then also like understanding of how that adapts over time. We’ve worked with a bunch of different communities on this process, we’ve worked with a bunch of other homeowners as well. We had a client a while back whom they had bought a home that they were doing a bunch of permaculture farming and regenerative design and building greenhouses and livestock and all the other things, and they got into it, and they had that same reaction. They’re like, you know, we just like doing stuff, we need to have a master plan. So they hired us, and we created this like, really cool master plan, like, by workshopping it with them. And then they had this like, you know, relatively, I’ll say, just inexpensive. It didn’t take a lot of time. It wasn’t like, you know, 1000 set sheet set of architectural drawings, it was like, one pager with a lot of cool notes and a drawing format. And then they could look back and say, like, okay, is this advancing our goals or not? You know, and I think in some ways, like for a community to like, have that kind of a document, and then a process for checking in on it. Like, okay, let’s like make an annual check in and our retreat or like a five year Check In Update, kind of a commitment to each other that there’s, there may be a time to rethink things. But you also really don’t want to spend all of your next five years rethinking things every time you turn around. Because part of the value of having that master plan is that you can act more quickly within it and not turn so, so much, you know, some a lot of our communities they ended up you know, Mulleavy, intentional Trinity world, you know, I think, especially ones who were maybe not as elegantly practicing consensus, you know, they would work super hard to get consensus over like, you know, which pizza you’re going to order and you spend all your time doing that and it’s no fun you know, I want pepperoni. Everyone must agree. Exactly. Oh, we got mutually exclusive things go Hang on here. How do we handle that? You know, I mean, at some point, like if somebody wants to go build the chicken coop, and they’re the chicken coop circle, like, go do it. This is great, you should find a way of empowering people to do things. And that I mean, that’s actually a little this is not your question. But that’s one thing I think is actually super important in the creation of communities, like you actually want to empower people to be the coolest, most active version of themselves. Which is not how I mean, you don’t get to that by quashing everybody’s ideas every time you turn around. If you you know, somebody has a cool idea, and it’s legitimately cool idea. And your master plan from 20 years ago, doesn’t predict that this person might one day say this cool thing. Well, maybe you should just like let them do it instead of telling them well, we didn’t anticipate this 20 years ago. So clearly, it can’t happen now.

Rebecca Mesritz 30:52
Yeah, yeah, I don’t know, man. Because there’s, there’s, there’s two sides of that, which is there’s some really cool ideas out there. But not everybody that has cool ideas is all that great with implementing, or follow through. And so I mean, this is this can be a real problem is like, oh, yeah, so and so’s got this awesome idea, they’re gonna bring this thing in, they’re gonna do it, and then they kind of have to do it and it looks real janky people are mad, or even, I mean, we had an experience where we got approval, we submitted a proposal, we got approval, everybody was like, Okay, we’re gonna bring this big storage shed in and put it in there. And it kind of got nicknamed El, he got there. And it was it ended up it ended up being a lot bigger than I think any of us thought it was going to be once it was in place and built, but then it was there. And then you’ve got this kind of like monstrosity, that everyone’s then having to orient around. And they’re like, I didn’t sign up for this, you know. So it’s, there’s, there’s that both and of like, yeah, empower people to do stuff, especially if they want to pay for it and put all the energy into doing it. But also, you know, talking about when you’re building those plans, making sure you’ve got the checks and balances in place, if it’s not going well. Doesn’t look good or isn’t working for people, because

Bryan Bowen 32:15
that’s a good example. Because it’s like, that’s like a not an easy one to undo, you know,

Rebecca Mesritz 32:19
oh, no, it was a mess. It was a mess.

Bryan Bowen 32:24
I believe it. It’s kind of one thing, if you like put the beehives somewhere and you’re like, Oh, we don’t like where they are, then you move the beehives like that’s not that big a deal. But like buildings and infrastructure. I mean, I guess I would argue like, you know, that’s a good time to have somebody, you know, build a three dimensional model of it. So you can really experience it and understand what like what you’re doing there. extra services on that. But

Rebecca Mesritz 32:47
yeah, I think I do like the idea. I had a community mate who was really, really awesome about this idea of, of empowering people to just be be their awesome self and like really come with all their energy. And you definitely don’t want to squash that through a design process. You want to feel like, okay, you’re the wind beneath their wings to keep bringing awesomeness to your community. Yeah, and

Bryan Bowen 33:16
I think the sociocracy folks have, like really gotten their arms around some of this stuff in a, in a pretty elegant way, have both how they talk about it, how they process it, and how they strategize it. And I think there’s like, there’s a certain, you know, when we’re working with groups, like a lot of it’s so dream and ideology based, right, people are like, super, they’re putting a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of heart into something and that’s attached to a big strong dream or a lot of ideology, ideology. And, but it’s hard to take, you know, 25 or 35 households worth of that, and, and it’s just not going to all line up perfectly. And so there’s a certain level of like, can I live with that, you know, that has to go on. And, you know, there’s some stuff like, you know, somebody painted a mural, you know, in a wild sage, and, you know, and, like, I was like, I don’t like it, but I don’t have to like it, you know, it’s not important enough to me to like it to make somebody else try to do it differently. You know. And I think, you know, that’s a pretty minor example, like something like a building like a giant shed is a little bit trickier. But I think the kind of live with it. motto is one that’s really informative for getting to good decisions. And if you ask yourself that question, you’re like, ah, you know, I really can’t, this is going to be a real problem for me. Like, then you can authentically say like, you know, I’ve really thought about this and like, I have a real problem with what we’re proposing here and then you can try to figure out what the solution is.

Rebecca Mesritz 34:57
Yeah, the reason the objections are It’s a palette and accuracy if you have a reasoned objection, about, you know, you mentioned something earlier that I wanted to circle back around, around, you know, architectural services or building 3d models, these kinds of things. I will admit that when I hear I mean, I think for me, there’s a piece of like, oh, architectural services, that sounds really like maybe out of somebody’s budget, or like a bit of a stretch, like, especially for people who are just trying to like homestead vibes, you know, like, really just so, I mean, my first question is really like, Are there different levels of engagement, you know, that people can have with design professionals. And, you know, if people are trying to bootstrap and do it a little bit on their own, or at least get the framework figured out, before they employ a design professional, you know, what are some tools that they can that they can use? And where should they start in the design process?

Bryan Bowen 36:06
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, you know, for one thing, if you hire, if you’re gonna hire an architect to do some stuff, you want to make sure that they’re well aligned with what you’re doing. And, you know, I think for a lot of the intentional community world, you’re just looking for, like a, you know, goofball who has values who’s willing to do stuff and help you along. And, you know, that’s probably going to be the person you met through the permaculture course, or the person who’s at the Green Building association meetings, or, you know, it’s just like somebody who’s like, like minded and thinks that what you’re doing is, like, intrinsically super valuable, and worth supporting. And also like it, you know, can’t be it’s not going to be like a huge source of revenue for some company, right. So that’s just a reality. So that you might find somebody who’s willing to help you out chit chat, walk around, wave their arms around, and, you know, guide you a little bit, that’s, we do a fair amount of that. And I think there’s always somebody locally who’s interested in doing stuff like that, then there’s, you know, actually, depending on where you’re at, like, if you have a architecture school or design design program near you. Students can be a great resource for this stuff, like they’re, you know, they’re new to the world of design, but they also know stuff, and they have some skills. So it might be that you can find somebody who can, like, if you say, like, Okay, we need a 3d computer model of our community, you know, we’re gonna see if we get a student to build it, it might take them like, a few hours or a few days. But it’s not like 1000s and 1000s of dollars worth of effort. And it might be the kind of thing that you can use for long term long term, as a piece of infrastructure for your, for your community for master planning, or for other purposes. And then there’s like this sort of DIY part of it, like, right, you can, people can learn this stuff, it’s not hard. If you haven’t gotten Archer school, you can still learn SketchUp. So I think, you know, it’s really easy to, you know, resource this stuff on your own and get away from having to pay for, for things. So you can use SketchUp, super simple, simple project process, or software. You know, you can overlay that on Google Earth and have a topographic three dimensional model of your property really easily. And even if all you do is make rectangles that are about the right size, like that’s probably a better visualization tool for some people, you know. I think there’s also some, like other things, like, if you’re trying to figure out how big your shed is going to be, you know, you can like stick it out. And then, you know, we’ve done things like, float helium balloons over the stakes that are the right height, so people can feel how tall it is, right? Yeah. And like, if you’re doing something, it’s like 35 feet tall, that might be the way to do it. Or you can like build a box or like sort of mock it up and see like how things feel. I think there’s also some, like really cool land analysis and mapping tools out there that are really good for overlaying, like, you know, different kind of ecosystem considerations, whether it’s like hydrology or geology or plant species, forestry stuff. I’ve seen some communities do some really cool things with that as well. Yeah, I don’t know. There’s definitely I think there’s some good research resources out there. And I definitely I feel like a lot of them are very approachable.

Rebecca Mesritz 39:39
Yeah, we’ve I mean, we’ve definitely done stuff as simple as you know, print up the map and Cut out squares, like rectangles of paper and different colors and like, just work directly on a big map that we’ve printed out of like this is where kind of where this thing is, and this is where this thing is and this is We’d like to put put in there. And this is kind of where we could see roads happening.

Bryan Bowen 40:05
Yeah, thanks for mentioning. It’s actually that’s, I mean, that’s how we do a lot of our site planning work with different groups, both in this intentional community world, but also like outside of that. We’ve taken a lot of the ideas that we’ve learned in cohousing and intentional community design work and push them out into other kinds of environments. And there’s a guy named James Rojas who does really cool work. And he refers to the process of city as play, right. And it’s sculptural and playful. And, you know, one of things that I think he does, it’s, I think, really brilliant as he poses questions to people in the way they answer the questions are by manipulating abstract, colorful, brilliant little objects, to express what they’re trying to get at. And that, that gets you out of one kind of thinking and arguing and, you know, verbally trying to make your case and dominating the other people like there’s just a very, like, it kind of pulls you out of some of the most difficult communication dynamics that we, we deal with, and into a world that’s like playful and fun. And it’s like, people light up and you know, somebody who would never have spoken up before comes up with the coolest solution. So that’s really good. And so I think, you know, working through those things in a site design workshop can be awfully, awfully fun, and people really liked those processes. So like, it could also be enjoyable, right? If you can find a way of making these processes enjoyable, then like you’re kind of mastering intentional community. If everything you do turns drudgery, like that’s not a great way of going.

Rebecca Mesritz 41:47
The inside community podcast is sponsored by the Foundation for intentional community. fic has over 35 years of partnership with hundreds of intentional communities around the world. Our mission is to champion social, ecological and economic justice and resiliency, through the support and growth of cooperative culture, and intentional communities. We do this through our free directory of intentional communities, online events and courses, a free forum space for discussion and connection, and many other tools and resources for creating starting and living in community. As a thank you to our podcast listeners, go to the show notes to find a coupon code for 20% off fic books and workshops. This is a time when people need community. When most of the world is isolated, you can find connection through the I hope you are enjoying this first episode of season two, I just wanted to take a moment and invite you to pop over to We are running a fundraiser right now to support the second season. And we’re almost to our goal, but we could really use your help. When you make a donation, I will pop one of these awesome, it’s beautiful, it’s messy stickers in the mail for you as a little thank you from us. And I’ll just say thank you right now for doing your part to support resilience, sustainability and connection in the world. And now back to our show. I’ll put a link to James Rojas in the show notes and some of the stuff that he does. But I think after my first conversation with you, I went and sort of dove into his work. And I love these big sort of workshop slash play shops that he does around city building and city planning. And he gets all these different found objects, you know, like little little cars and beads and buttons and glass bottles and like curlers, curlers, like random stuff, but you start to see that we’re just talking about form on some level, you know, we’re just playing with form. And it has a very accessible kind of base level, like everybody can respond to form in a really kind of instinctual way almost. And I love that he encourages people to engage with design on that level. And then after you know, after you get some ideas, then you can come back and say, Oh, well, this this really is working like this is something really innovative, because you’ve taken kind of the minutia out of it of of solving all the other problems that go along with architectural design or space design or building design, like power and water and all these other things like those are all problems that can be solved. But you’ve kind of at least addressed the like what is what do we want this to feel like? And I love that sort of

Bryan Bowen 44:51
yeah, you basically get the gesture of it and then people are able to decide is that the right? Is that word? trying to do or not. But the beautiful thing is, like you, you pointed out is that what they’re starting to do is they’re actually they don’t necessarily know. And it’s not as like presented this way in the beginning, but what they’re doing is they’re designing experiences, like, so they start talking about it. And they’re like, I did this over here, so that when I walked by this thing, I experienced that, and I see this thing, and I run it that other person, like they actually, you know, they just instantly begin working in that experiential, abstract, you know, circulation based design world. And it’s, it’s like, super, I love watching it happen. It’s neat.

Rebecca Mesritz 45:36
Yeah, that’s fine. And I liked it, like all ages. Also, can can do that. So I feel like, you know, one of the things that we really tried to do at the Emerald village, and we did it on multiple occasions, actually, is we encourage the kids to get involved in a design process, and what would they want, and, you know, kids are obviously working with a whole different reality than than adults are. And their needs are very different. And for even, I mean, in a lot of thoughts about how early childhood development works, they say, you know, what, adults can’t even get involved in that, like, you have to just let the kids take the lead, because we can’t even begin to remember what their needs are, or what they’re tuning to. And they come up with the most outrageous things that are so brilliant, because they’re not constricted by all the things that we as adults, in our logic and reason are tuning to. So I like that aspect of it as well, that it’s really accessible for people of all different ages and abilities and backgrounds to kind of have a say, have a shared language of form.

Bryan Bowen 46:47
Yeah, that’s beautifully put. And I think, you know, one of things that proves it to me is that when we do these processes, they come up with different things than we would have come up with. And they’re usually better. And they’re better in through their own lens, not through my lens, or some experts, abstract city officials lens, or a building code lens, or the there, you know, getting at the heart of something that we wouldn’t even have been able to know was there. It’s beautiful to watch the kids do. We’ve done a bunch of affordable housing projects where we engage the kids in the design. And, you know, and there’s definitely some, like really fun, abstract, totally implausible things, you know, like, that’s probably not where we’re going to have a whole bunch of ponies. But it’s a cool idea. But you know, it has really, you know, if I do this kinds of projects at these kinds of processes, and I go back to a city council or a board for housing authority, and I say, here’s what we did. And the kids asked for this. They’re like, Oh, yeah, we should do that, you know, that, that it carries weight, you know, and in a way that if, you know, I went in as a architect and tried to make a compelling argument for something you might not know, might not carry that kind of credibility. Especially if it was whimsical. You know, the world needs a little bit more whimsy, right?

Rebecca Mesritz 48:11
Amen. Well, I guess I have kind of two questions that are now coming out of this line of thought the first one is, so when in the process, do you do you think that people should absolutely engage a design professional? Like, when is it okay, you’ve gotten to this point, but if you’re going to do this thing, you know, especially when you start thinking about things that are kind of fantastical, but really any, it could be even in the most basic things like what is the time that people should really consider bringing on an expert?

Bryan Bowen 48:51
It’s, it’s such a good question. And there’s so many different types of experts as well. Like, I think, you know, getting some technical information mapped and clear is super useful, whether it’s, you know, survey or soils testing or geotechnical investigations that kind of work

Bryan Bowen 49:17
your vision and your evolution even if you hire them on day one, what needs to be happening in these communities is any of these processes is a recognition that participation and engagement yields better results than than not? And so if you’re talking to me as an architect, I love to be brought in to help evaluate the property and say like, oh, yeah, this seems like it’s going to work well for the things that you say you want to do here or like, cuz we have had clients come in and say or potential clients come and say, like, I bought this thing. We want to do this thing on it. And I’m like, you know, that’s not allowed by the zoning in there. is no way to appeal that or to get an approval. So you’re kind of dead in the water. Did your money already go hard? Oh, yeah, we already paid, paid for it like, Oh, I’m sorry, I wish you’d called a few weeks ago, you know. So there are some, you know, kind of scary moments like that. But mostly, I feel like the dialogue between the design professional and the in the group should have enough open air in it, that it doesn’t crush their creativity, right? Like, that’s kind of what I’m getting at here is like, it should be like, open and should be such that like, you know, the architect is able to say, like, pose questions to the group and let the creativity come out, as opposed to saying like, Okay, now that I’m here, I’m going to draw the whole thing and you guys can agree to it. Or I know best I mean, that’s the mentality. The architects know, best is really problematic. We know a lot of stuff. And sometimes that can be mistaken by others, or by ourselves as like, knowing all of the stuff. And but there’s so much deep wisdom in the kids in the groups and the oldsters in the, you know, in the workers in the farmers like that, if you can tap all that, like she’s like, You get so much better results. It’s just so beautiful.

Rebecca Mesritz 51:19
Yeah, I mean, that, to me, it’s really speaks to the importance of non hierarchical governance, and like, really letting everybody’s wisdom have a place at the table.

Bryan Bowen 51:35
100% Yeah, yeah.

Rebecca Mesritz 51:37
Well, that does bring me to my second question for you, which is really around zoning. And yeah, I mean, I definitely want to ask you, how to how to overcome restrictive zoning, if it’s possible. Is it dead in the water? Or is there something that we can do, but maybe I should start when maybe we can circle back around to that. And I just want to start by asking you like, who was zoning for? Why, why is there zoning? Why do we need zoning? It’s super annoying,

Bryan Bowen 52:13
is such a great question. It will, you know, I could I think you the best place to start with that, in some ways is like to go read the book, the color of law, right? Because it really helps to expose racist and classist exclusionary practices that got built into our zoning codes. You know, from one perspective, like, Yeah, makes a lot of sense to try to keep the, you know, slaughterhouse a little bit further away from the houses that you will try to live in Lakota. Cool. So there’s definitely some reasons for separations between things, and design reasons to put things in different places in a in a community, right, like maybe things need to be close to transit or far from transit, you know. So there’s still there’s some logic in in there for sure. And some really good intentions. But underpinning a lot of it is essentially like a layer of like, what’s now become sort of nimbyism of like, well, not, I don’t want to have my thing get impacted negatively, based on my perspective, perspective, by your thing. And you know, that can be well, we don’t want to have more than five people live in a house here in this town. Because, you know, we don’t like the way those people are living, right, which is like a really problematic way to create policy, right?

Rebecca Mesritz 53:32
And couch it and ideas of safety and health and cleanliness and purity, and oh, it gets it gets quick.

Bryan Bowen 53:42
It does. And it’s so ugly. And and I think, you know, I like to think that, you know, America is beginning to wake up to some of that stuff and get a little bit more enlightened about it. But the battle rages maybe even more intensely, now that it has for about five or six decades. As a lot of this stuff is really coming to the surface. And people are starting to really question single family zoning or exclusionary zoning, or you just like kind of seeing what’s going on behind the scenes. And also as like, our society begins to develop better ways of grappling with equity and understanding how to talk about these questions. We’ve gotten a lot better at that. And then we still have a lot of forums that are just not the right. They’re not conducive to figuring things out things. These things out. I was on the city of boulders planning board for eight years. And you know, if you’ve got seven people who’ve been appointed to a board and they’re up on a desk, and they have, you know, an agenda and a committee, meeting agenda, and a process and city staff and you know, if the public can come and sit in the audience and speak for two minutes, like is that going to be the kind of environment It’s gonna create a dialog that gives you better outcomes. New, it’s, it’s not even close, right? It’s very hierarchical. It’s very power centered. And it is, in some ways, like, you know, in my experience it was it gave the things that we were doing way more gravity than they deserved. A lot of what we were doing was like reviewing a project to see if it met the existing land use code, does it or not, in your opinion, you know, these positions have been aggrandized to the point where often, you know, people think there’s a lot more going on there than there, there really is. And zoning, you know, it’s just the, it’s the tool that we have in all of these land use codes. to form our cities, you know, and if you have a zone, it’s probably tied to a table full of uses. And that, you know, that table tells you what uses can happen in that zone district. And, you know, when I, and all these things are invisible, so if I get a client who calls up and says, Hey, I’ve got this really great idea, meet me up on this property, I want to sign a lease, I want to do a little ice cream shop, it’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be right next to the coffee shop and across the street from the pizza place. It’s totally a great location, and like, oh, yeah, that’s really good. And I’m like, it’s not gonna work out. And I go up there and talk to him like, okay, so actually, you know, even though this one office space opens up onto this plaza, and the other one opens up onto this plaza, and the other one’s a coffee shop. Well, this one is across the invisible zone delineation between the two that runs through this plaza. And on that side, you can’t have an ice cream shop, because for some reason, the powers that be feel like we need to be protected from you putting in ice cream shop there. And like for the life of me, I can’t tell you why that would be a harmful thing that we have to keep people from doing. So I’m hoping, you know, and I know my little town here boulders like struggling with this and working on it like crazy. And as we try to? Well, interestingly enough, I think, really, as we try to get our heads around the zoning modifications that need to happen. All this stuff comes up one of it some of its exclusionary, racist, classist, biased, stereotypical responses, you know, we all sort of surface here and there, and some people have a lot more of than others, possibly. And then other places, like we’re really talking about the experience side of it, like, okay, so you live in this town? Like, what? What kind of experience do you want? You know? Wouldn’t it be cool, if you were in the public park that’s got the new playground, if you could also get a coffee and sit at the cafe tables next to it? Well, the zoning doesn’t allow you to do that. But like, Who among us is gonna say that’s a bad idea that you can’t? You can’t do that seems like a good idea. So hopefully, as we, you know, are sort of maturing our cities, we’re getting a more sophisticated understanding of how zoning could actually encourage our places to be wonderful places to live.

Rebecca Mesritz 58:23
And how do you how do you do that? I mean, how do you get it like, join, join your county Bluebird? Or who’s who’s creating those? How do you if you, if you’re in a situation where you’re like, I’ve got this great idea, the community is in full support of this idea. You know, like, 90% of the people 95% of the people think that this ice cream shop would be awesome. How do you approach getting a variance or changing the law changing the code? Like, who do you go to?

Bryan Bowen 58:59
Yeah, I think I mean, this is, this is a great procedural question. And there is a process like, okay, so either find a planner or architect or somebody who can, or you can look it up in your local land use code and find out like, what’s the zone for this property, like? So just start with the research, but then usually, you can go to the front desk or find somebody ask a planter is a link on their website or whatever, and you can find out like, Okay, I want to do an ice cream shop in this location. And they’ll say, like, either like, that’s impossible, or like, yeah, here’s the process. And I think, you know, the way I, the way I handle that myself is like, always like, okay, cool. So what are the rules? And they tell me the rules. I’m like, okay, so if we want to deviate from those rules, what’s the process from deviating from those rules? Is there a variance process or an exception process or discretionary review or an appeal or some Is there a mechanism for changing this? And there are some times when like, they’re like, No, the there’s absolutely no way to change this. And I’m like, Okay, well, what if I want to change Is that? Like, can I? Can I change the fact that this is unchangeable? Oh, yeah, you can you have to go do a special ordinance or change the law or create a path to approvals. And we have had projects, we’ve got clients who were doing that for right now, I will say that that is, you know, not going to give you a guaranteed outcome. Because often, as soon as you go into that public forum to try to change a law, you find out that you have all the people who really liked that law, the way it is show up. And they don’t want you to change it for all the same reasons. And it’s also a lengthy process. But then I think, you know, I was actually joking with the City of Boulder, like several City Council folks and planning director and some other folks of the day, and I was like, I have this idea. I think we should start this thing in the city called the CSP. And they’re like, what’s the CSP? And I’m like, It’s a cool shit permit anybody in the town and like, show up? And say, like, hey, I want to apply for a cool shit permit, I want to do some cool shit over here. And you guys have to listen to me. Like, there should be some sort of forum for that. Right? And they, they were nice to me, and they laughed at my jokes, but they weren’t gonna do it.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:01:11
Why I love that. I love that.

Bryan Bowen 1:01:15
I mean, wouldn’t the world be a better place? If you could just be like, You know what, over here in this park, I think it’d be really neat if we did this thing. And like, you would get ideas from the community in that way. And I think you could have it held just like you were saying an emerald, you could have it held within the framework of you know, what’s good for the broader community. But still, you could allow cool things to happen those two things or don’t have to actually fight each other. In fact, if you’re smart, you can say like, okay, in what ways does this cool shit permit that we’re looking at right now? Support the city’s broader goals of equity and sustainability. And all the things

Rebecca Mesritz 1:01:50
are even just it I mean, bring it back to the money like, this is actually this is a beneficial, it’s going to create jobs. I mean, the other thing I like about I mean, just to weave back in the idea of earlier for of sociocracy and reasoned objections, is, you know, is there a way that the naysayers can also have a voice? And say, like, well, what would be the what would be the reason we wouldn’t want to do this? And is this a reasoned objection? Because if it is, we absolutely want to include that objection in our proposal, because we’ve realized that that’s that objection actually has value. So you’re afraid that if we put this ice cream shop in here, we’re gonna what? Encourage childhood obesity or something like that? Okay. So why don’t we put like a big staircase in front of the, the ice cream shop? So in order to get your ice cream, or I don’t know, who knows what it is, but like, how do we meet those objections, integrate those objections into a plan and still encourage communities to come up with just like the broader community, the whole city to do the same thing that we were saying earlier, you want the community to do which is to encourage people empower people to be the coolest version of themselves, and to make the most fun and the most exciting and the most engaging, and the most beautiful, and the most connected community that you can make? Like, I love that,

Bryan Bowen 1:03:20
wouldn’t it be great if like having? Yeah, it’s like having our citizenry flourish was the underpinning for zoning? Wouldn’t that be great? That would be when it is apparent, right? Like, I want my kids to flourish, I don’t want to like, you know, clamp them down. I want them to learn how to be kind to other people and that sort of stuff. But I don’t want them to not be who they are. I think that’s that’s a really good way of looking at it. I think that’s I mean, and I think it’s worth acknowledging, though, that you and I are operating from a place of possibly naivete about people’s behavior and good intentions, being real and stuff like that. I would definitely say that there were a lot of times when the I mean, both, I’ll just be fair, but I guess in a way, like, applicants who were trying to get something to happen were, you know, full of it, and they were not going to make good on the promises that they were using to get the approvals that they were seeking. Right. Like, they were lying, you know, and but on the other side, we have plenty of people who, you know, they didn’t want the ice cream shop or the whatever it was, and, you know, they would throw up all kinds of other objections which we call concern trolling, right? Like, I’m going to try to get rid of your idea by throwing up unanswerable concerns. And it’s disingenuous. They’re not actually coming with a well reasoned objection. They’re just trying to stop you for other reasons. and use whatever tools they can, they can find. And if the conversation is, you know, in their mind, if it’s, you know, I’m trying to fight this thing off, because it’s people are trying to ruin my town or ruin my landscape or ruin my rural environment then it makes it feel to them, like, you know, any tool you can use to win is fair game. And, and I think that’s really, you know, it’s a sad thing. It’s we’re seeing that in national politics, right, like, in a lot of things, like people are willing to go to like, whatever crazy extreme just to win. Because in their mind, it’s like an existential battle. And in reality, like, maybe some of the stuff is just not that big a deal. Maybe it’s very easy to live with it, it’s it’s not that much of a problem.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:05:49
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s also, yeah, the human component of this thing that I hear you speaking to, you know, the benefit of getting to know your neighbors and hearing their concerns and talking to them about what you’re doing and bringing them up, you know, play to cookies, giving out free samples of the ice cream that you want to have in that shop. You know, there’s always, I mean, haters gonna hate as they say, you know, that that might, that might be a part of the reality not everyone’s gonna love, you can’t make everybody love you. But also, I think, Goodwill efforts towards your towards knowing that people that might be thinking opposite of you. And that’s one of the things that I really love about our little community out here in Williams is it’s a very interesting blend of right wing, you know, more kind of like conservative rural folk, you know, mixed with some far out hippies, you know, who are very, very on the left end of the spectrum. And that kind of like polarization, which you could see, easily tearing communities apart. But there’s some commonalities between all the people that are out here, that’s like, they want freedom, they want liberty, that’s a shared value. And, for the most part, from what I’ve seen, in my short time, here, people seem to get along pretty well, like, it doesn’t. There’s no riots in the street, there’s, you know, people are finding ways to come together and, and share space. And, you know, Halloween, here is a big thing over everybody, all ot from all ends of the spectrum are out in our little town, if you could call it a town, like in a little like Town Center, coming together with all their kids. And that’s something that everybody really shares, the values of around family are really big out here. And so I think if you can bring people together appeal to those common values. I mean, again, maybe I’m naive and idealistic. I will take that actually, I am naive and idealistic. I will totally step into that. Yeah, but I but I let people

Bryan Bowen 1:08:19
know, it’s probably more effective than just being totally cynical. And I would say like, the thing inside, what you’re saying, there is like, if this happens, I think, in some ways, in agricultural communities, or small towns naturally, is there’s something to do together, there’s something to accomplish together. And this is one of the things that I think, you know, if you, if you have a shared ditch system, and you have to go like, you know, open up the Iseki isn’t getting ready for the spring, and, you know, you got to do ditch walking and stuff like that, like, you know, that’s just a, this is a real thing you got to do, it’s not a political thing you got to do and, you know, those kinds of efforts where people helping each other or help maintain shared collective systems like that, or are the connectivity between groups, if you give them a place where they can overlap, where they can work towards shared purpose, then like, all those other conversations are happening in different contexts. You know, and I think that’s one thing about our cities that’s gotten really broken is we’ve lost the any, there’s basically no shared spaces that we’re responsible for together anymore. Parks are taken by the city, you know, the greenways are taken by the city, the open space is controlled by the conservation easement people. You know, there’s not like, you know, we’re not going out to do this stuff together. And that’s been a real loss. And I think there’s, you know, there’s one really great book, I remember seeing it a couple decades ago called superbia. By David one, he’s a great guy lives in a cohousing community down in harmony, or down in called Harmony down in Golden, Colorado. And it was the idea of like, Okay, so we’ve got the city Urban pet pattern that’s got all these issues with it like a lack of shared space, or, you know, we’re trying in Colorado to save water because lawns are water consumptive. And you’re better off doing something different Well, what if the neighborhoods were designed, so you didn’t actually have this, like half acre lot you had to deal with, and you were doing something different with it. And you, you weren’t faced with a choice of like, is it lawn or something else, it’s like, it’s already gonna make something, be something that’s useful to society and to each other. So the idea of like, you know, using these strategies that he talks about, I think it’s like 31 strategies to tinker with improve your suburban context. It’s a great book, and it talks a lot about like, how you create some, like, you know, opportunities for shared stewardship that are frankly, not that big a deal. You know, it’s not that hard to like, do this stuff together. And actually, Mark Lakeman just had a really great talk a couple of days ago, or a couple weeks ago, maybe did a video on a similar topic of like, how do you intervene in your neighborhoods to create more sustainability, more delight, you know, regenerate nature, and, you know, be whimsical and fun. And in, you know, some of his stuff is just really brilliant, like the city repair project and the painter payment projects that have been spreading around the country as a result of some of the stuff he was doing. It’s very cool work, and I think so those opportunities for having a shared space on your block, you just if you live in a regular block and a regular town in this country. And you find some way of doing work together. That’s going to help you transcend so many of these other like, issues that become fraught, because if you don’t have that underpinning of the relationship, then you you know, you’re going straight into something that’s gonna look like a binary contentious battle.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:12:01
Yeah. I mean, and ultimately, what all this speaks to is is building community, regardless of whether or not you live in an intentional community or cohousing. You know, how do we come together with our local community and make it more intentional? Make it

Bryan Bowen 1:12:22
Yeah, one of the so the Rockefeller Center had this project called 100, resilient communities, I think it was and the City of Boulder got involved with that data resiliency consultant, slash director of some variety come in and do a whole study on resiliency. And, you know, they came away with some like good technical things, you know, like, managing your floodwaters and being aware of what your wildfire exposure risk is, like, you know, these are all fairly straightforward, technical things. The thing that they uncovered that seemed to be the biggest surprise to everybody was like, the number one factor in resiliency is whether you know your neighbors.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:13:05

Bryan Bowen 1:13:08
Right. Where do you go when you have trouble? Right? If you can go to the neighbor and talk to them and be like, Wow, it’s really raining a lot. Do you think it’s gonna flood is different than like, you know, you’re holed up? And you you know, you’re looking on Twitter to find out if there’s some help for you?

Rebecca Mesritz 1:13:26
Yeah. Or do they have the ladder in an emergency? Or do you have the rope in their emergency, you know, whatever that thing is, to really tap into now,

Bryan Bowen 1:13:36
which plays into, like, interdependence, childhood or aging? Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think that’s the power of sharing. Like, I don’t have to have a big ladder if my neighbor has one. And

Rebecca Mesritz 1:13:48
yeah, well, I would, I would love to round out our conversation, you know, with this final question of, you know, what communities and organizations have you seen that are really doing this? Well, that are that are, have had a really good design that are increasing interdependence that are bringing people together and what is their success look like in in like, real visible ways?

Bryan Bowen 1:14:23
Gosh, that’s like such a great question. I wish I had a better answer to it. I feel like I see so many glimpses of wonderful things in different communities. Like I feel like my own community wild sage, and silver sage, you know, being a part of a new urban neighborhood in a town that has a policy for affordable housing, and there’s just so many things about those communities. I feel like a really, really successful and they become, you know, national examples of certain things right that mix of like diversity of ownership types and income diverse populations but but are lacking in other places, right? Or, or maybe they because by virtue of being in town, they are not agriculturally productive, right. Or there’s places like, you know, Cobb Hill, which is a great community that I’m hoping to visit this summer actually, I’ve never been there, but like they have I think, from what I understand, like the most robust sort of big picture of agricultural productivity, and, you know, resilience and sustainability and collective, you know, greywater, composting toilet systems and, you know, shared heating systems. It’s, it sounds like it’s a really great success story from that perspective. I think there’s some really interesting tensions between rural land based communities and urban environments, you know, are not tensions between the communities, obviously, but tensions in the ideas and if you look at like Capitol Hill, cohousing and Seattle, right, like, you know, it’s in a transit rich walkable place, you don’t have to own a car. But you can’t have goats, you know, you’re in town, and you’re in a multistory environment. And you have small units with a really clean footprint and like really clear opens shared spaces, and you benefit from having all of the, you know, wonderful urban richness of Seattle right out your door, right. But if you are out in the sticks somewhere, and then maybe you don’t have access to those things, and maybe other things arises priorities, maybe having forums for shared spirituality, and having that, you know, or childhood education or things like that become more important to be built into your community infrastructure, because you don’t have it read out suited or in an urban environment. You know, like wild sage doesn’t have a real strong need for a shared spirituality, because you can walk out your door and be whatever you want to and whatever spiritual environment you have an affinity for, and then you can come back in and talk about it with people. But you know, it’s not a human need that’s being unaddressed. So the committee has to address it, it’s being addressed because you live in a rich urban environment. You know, I think the most important element of all of this is that we’re all looking at a world that we would like to change in a way right? And if if we challenge ourselves to be world changers, that sort of one saying and I think that is a pretty big ask and results in a lot of short term burnout in our activist world, and I think I find the real beauty of what’s happening in the intentional community world is that people are changing their, the part of the world that they can change. And by changing the part of the world that you can change and living in it, and occupying it and making it available to other people, you we are collectively changing the world. And that’s going to look different in different places. And so, you know, it’s gonna look different in Tucson versus Seattle versus Tulsa versus Houston versus Nova Scotia. And it should.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:18:24
Beautiful. Well, Brian Belen, thank you so much for joining me on the inside community podcast. It’s been a real pleasure to talk to you today.

Bryan Bowen 1:18:34
Likewise, I’ve really enjoyed it. Thanks a lot for having me on here, Rebecca. It’s super cool. I love your podcast.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:18:39
Thanks. Thank you.

Bryan Bowen 1:18:41
This will be the only one I don’t want to listen to.

Rebecca Mesritz 1:18:45
It’s gonna be great. Thanks for sitting in on this conversation with Brian Bowen. I hope you’ve picked up some good tips and ideas for how to design and plan for your community. Brian Belen is a principal architect with cactus collaborative. And I want to mention that Catus has become a pretty major sponsor of the show for this season. And so I’m so grateful to them for their support of the show. And I hope that you will check them out on Facebook and Instagram, or online at Catus I’ll have a link in the show notes. If you want to learn more about the show or get a copy of our transcripts, visit And while you’re there, of course, I hope you will donate to the show and help us to keep on our mission of bringing you amazing interviews and conversations and content. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at inside community podcast. Thanks so much to the foundation for intentional community for continuing to host this show you And for their work to bring collaborative culture to the world as well. As I mentioned in the beginning of the show, we are releasing not one, but two episodes to get the season kicked off. And so keep listening, keep listening to ready to cruise who’s coming up next, with their take on place making and place justice and just a really deep dive into some of these conversations from a completely different perspective than what we just shared with Brian. Thanks again for joining me and I look forward to seeing you next time.

Dave Booda 1:20:43
Who loved the distance in the shared kitchen sink? Who helps out Johnny when he’s had too much to drink? How do we find a way for everyone to agree? That’s inside community.

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About the Show

The Inside Community Podcast brings folks along for an inside look at all of the beautiful and messy realities of creating and sustaining a community. We provide useful and inspiring content to support people on their quest for resilience, sustainability, and connection.

Meet Your Host

Inside Community Podcast host Rebecca Mesritz is a community builder living in Williams, Oregon.  In 2011, Rebecca co-founded the Emerald Village (EVO) in North County San Diego, California.  During her ten years with EVO, she supported and led numerous programs and initiatives including implementation and training of the community in Sociocracy, establishment of the Animal Husbandry program, leadership of the Land Circle, hosting numerous internal and external community events, and participation in the Human Relations Circle which holds the relational, spiritual and emotional container for their work. 

In June of 2021, with the blessing of EVO, Rebecca and 3 other co-founders relocated to begin a new, mission- driven community and learning center housed on 160 acres of forest and farmland.  Rebecca is passionate about communal living and sees intentional community as a tool for both personal and cultural transformation. In addition to her work in this field, she also holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from San Diego State University and creates functional, public, and interactive art in metal, wood, and pretty much any other material she can get her hands on. She is a mother, a wife, an educator, a nurturer of gardens, an epicurean lover of sustainable wholesome food, and a cultivator of compassion and beauty.

The Inside Community Podcast is sponsored by the Foundation for Intentional Community (FIC). Reach out if you are interested in sponsorship or advertisement opportunities on the podcast.

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