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The Big Answer


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THE PHYSICAL DESIGN OF AN MC

an article by our site

Introduction

This section will cover some of the physical and mechanical, and more practical issues of putting your MC together. There are drawings of many possible MC back yards, walkway designs, and caregiving structures.

No matter what your situation, you can set up an MC. Given the myriad of situational diversity, MCs can vary greatly. And though each MC has its own style, needs, and requirements in order to serve all the individuals in it, all MCs will serve the same basic purpose: to provide for the needs of both the children and the adults without one group sacrificing getting their needs filled because of the other group.

Below is a short list of factors you'll need to consider as you meet MC aspirants and get together a group of possible members. Some items must be considered as criteria which will aid you in selecting people you'd like to live near in an MC. Other items will influence how and where you build your MC, but will have little influence on people selection. Here are the pragmatic concerns as aspirants are checked out:

Who's In An MC?

MCs—microcommunities—are made up of families, couples, individuals, or other groups of people. When you join an MC you will occupy a dwelling similar to what you are living in now, but you will be on the same block (or floor of an apartment building) with the other families or individuals in your MC. An MC can be an enhancement to any group of existing dwellings—whether apartments, houses, mobile homes, motel or hotel rooms, or others. No special "MC-type housing" needs to be built.

No additional buildings need to be built to start an MC, although in some circumstances additional structures for caregiving or for MC projects and meetings can be an advantage. MCs with small children need safe walkways within the MC and fencing between the MC and the outside for security and privacy. In many situations, creating an MC will mean simply moving into a dwelling in a different neighborhood where both the dwelling and the neighborhood will be similar to your current ones. You'll move to the block or the floor of an apartment building, hotel, or motel where the people you've elected to be in an MC with have relocated. If you happen to be good friends with all your present neighbors and you decide to start an MC with them, you won't even need to move, but that situation is very rare.

In most circumstances, you as an individual (if you live alone) or you and your family group will stay in the same type of dwelling that you maintained before starting the MC. That is, creating an MC does not require that an individual who lives alone suddenly must move into a dwelling with others, nor does it presuppose that anything about the general family living situation be changed. In some circumstances there might be a slight change, such as a grandparent moving into the same dwelling with one of his or her children (if everyone likes the idea), or individuals who were roommates deciding to have separate rooms or households in the same MC instead of being roommates. However, the only major change that will likely occur is that you would move into a different dwelling in a new location in order to be near the people you want in your MC.

Grandparents needn't move into the same dwellings as their children—they can be in a convenient backyard elder cottage
Grandparents needn't move into the same dwellings as their children—they can be in a convenient backyard elder cottage

Family Configurations of MCs:

What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped


A multigenerational family
A multigenerational family


A multigenerational house
A multigenerational house

No matter how you live now, you can be in an MC and live exactly the way you do now—just in a—usually—new location (and with the improvements that an MC-enhanced lifestyle brings, of course).

Adult Ages

There is no requirement regarding the ages of the adults in an MC. One MC might include people of a wide range of ages—three, four, or even five generations can easily coexist together. Another might include only adults in their 30s plus their children, for example. It's all up to the individuals forming the MC. We recommend that each adult have at least one or two others close in age to relate to (although MC members will want to relate to everyone in their MC, otherwise they shouldn't join that particular MC), AND that each MC include adults of a variety of ages, but this is certainly not required. (Required by whom? You make the rules. We supply the wisdom and knowledge.) People should do what makes them happiest regarding whom they choose to be in an MC with.

Ages Of Children

Children of all ages can be in an MC, of course. We recommend that if there are children in the MC, they be of a variety of ages. Too many very young children (under two, for example) may be more than the resources of the MC can care for properly. Try to include families with children of a variety of ages, and try to include at least one child close to the same age as any other child in the MC. For example, for a well-balanced MC you wouldn't want to have eight children under nine years old and one 16-year-old. It would be best to include at least one other teenager. You'll want to look at all these things as you meet people and consider them as members of your MC.

How many Children?

The total number of children depends on:

You will not want to try to nurture a large number of babies in the same MC all at the same time because the more very young (under two) children there are, the more caregivers you will need to maintain the proper caregiving ratios. But if many of the children are over five, the same number of caregivers can support more of them. Even two- to four-year-olds need a lot fewer caregivers than babies. It's critical that there are enough caregivers in the proper ratios to the children's ages so that all children have their needs filled AND have choices ALL THE TIME.

Children of all ages can be in an MC—we recommend they be of a variety of ages
Children of all ages can be in an MC—we recommend they be of a variety of ages

An MC needs enough adults or older children available at all times to fill the needs of small children (and elders who may need care); and it needs enough adults so that adults can have time to themselves and for adults to have relationships other than those with children. If there are several single parents and many children, for example, a proper caregiving schedule probably cannot be maintained without help. So the MC should bring in more adults to provide care, should consider having some outside caregivers, or should consider splitting the group into two new MCs, adding to each more adults without young children to obtain better caregiver/child ratios.

If most adults in an MC are working full time, the community will be able to nurture fewer young children than an MC where some adults have part-time occupations and some don't work. If those who work are working at different times of the day, that can help maintain an adequate caregiving schedule. Elders, empty nesters, adolescents, or retirees can also fulfill significant caregiving needs.

Elders, empty nesters, adolescents, or retirees will fulfill significant caregiving needs in MCs
Elders, empty nesters, adolescents, or retirees will fulfill significant caregiving needs in MCs

The economic situations of the families involved determine, to a small degree, how many children the MC can support properly. MC members must ask themselves if they can afford to build a sun (central caregiving structure also called a hub), or share the expense of an apartment, part of an apartment, house, or part of a house to maintain an adequate-sized caregiving location for the number of children who need care. The MC may be able to designate perhaps only one room of an apartment or house for care. While the latter can be quite adequate for a limited number of children, significant space would be needed for proper caregiving if large numbers of children are present.



The MC Environment

Economic Concerns

Economic situations range from "money-is-no-object" to "poverty." Families in every economic situation can benefit from an MC-enhanced lifestyle. Most will join an MC in which they can comfortably maintain their present lifestyle. With the additional time made available by cooperative childcare in MCs, many low-income families will be able to improve their education and job training and subsequently improve their economic situation. Childcare is free in an MC, and new MCs will be delighted to see the huge childcare bills disappear from their budgeting concerns.

Climate

The climate in your locale will determine your choices with respect to the type of caregiving structure you can create if a new one is built, and the types of walkways connecting the homes to it and to each other. Colder climates require more protection and insulation for the walkways and caregiving structure, whereas warm climates may need only overhead protection from rain or sun, and the caregiving structure can be less insulated and more open.

The climate in your locale will determine your choices with respect to the types of walkways connecting the homes to the hub and to each other
The climate in your locale will determine your choices with respect to the types of walkways connecting the homes to the hub and to each other

Locale And Type Of Housing And Security

You can locate an MC anywhere, from dense urban neighborhoods to suburbs to rural areas. The location and the type of housing in your MC will determine, to a degree, what type of caregiving structure you can create and what types of walkways and security you need to adopt.

In an apartment, hotel, or motel context, your caregiving structure can be either one or more of the existing apartments, hotel rooms, or motel units (depending on the number of children), or possibly one room of one MC member's apartment. Your "walkways" will be the existing hallways with doors, gates, or locks added for security. You may need to enclose or remodel outside passageways so little ones are protected from the weather and cannot wander away.

Suburbia will never be the same once the MC movement begins
Suburbia will never be the same once the MC movement begins—see MC drawings

In a suburban or urban setting with homes on one block, there are more options for suns and walkways. You can build a new sun structure in the approximate center of the block between all of the houses; or you can select an existing house to be used as the common structure, or use one or more rooms of one of the existing houses. You can make walkways of just about anything that works as long as they're secure for young people and protect all MC members from the weather. In this type of setting, yards need to be fenced around their outside perimeter, i.e., between the yards and the street only, for security. Your sun might even be something esoteric like a 20' X 15', extremely sturdy treehouse (treehouse builders), a dome (dome builders), or some other unusual style. Don't watch CBS's creepy Under the Dome if you do a dome, or you'll get creeped out!

MC with dome for hub that is the caregiving space
MC with dome for hub that is the caregiving space

If you live in a rural setting, your MC will be quite different from an urban MC. MCs will be more challenging to arrange in rural areas because of the distances between homes. A comfortable, living-room-like, common meeting structure next door to and connected with a child-centered caregiving center is recommended.

Block Enclosures

You can be very creative when you plan your walkways and central structure along with whatever block enclosure you need.

Your block enclosure can be a fence between every house to create one big central rear yard, while leaving the front and sides of each house open to the street. The back-yard fence would connect all houses and enclose all back yards into one big fenced area. This fence would connect the rear edge of each house so when people on the block walked out of their back doors, they would be stepping into the same big, fenced back yard.

Another option is to entirely surround all properties with a fence. The fence would surround the entire block, running not between houses, but surrounding all of them at the sidewalk edge (or at the street edge if no sidewalk exists), leaving an opening for the front door and driveway, or just leaving the driveway open to the street and providing a gate in the fence to get from the sidewalk up to the front door. Fences would still totally enclose the block—they'd simply have to run alongside driveways and end at either side of the garage doors, or along one side of the driveway and the opposite side of the front door. This would provide more private and secure space for everyone.

You might consider an environmental bubble over the entire block (this would be a classic Buckminster Fuller strategy). You can control climate, many allergens, pollution, security from crime, ultraviolet radiation, and entry. Be sure to consider your local building codes before such an undertaking!

Normal neighborhood in suburbia before MC enhancements
Normal neighborhood in suburbia before MC enhancements




Normal neighborhood in suburbia after MC enhancements: MC with Japanese Garden
Normal neighborhood in suburbia after MC enhancements: MC with Japanese Garden

Improved Physical Environment And Resources Are Just The Beginning

The best way to summarize the change from a normal suburban or urban environment to an MC environment is to call it the transformation of a block of homes with tiny, unaesthetic, virtually unused yards, some of which are surrounded by ugly, defensive-looking fences, to a block of homes with small, decorative front yards and one large, common, aesthetic, well-used back yard that helps to integrate all the homes and people on the block into an MC subcommunity, which is both an enhanced social environment and an enhanced physical environment.

Most neighboring yards on suburban blocks are designed in ways that partially or wholly clash with the design of the rest of the yards on the block, giving glaring testimony to the isolation, alienation and lack of connectedness and solidarity in the modern rat-race society. We have spent generations trying to accustom ourselves to such unsightly symptoms of our lack of harmony with our fellow man, but to no avail. Ugly is ugly. The only way to harmonize with a neighbor's yard used to be to give up our individuality and closely conform to his/her yard style. Of course, the only reason all this was experienced as a loss of individuality is that we normally live near neighbors whose ideas of style and landscaping are at odds with our own. If we start from the supposition that we are on MC blocks, living next to people whose lifestyles and general ideas about what constitutes a good, aesthetic environment are very compatible with our own, then harmony with our neighbors' yards is nearly a given.

To the degree there need to be fences composed of wood, stone, wire, or shrubs, in an MC, they would be done in an integrated fashion based upon the wishes of everyone in the MC, so the entire block, and all its yards, would be one aesthetic composition, not an ugly, random, disharmonious aggregate.

The MC would have one large common back-yard area instead of a collection of clashing back and side yards, and even the separate front (street-bordering) yards would share a common landscaping theme. The common area might be a Japanese garden, flower garden, common agricultural projects (depending upon the type of area [and zoning and land-use regulations] in which the MC is located and the wishes of the members), or simply a fence- or shrub-enclosed area functioning as a private park for the block's residents. There would no longer be a need for six or more separate barbecue grills, six swing sets, six slides, etc. See MCs.

With MCs there's no longer a need for six or more separate barbecue grills, six swing sets, six slides, etc.
With MCs there's no longer a need for six or more separate barbecue grills, six swing sets, six slides, etc.

The Hub Or Sun—The Common Space

Each MC's common space might consist of one or more special, common buildings (or a particular apartment: a room or set of rooms in one or more dwellings), considered the MC hub or sun. This hub might or might not be geometrically central to the block—it might simply represent a special, dedicated use of one of the existing structures on the block, or even just a part of one structure. The building(s) (or apartment) would be devoted to one or more of these five purposes:

The Benefits

The environmental consequences of MC-enhanced lifestyles—physically, psychologically, socially and ecologically—will be immense:

MC Designs

Let's look at what all this would mean, visually. How would MC environments compare to normal environments, aesthetically? Here you can compare MCs to non-MCs (although the above set of drawings already does that). How would they compare otherwise? See Compare a Normal Neighborhood in Suburbia with the Same Neighborhood with MC Enhancements.