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The Impact of Resilient Design Part 1: Housing in Your Backyard

Resilient design is often defined as the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, and communities in order to respond to natural and man-made disasters. As a result, much of the design, engineering, and planning industries focus a lot of their attention on preventing and responding to floods, fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes. These are just a few examples of common natural disasters that affect our built industry. But the caveat of “man-made” disasters opens up the conversation a bit further. Man-made disasters include social, cultural, and economic disasters that are commonplace in our communities across the United States. Blighted communities, homelessness, segregation, and redlining are still obstacles in many of our cities due to poor planning, policies, and economic conditions. Faced with these challenges, we must ask ourselves how do we design a more resilient future for these man-made disasters?

For most of my career, I have taught at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo with an intentional focus on designing for at-risk communities. Many of these designs include community facilities and housing. It is my belief that to have successful resilient design in our cities we must not only design our communities and buildings to respond to the natural environment better, but also provide better standards of living for residents. A true and sustainable future for our most resilient cities prioritizes the wellbeing of the people. Is your city designed to build great community? Will people help you in your time of need? After disaster strikes, is there a safety net of people around you in your community to help you rebuild your life?

As we look at the resilience of our fine, small communities on the Central Coast and Central Valley of California, we do not find the same sprawling social and economic issues as are apparent in the streets of Skid Row, Los Angeles or the Tenderloin, San Francisco. Need for community centric assistance through supportive programs and supportive housing are seen everywhere, but we still struggle with massive inequity due to housing affordability and cost-of-living disparities. We struggle to make ends meet, while still trying to maintain quality of life in our communities. We believe there are tools available to help change this, and it will alter the fabric of our communities.

When it comes to supportive housing in suburban and rural communities, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) should be, and are becoming, more prevalent in the backyards of larger single family residential neighbors. In Seattle, organizations like the BLOCK Project are even attacking the issues of resilient neighborhoods and homelessness in the form of backyard ADUs. They believe that “a new approach is needed, one that acknowledges that relationships are the building blocks for healing our communities and that we can no longer see those who are homeless as ‘other’”. Their vision is that the ADUs or granny units can exist in every neighborhood and on every block to allow for housing the homeless community that desire a place of their own.

It is in models like the BLOCK Project that we see people and the aspects of human nature taking a front seat to solve issues of housing inequity by thinking of the person and not the project. In their case it is about the neighborhood and its residents and not the ADU.

Stay tuned for The Impact of Resilient Design Part 2: Dignify Community

Written by Andrew Goodwin

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