Focusing on Something Bigger than Ourselves

May 7, 2015

By Steve Villano

The great French Jesuit Theologian, Teilhard de Chardin, framed the concept of community best:  “All that matters, is devotion to something bigger than ourselves.”

If he were alive today, Teilard might tailor his truth to better fit a more self-centered culture into something like:  “Do something good for yourself AND good for the community.”  If so, he would be describing the fundamental mission beyond Napa’s Thriving Communities (www.thrivingcommunities.com).

Yet Thriving Communities, with it’s prototypes of two, different affordable and sustainable communities— the pocket neighborhood of Harvest Village, and the 48-unit multi-family development called Napa Creek Village—is itself part of something far bigger than a few local developments of sustainable workforce housing—although the need for such housing is acute in the Napa Valley.

It’s part of a growing grassroots movement in the United States and around the world toward  “innovative, small, replicable, grassroots projects,” which honor the essential elements of community:  dignity, respect, trust and a sense of belonging. Born, several years ago, out of the Whidbey Institute’s Thriving Communities Initiative, the inspiration for Napa’s Thriving Communities comes from the goal of “creating small scale communities in a large scale world.”

Last month, the Whidbey Institute, convened a special three-day conference entitled, “Thriving Communities 2015: Lens on Shelter.”  Some 85 community leaders, including Napa’s own Thriving Communities Founder Bonny Meyer,  participated in work-meetings which took place on magnificent Whidbey Island out in Puget Sound, off the coast of Everett, Washington.

The Institute’s location itself symbolizes interconnection and environmental sensitivity, being situated on the first of a series of Islands that lays out a geological pathway from the Northwestern United States, up through the San Juan Islands, and up to British Columbia, across one of the most pristine land and sea routes in the Western Hemisphere.  Over the years, the Whidbey Institute has been home to “bold seekers of positive change, connecting people doing uncommon work, for the common good.”   This was the greenhouse that nurtured the early “seed-thought” of Thriving Communities into the reality of affordable/sustainable housing, now taking shape in the Napa Valley.

These “uncommon leaders”, asked some very common questions about housing:

  • Is it affordable?
  • Are homes safe and healthy for all?
  • How does our specific community face the challenges of shelter?
  • What is our community’s responsibility to provide housing?

At the end of the 3-day conference last month, community leaders, like Napa’s Bonny Meyer, focused the “Lens on Shelter,” even more precisely by asking “What if everyone had”…a few essentials for living:

  • Access to housing
  • A safe place to sleep every night;
  • The ability to stay in their homes as they age;
  • Choices for sustainable and healthy living;
  • The opportunity to own a home, even without qualifying for traditional financing;
  • An end to the cycle of homelessness.

The extra-ordinarily talented and dedicated group or architects, builders, and community leaders underscored their commitment to building communities with dignity, respect for the individual, trust and a strong sense of belonging.  They agreed to pursue those very real goals by focusing on:

  • “Pocket Neighborhoods”, as Napa’s Thriving Communities is doing at Harvest Village;
  • “Community Rooms and Resources,” as Napa Creek Village’s multi-family community has built into its blueprints;
  • Affordable housing with land stewardship in mind (built into the plans of BOTH Harvest Village and Napa Creek Village through home ownership, rent-to-buy programs & resident approval);
  • Implementing the latest healthy buildings technology—beyond “Green.”

That last goal was not made up by Napa’s Thriving Communities building partner Healthy Buildings USA (www.hbusa.net) , which has been leading the way in California for decades with such “beyond Green,” technologies.  It was arrived at by consensus by housing leaders, builders and designers from around the world, focusing their collective “lens” on the best kind of shelter, and communities to build.

Fortunately for the people of the Napa Valley, both Thriving Communities Napa (www.thrivingcommunities.com) and Healthy Buildings (www.hbusa.net) are already turning these dreams into reality.

Bonny at the Whidbey Island Thriving Communities conference:

Bonny at Whidbey - closeup

Bonny at Whidbey - presenting