Chapter 8: Privately commissioned Housing

 

 

 

I) Introduction

 

 

This chapter looks at how the temporary settlement can grow roots into the permanent neighborhood through the development of privately commissioned housing.

 

The organization of building in the Netherlands has changed considerably since the housing corporations were made independent of state support in 1995. The thinking about responsibilities and roles has changed too. Before 1995, government had a clear responsibility in providing housing. The corporations have inherited the task to provide social housing, but their market share decreases as more housing is provided by ‘the market’. In recent years, a third possible organizer of housing projects is subject of heated debate: the ‘consumers’ of the houses themselves. This will surprise people from other countries where it is considered normal that people hire a contractor and maybe an architect and other advisors, if they want a house that fits their needs. Especially in rural areas it is common to have housing constructed tailor-made or even to put in large chunks of the work yourself.

In The Netherlands, however, it is quite uncommon, despite governmental stimulation and guidelines. There is heated debate, not on the question how this strange situation can exist, but more on the topic if it is desirable to begin with. Many professionals fear, that more freedom for individuals, will lead to “situations like in Belgium”. For a Dutch eye, the only Belgium regulation seems to be that a house should be different in size, style and materials from the adjacent houses on either side. This is not considered positive or pretty. For the promoters of privately commissioned housing on the other hand, Belgium is referred to exactly as the example of a place, where at least you can shape something as personal as housing the way you want it.

 

This chapter briefly explores how this strange and exceptional situation can exist in The Netherlands and why it is so resilient. For despite the fact that there is a large desire to change the situation, not much comes about as yet. Abundant supplies of information, guidelines, case studies and experiments are available, but the concept does not get beyond the status of pilot projects. It has yet to become a normal approach.

 

People who commission their own house, are looked at as heroes, a bit strange and most presumably rich. It is fairly usual, however, to privately commission works like bathrooms and kitchens. This chapter looks at how this practice can be up-scaled to larger chunks of the building exercise. It will look at how the Local Economy Organization (LEO) of the settlement can play an intermediary role between private and commercial developers.

 

Objective of this chapter is to see how the development of the temporary settlement into a permanent one could be realized by privately commissioned work. Principle is that like anywhere else in the world, here too, houses will have a better price/quality relation and will fit peoples wishes better, if they are commissioned privately. So the objective is not to investigate private commissioning for its own sake, but only as a means to lead to a better price/quality relation. This chapter describes how to get there by splitting the building process up into different phases such, that only those parts are privately commissioned, that are interesting and feasible.

 

 

 

II) Private Commissioning is about Politics

 

 

State Guidelines on private Behavior

 

The day before municipal election changed the political landscape in 2002, the national and municipal governments signed a concept- agreement on urbanization. Because of large shifts in national politics the final contract, signed in 2004, was less broad. The original agreement included a wide range of measures. The most shocking of which to the cities was, that from 2005 onwards, one third of the housing production should be commissioned by individuals. In Arnhem this was at the time around one percent. The present government has stated that the numbers are not that important, but that what matters is the underlying principle of being able to influence your housing. This requires a large shift in the organization of the housing production.

 

The new emphasis was made possible by an interesting coalition of right and left wing political forces. The Secretary of State, who drafted the agreement, was motivated by the freedom of choice objectives of his liberal democratic party. The amendment of the quota of privately commissioned housing was brought in by the social democratic party. For them, the motivation was to bring house ownership within the reach of a larger part of the population. Blessed by such a wide political support, the principle as such has become undisputed, but the large question is how. How can national and municipal government sign an agreement on the behavior of private individuals?

How can this be organized? And if it can be organized –which is seriously doubted by professionals- how to avoid that a complete mess results? The debate has not slowed down yet. A large stream of publications, symposia, experiments and pilot projects has been initiated. Rather than evaluating those, in the following we will explore how this challenge to the administration could be turned into an opportunity for the temporary settlement.

 

 

How the Minimal became Standard

 

In the first decades of the twentieth century Dutch architecture was world famous. One of the specialties was the skill with which social housing was being optimized. With limited resources and minimal space, optimal and especially for that time remarkably good housing was created. Generations of architects have been trained since to get the most out of the smallest budgets, a skill that is highly appreciated in a country known to be thrifty. For decades housing has been cheaper than in neighboring countries, but it has also resulted in more uniformity. It is not uncommon to find the most exclusive and expensive of apartments with the same ceiling-height as is common in social housing. Minimal measurements of sanitary facilities, staircases, doors, corridors, or storage, have become standard.

 

It turns out that many people who build their own house are simply motivated by the fact, that this standard does not fit their needs, which are not extravagant in any way.[72] Forced by those personal requirements, they have the choice between paying a disproportionate amount for ‘extra’s’ or going through the effort of arranging for their needs themselves.

 

 

The last Stronghold of Collective Welfare

 

Despite the fact that there is clearly a need for more tailor made housing, and despite the conviction that houses should be determined primarily by its inhabitants, not much happens. The people who do help themselves and organize to provide for their housing needs are few. Everybody complains about housing (the prices, the quality, the waiting-lists) but few feel the urge to do something about it. Even fewer are aware that it is actually possible to do something about it (other than squatting) when you are not rich.

 

There is a deeply rooted conviction that housing is a collective responsibility. So the larger the problems become, the louder everybody complains about the housing corporations who in turn blame the government. In practice not much changes, except for the volume of the complaints and the repetition of the concerns. The situation is somewhat comparable to post-socialist countries, where it took a while before people realized that self-help is an option. The Dutch have lost both awareness and know-how on how to go about building your own house. Very hesitantly the first ‘building buddies’ are offering their services and the first housing catalogues are made, but there is not much experience on the matter yet.

 

 

The Role of intermediary Organizations

 

Experience is not only lacking on the side of the individuals but also on the side of the municipalities. Nor do they know how to find the capacity to deal with increased numbers of building applications. So in order for private commissioning to be successful, it is desirable that an intermediary organization exists. This organization can also lump up individual building plans and thus limit administration. The Nest! project provides such an organization. The Local Economic Organization (LEO) has a housing branch where expertise on housing is available (see previous chapter). The Neighborhood Academy (Chapter 4), supports the process of bringing the interested people together, and assists with the knowledge needed to come to a plan.

 

Intermediary organizations are common in the only area in the Netherlands where privately commissioned housing is normal: the popular gardens. Near railroad tracks and other odd pieces of land around the urban centers complexes of garden plots can be found. They often have nice small houses on them. The law allows buildings of up to 28 square meter, where people may spend the night in between April and October. The intermediary organization is the confederation of garden clubs. They administer building permissions for the garden houses and the individual garden clubs deal with the municipality to get permission for garden complexes. No private individual landowner can ask the municipality to build a garden house.

 

 

 

III) Private Commissioning is about Houses

 

 

The Balance of Individualism and Chaos

 

The debate around privately commissioned housing is mainly about the looks of it. Critics fear rows of houses where each has different colors and details that are not in harmony and thus prevent a holistic urban entity. This is considered undesirable both for esthetic and more ideological reasons and these two logics get mixed up in the debate.

 

Because norms about esthetics are subjective, an important argument for approving building plans is that it ‘fits in’. This means that proportions, scale and use of materials does not cause disharmony with the environment.

Such a logic works in favor of plans that are standard and minimize individual expression. “Just act normal and you are crazy enough” is a popular saying. The desire that the authorities keep extravagant building of others in bounds, obviously contrasts with the increasing desire to express ones individuality through ones style of living. Individuality has become more important and is increasingly connected to the right to express this individuality, as a sort of ‘3D freedom of expression’.

 

Despite this changing attitude towards more individualism, as far as housing is concerned, the basic pattern continues to be one of basic trust in collective forces. This is different in Belgium where there is a basic distrust in the motives and functioning of governmental forces. In Belgium people telling how they tricked the tax system constitutes common small talk. Tax evasion happens in The Netherlands as well, but in silence. The State is not seen as much as the collective enemy. The different attitude in Belgium: “that you have to organize things yourself in order to get it done well” explains why more people build their own houses. It also explains why once the Dutch start building their own houses, it is not likely to produce the same “chaotic look” as in Belgium. The main interest for the Dutch is a house that works for them, not a statement of individual taste.

 

 

The individual House and the Arrogance of Taste

 

Even though experience shows that privately commissioned housing looks no different than housing constructed through any other organizational formula, the professional debate remains skeptical. This displays a paternalistic, if not arrogant attitude from the side of the professionals. A diploma is no guarantee for good taste, nor will the lack of it give people preference for ugliness. The debate about looks is slightly beside the point. The political issue of privately commissioned housing is not about matters of taste, but about a wider range of choice and quality for the individual. That, however, poses a direct threat to those who work in sectors related to building. Their work will become more difficult or at any rate different. They will loose part of their status. Matters of taste have always been the specialty of architects and others who are now fiercely debating privately commissioned housing. If the main focus and function of a house is to fit the needs and lifestyle of the owner, looks lose importance. If it is terribly ugly to general professional standards. It can still be acceptable if that ugliness works for the owner in his own social circles.

 

 

Learning from Fashion

 

Like clothing, housing is a nice way to express ones individuality. But like clothing, it is fairly expensive to have this individual expression designed and produced just for you. Confection in clothing offers more options than its housing equivalent. Stores that specialize in very cheap clothing have yet to get their housing equivalent. After having become almost extinct, tailor shops are popping up again in the large towns. They are mostly run by migrants who do manage to offer tailor-made clothing for confection prices. Fashion magazines contain patterns and a full description for making the shown models. Whoever wants to make their own clothing, can do so step-by-step. Such publications exist for furniture and small home improvement, but in The Netherlands not for housing.

 

 

 

IV) Private Commissioning is about Money

 

 

For the Rich or for the Poor?

 

Although in most parts of the world ‘building your own house’ is associated with poverty, in The Netherlands it is rather seen as something for the rich. Recent examples prove that it is not necessarily something only for millionaires. But even if you do not have to be rich, it does certainly help. For without money, you need a fair amount of either knowledge, time, skills or a good network to get the job done.

Building your own house is ill advised, if lack of money is your sole motivation. The ten percent that is won (as an estimated price for the intervention of the developer) is lost by scale disadvantages. Just as Dutch architects are shrewd at getting the most out of a limited surface, so are Dutch builders good in optimizing building costs. The building process is fairly well optimized and large scaled, both in procurement of materials and the work itself.

 

Not much can be won either by putting in your own labor. The experience of Polderdrift, a project in Arnhem, showed that the tasks people could do themselves were limited, so that the difference in price was just a few thousand Euro on the total house. In return for that saving a large time investment was required. So the idea that substantive financial gains can be made is an illusion.

 

In the Nest! we are trying to get away from the dilemma that private commissioning is either a headache, expensive or both. By operating as a group the scale advantages that developers have, can be won back. Even though financial gains of private commissioning might not be enough of a motivation alone to start a complicated process, they are not to be neglected totally either. And even though there is no miracle solution, through which even the poorest can become home-owners, participating in the Nest! still brings home-ownership within reach of a larger group.

 

 

Filling the Gap between Rental / and Ownership Housing

 

In practice the temporary settlement will mean that owning or renting are not as strictly separated categories as usual. Because the pioneers are co-owners of the Housing Co-op, they are already more than just renters. (This is in theory the case in every housing corporation but in practice the link has become very indirect) The Nest! Housing Co-op will be dissolved after the duration of the settlement and its value given to the shareholders, the pioneers. Their rent thus becomes partly a saving for the future, (though this end value will certainly not be enough to buy a house).

 

There are three ways in which owning a house at the end of the Nest! period can get closer, which we describe in the following scenarios:

 

Saving:

Pioneers who choose to pay more than their rent, use the Nest as a savings-account. This can be done by participating in the savings schemes described in the previous chapter. If during the time they live in the temporary settlement they live more modest than normally, but still put aside the same amount for housing as they paid before, they can save towards buying a house. (Scenario 1)

 

Actively Participating in the Development Project of the Housing Co-op:

By working as a group for the future development of the permanent neighborhood, each of the participants brings their own house closer.

Even those who do not manage to invest enough to buy a house, can participate and earn Local Currency and experience. (Scenario 2)

 

Gaining Profit:

When the Developing Group does not only develop new housing for its own members but also for people who do not live in the settlement, it earns a profit. That will come to the benefit of all participants, because it raises the value of the Local Economy Organization :LEO.(Scenario 3)

 

 

Scenario 1: Saving

 

Case Example: Joining the Building Society [73]

Imagine a couple with a budget for housing of €750 per month. If they get a mortgage of €200.000 with an interest rate of 4.5 %, they spend that amount completely on interest payment. (200.000x0,045/12=750). Because Dutch tax law subsidizes home ownership, interest payments come partly back through tax-advantages. (This advantage might not exist forever in a unified Europe but at the moment it still exists). In this case, the only capital they can build up, is if the house raises in value for they will never pay off the €200.000, they can only pay the interest.

 

They can, however, also spend €750 for a house in the temporary settlement, of which €250, is for rent and €500 the monthly input into the building society. This means that for a period from one month to eight years (an average of 4,3 years) they are housed small and modest. They accept that because they do not have children yet and are not home much, they still live like students. If the temporary settlement exists for 8 years and 4 months (8x12+4=100) they will have saved €50.000.

 

This means that on the mortgage they get once they move, they pay €562,50 on interest (150.000x0,045/12=562,50) and have one quarter of their housing budget left to pay off the mortgage and build up capital. The houses in the town extension project Schuytgraaf for instance that are profiled as being ideal for starters, in this way do come within reach of budgets like this.

For example “Heusden 410” costs €181.500. It is a row house of 97 m2 (350m3) on a plot of 125 m2. It has a garden facing South with a storage shed. The house has two bedrooms as well as an attic that can be used as a study, or an additional bedroom once there are children. It is advertised as ideal for starters.

 

With an interest rate of 4.5% this house could be obtained within 26 years and with an interest rate of 4.0% it would take 23,5 years, which is considered a reasonable time span to pay off a mortgage. The same house would take 55 years to pay for (at an interest rate of 4.5%) if the family would not take part in the building society.

 

This is just an example. Interest rates for mortgages vary[74] and so do the options banks offer to pay off a loan. Fact is, however, that in order to buy a house for instance in Schuytgraaf one will need around €200.000. If that full amount is borrowed, housing expenses become too high for most people. (The demand on the housing market is highest in the category of up to €150.000.) So for those who do not have other reserves, saving them together through the building society is an option. Banks will also be more willing to give a loan to people who bring in €50.000 they have saved already.

 

 

Scenario 2: Contributing Work

 

Participation in the development project of the Nest Housing Co-op (option 2) does not necessarily mean that one owns a house in the end. This depends on the amount of capital one can bring together. Part of this capital, however, can be different from Euro. As described in the previous chapter, the Local Economy of the temporary settlement offers a possibility to transfer ones personal resources like skills, knowledge, time and savings, into Local Currency. This Local Currency is backed by real estate (temporary houses) and therefore as good as money. Maintenance work in the temporary settlement is paid for directly in the form of Local Currency, which is linked to the value of the temporary settlement, as is described in the previous chapter.

 

The real estate and development work described in this chapter is a bit different. The housing and urban plans that this part of the Housing Co-op develops for the permanent neighborhood, are not there yet. So the value of the Local Currency that participants of the development project earn by working for it, is not backed until those houses are there. The amount of Local Currency that is earned through this work, can therefore not be calculated and paid yet. Instead it is put on a time savings account that can only be transferred to Local Currency, if and when this backing does exist, when the permanent housing has been developed and sold.

 

For those who participate, this will mean that when the houses have been sold, their time input is transferable to Local Currency and thus to Euro. This option is most interesting for those who have a direct interest in the houses that will be built, the people who want to live there. By participating in the group commissioning the houses, they make their future house the way they want it, and they earn Local Currency at the same time to make it more affordable, which they can only access, but also only need to access, when they are actually buying their house.

 

The houses that come out of this process are not necessarily cheaper than other houses on the market. It is just that the pioneers buying it, will be able to pay part of it in Local Currency, depending on the input they were able to give in terms of work. The more you do yourself, the cheaper the house will be. This can be described as a sort of “leasing a house” scheme. By participating in the development project of the Housing Co-op people work towards constructing their own house, while they continue to rent. Through renting cheaply they also save for the ownership of the house they are building.

 

 

Scenario 3: Investment Options

 

Some pioneers participating in the development project might drop out in the process, and no longer want to acquire the house they developed. Or the group decides to build more houses than they need for themselves. These houses can be sold to outsiders. This is option 3. Developing houses for people that are not members comes with a profit. That profit will benefit all pioneers, because the end value of the Local Economy Organization will be higher. How much they profit depends on how much time and savings they have invested in the Local Economy Organization.

 

Contributing money and capital to the Local Economy Organization can be an interesting investment opportunity also for people who are not living in the temporary settlement, even though the interest will be paid in Local Currency. People who want to commission a house, but who do not want to live in the temporary settlement or get actively involved in the work to realize it, could choose for this option. Rather then just buying the house when it is all done, they could get involved from the beginning, by investing their money and participating in planning meetings for which they have time to attend.

This can be designed as a kind of shareholders scheme and creates win-win situations for both sides. The Nest! needs less (more expensive) bank loans and private investors can get a better deal for their money as well, while supporting a meaningful, promising and innovative project.

 

 

Case Example of an Investment Possibility

Parents of grown up children have savings that they do not dare to invest in stocks. The savings account only gives 3% interest. They choose to participate in the Housing Co-op with €75.000. They earn 4% interest on this in local currency (250 per month), which they use for their son’s housing in the temporary settlement while he is studying. The temporary settlement is happy to have investors who –as the parents of one of the pioneers- are involved with the settlement. They also have less need for a more expensive bank loan. The couple is happy to earn more on their investment than at the bank and see their son housed well.

 

 

 

V) Private Commissioning is about Organization

 

 

Filling the Gap between Handyman and Developer

 

Even in The Netherlands people find it perfectly normal to commission small construction works like bathrooms and kitchens. They get it done by a small local firm, who assists with the design and paperwork as well. Full buildings are just a step too large for such firms. It requires a specific skill to organize a building process, a skill in which project developers specialize. Over time building processes have grown in scale and thus the gap between the local handyman and the large developers or corporations has grown too.

There are commercial enterprises who fill this gap. These firms called building buddies provide the knowledge needed to navigate the building jungle. The Housing Co-op does the same on a non-commercial basis.

 

 

Surfing for a House

 

The first area that the Dutch government tackled when it declared private commissioning a priority, was information sharing. The National Project dealing with the subject consists mainly of a website (www.iceb.nl) that tells it all. The information and the links inform people where land is available, what is important and where they can find help. If the task seems too big you can hire a building buddy, a bureau that specializes on coaching individuals to build their own house.

 

 

Making good Use of the Temporary Settlement while it is there

 

Starting up the temporary settlement will be a rather complicated task because in The Netherlands there is not much experience in the type of work involved. The Housing Co-op is designed to fulfill this task. The experience gained in setting up the temporary settlement can be used to assist the pioneers in consolidating their existence after the duration of the Nest!. The time that the settlement is there, say five to ten years, is long enough to develop a good housing project. The longer time span that participative projects tend to have, does not constitute that much of a problem. All participants have the possibility to live already in the area where they will develop their new house. Regardless if they are still in the temporary settlement or the new house has already been delivered, they can start their social life in the neighborhood.

 

The tasks of the temporary settlement in organizing the process of consolidating a permanent housing project include the following:

 

Tasks to be done by the Housing Co-op:

Provide the legal entity for those who are interested in building their own house to join as a member

Represent those members in any formal situation (meetings, but also PR)

Coordinate the planning and design process

Provide knowledge on building, planning and legal issues

Negotiate with municipality, landowners, contractors etc. on behalf of the members to obtain all that is necessary (building permits, land, etc)

Commission the works that have to be out-sourced

Coordinate the work that can be done by pioneers

Provide housing during the process

 

Tasks to be done by the Savings and Loans Division

Attract investors for the plans

Coordinate the building society

Administer the savings that have been made by the savings groups

 

Tasks to be done by the Neighborhood Academy

Organize the interested individuals into a group

Coordinate the learning and planning process

Provide outside knowledge input for the process

 

 

A two-Phased Building Process

 

As mentioned before housing design and production in The Netherlands is fairly well optimized. The houses that are being built, work the best for the way the building industry is set up. The other way around this means that anything different means complications for the builder and higher prices for the consumers. It is not unreasonable that developers ask relatively high prices for the extra’s they provide with standard models.

For them it means deviating from the highly mechanized and optimized building process. It means putting in more expensive labor.

 

This is exactly the point in which the Nest! is different. Putting in work means saving Euro, means supporting the Local Currency. And, since the building process the pioneers specialize in is small scale, labor intensive dealings of little design details here and another kind of material there, do not take extra effort, but are the normal process. By its nature, the development process in the Nest! is more fit for building tailor made solutions than the general practice. This tailoring advantage plays out, however, mainly in the design and planning phase and the final stages of the building process itself. That is why it is suggested that the Nest! works together with developers, who have their comparative advantages the other way around. In this way the Nest! can concentrate on the most labor- and participation intensive parts of the process, while traditional developers can contribute the more standardized and mechanized parts.

 

 

A new Market for Developers

 

The Housing Co-op will hire normal contractors for all large scaled and mechanized works. Developers could be interested to start producing ‘half-houses’. This could take the shape of “sites and services”, a very common solution in third world countries. These are plots that have all connections to public services, as well as a foundation and floor-slab.

In the case of the Nest! project it could be the rough frame of an apartment or even a complete building with roof and outside walls, but no finishes.

 

Either way, the building process in this set-up has two moments of delivery:

 

▪ The traditional developer delivers rough frames to the Housing Co-op, or directly to its members. They are thus assured of a fixed quantity of work under clear conditions. Obviously general design decisions need to have been finalized, like number and grouping of apartments, surface and entrance point of utilities. The larger the chunk of work that goes to the traditional developer, the further the level of detail of these kinds of decisions.

 

▪ In an interactive process with the members, the Housing Co-op then develops tailor made apartments inside these frames. This way the private commissioning is only done for the part of the work that is most interesting to develop this way. The traditional developer does not have to deal with a large number of consumer wishes and can still keep a certain volume of work going.

 

 

The Nest Housing Co-op will do an inventory amongst its members to see what competencies there are, that could be useful in this process. This involves several levels:

It is important that all participants reflect and gain insight on their own wishes. This is not a kind of knowledge that can be capitalized or saves on the building costs, but it is important to improve the quality of the end product in the eyes of the owners.

 

Then there is the technical; knowledge of those who have experience in planning, design and organizational processes. These kinds of skills save the group from having to hire outside expertise. That has the double advantage of saving expenses and a larger involvement of participants. Involvement in the process assures a larger flexibility in changing plans. For example: if during the process certain elements turn out to be complicated or expensive, the group can decide to either leave it out or do an extra round of money gathering. Such an outcome is only acceptable to people who have gone through the process and understand the reason behind the final decision. This kind of involvement usually does not exist in a normal process where the end users are anonymous clients.

 

Next to the expertise in the design and development process, members can also contribute to the building process itself. This constitutes the most interesting option in the venture of adapting the building process to its organization. Certain expertise, like plumbing, electricity, or carpentry is always needed, but for the rest the plans can be adapted to the skills available in the temporary settlement. If there are good masons it is logical to work a lot with masonry. If there are no particular skills available, just a lot of enthusiastic people, the expertise of a labor-intensive building method could be hired from the outside. If for example the group has an interest in environmentally friendly building experiments they could use constructions with mud and stray. For this, an experienced foreman could be hired from outside, who has the task of instructing and guiding the pioneers working with him.

 

The skills do not need to be available amongst the people who want a house, nor does everybody who participates in the construction need to move there once the houses are finished. Construction work is simply one of the services that the Housing Co-op engages in and hires labor for. The only difference is in the payment of the work. Outside expertise is paid in Euro and should therefore be limited as much as possible. Construction or planning and design work that is done by pioneers who do not want to obtain a permanent house after the settlement, are paid in Local Currency. In order to pay them, this amount of currency needs to be backed by real value, by the Euro that those who want a house, will have to save. The work they put in themselves is paid for in Local Currency on a savings account. They will not know exactly what the value of that savings is until the houses are finished.

 

 

Easy to build wooden Construction

 

The picture shows two engineers from the Dutch dhv consultant company, who visited Canada in the fifties. They did a research to see if the at that time in Canada commonly used balloon or platform method for wood construction for housing could be used in The Netherlands. Despite their enthusiasm and the influence of this company the Dutch builders have preferred to stick to bricks and concrete they work so well with. Wooden constructions can, however, be very practical in small scaled projects. Not much specialized skill or equipment is needed, which makes it popular in North America amongst those who build their own house. These qualities, combined with the flexibility it offers, would make it a most useful building method for privately commissioned housing.

 

 

Flexibility in Development Speed

 

A problem of new neighborhoods is often the chaos inhabitants need to endure, when moving into an area that is still a building site. This problem seems to worsen if the work is not being done by a few large firms but by a large number of individuals. Whether they are cooperating in the same temporary building corporation or not, they might all have a different speed in getting their act together. This does not need to pose a problem if there is a split between the rough construction to be done by the large developers and the finishing. Once the rough phase is finished in a large scale mechanized process, the finishing of the urban space can be done at any given speed. The work that follows is no different from renovations and can be done without heavy equipment that ruins the sidewalks. In such an environment it does not really matter if some are quicker in finishing their house than others. The neighborhood simply becomes more like a living organism, growing into adulthood. Some may live in a half finished house for years until they have enough money to put in their dream kitchen. This does not cause any disturbance to their neighbors.

 

 

 

VI) Private Commissioning is about Learning

 

 

Doing by Learning

 

The Neighborhood Academy has an important task in monitoring the consolidation of the settlement. It does so in organizing the settlement as a learning community. (Chapter 4).In starting up the temporary settlement, the Housing Co-op will undoubtedly gain an enormous amount of valuable experience and expertise. One way of making sure this experience does not leave with the settlement after a number of years, is to promote the concept for other development projects in other towns. Another way is to consolidate and feed the knowledge of the temporary settlement into the development process of the permanent settlement. The Neighborhood Academy constitutes a good organizing platform for bringing together the everyday life expertise that is needed to make houses and neighborhoods fit well to the needs of the inhabitants. Too often our cities and houses are made by professionals who have their own situation as primary reference. That is by definition not the perspective of a toddler, a senior, or a housewife[75].

Plans become richer when they reflect a multitude of perspectives, because they give space to a multitude of lifestyles. The Nest Academy facilitates a process to get to that kind of quality in planning.

 

 

Individual Motivations for collective Learning

 

Participating in the development process has different motivations. For some it is a way to earn wages. Others want to realize their dream house. Either way the participants have a strong motive getting involved in the participative planning process organized in the Academy: they personally benefit from it. This is rather different from the people who show up at sessions in which building plans are presented that are made the usual way. Most often they fear that they will loose by the plans, that are forced on them. Their time is not compensated, which puts them into a different position from the paid professionals presenting the plans. By way of the Local Currency all time invested in the development process is compensated.

 

Building a house is something you probably do only once in a lifetime. It is a pity if the carefully scraped together knowledge is lost afterwards. In the Academy the knowledge will be applied, documented and passed on to others.

 

 

 

VII) Private Commissioning is about Community Building

 

 

Private Interests as Basis for Participating in Community

 

In the foregoing five different ways of looking at privately commissioning a house has been described. You can build a house as a political statement or simply as a beautiful piece of architecture to live in. It is a way to invest your money or requires at any rate a fair amount of it. You can look at it from an organizational perspective or as a learning process. Of course it is all of the above. In the Nest! private commissioning is first and foremost about community building. The whole project is about community building and private commissioning is an important element and instrument to assure that the experience of the temporary settlement consolidates into the permanent neighborhood.

 

Those who build their house in the permanent settlement are the vital link between the experience of the temporary settlement and the neighborhood that will come afterwards. The majority of the pioneers will not settle in the permanent development once the temporary settlement is dismantled, but for most of them it is not the reason to participate in the first place.

 

Depending on their budget wishes and possibilities, the families who do buy a permanent house made by the Nest Housing Co-op participate in the settlement in different ways:

The most passive participants are those who in the end, when the houses have been developed, show up and buy one, just like any other house on the market. They will not notice any more of the community building process that took place in the settlement than what they see in the place where they will live and in the books and video that were made of the process.

Other people have heard beforehand about the possibility of privately commissioning your house in the Nest! and have inscribed.

They may have a busy life that does not permit them to take part in any of the meetings. Instead they contribute financially. Pioneers of the design team visit them at their house on several occasions to interview all family members on their needs and wishes. The resulting requirements for this family are further developed and represented in the meetings by these members of the design team. They are quite glad to do this, because they earn Local Currency that helps them finance their own house. On top of that it is a good opportunity to clear their own process and they get to know a future neighbor. Although this family does not take part in the development process in the Neighborhood Academy, they are involved through their interaction with the members of the design team. They do give their input on how they would like their street to be like. Occasionally they visit the website of their future neighborhood and sometimes they go over to visit an event in the temporary settlement. This way they start feeling linked with the place, before they have even moved there.

Most of the people who commission a house participate more actively. Even if they do not live in the temporary settlement they will want to get their vision in as much as possible. Being able to influence their future living environment inspires them to go to meetings and give input. Where they can they also put in their skills and get paid for it.

The most active are obviously the families that move to the temporary settlement preceding their move to a privately commissioned house in the newly developed neighborhood. They are familiar with their new neighborhood long before they move into their house and most probably become focal points and play key roles in the developing neighborhood networks in the newly built settlement.

Also pioneers, who at the start do not foresee that they will ever be able to buy their own house, might take part in the transition to the permanent neighborhood. They can join one of the collective saving schemes and save the down-payment needed or they might get contacts that give them a possibility to rent from one of the people building a house.

 

 

Filling the Gap between the Social and the Physical

 

Whatever the motives are for participating in the process, it assures that more people get involved in urban development. At present it usually is only a physical project, put down by contractors from outside. Involving residents by allowing space to realize personal goals and dreams, by giving them influence and inviting their investments in form of time, work and money allows for a positive and larger social involvement to enter urban planning.

 

The overall process benefits tremendously from resident participation. Such a process exposes the physical forces to a social dynamic that can improve their quality greatly. The construction business has the reputation of “only being interested in selling huts”. Not really a motivation you desire as the driving force for those who are responsible for creating something as important as your home. Involvement in the process keeps the development business close to their social responsibility and gives them an economic opening to enter into a social process that is normally outside of their perspective. For example, they can participate by building the core frames, that are the starting point for the privately commissioned housing or they can provide work to pioneers.

 

The part of the new neighborhood developed by the pioneers will show a diverse image and will take a while to materialize. But in coming alive it really comes alive. It inherits the spirit of the temporary settlement. In the process a large number of people who normally do not participate in building jobs have gained valuable working experience. But most important of all, the people that have a house there, have realized it themselves, exactly to their wishes, with the optimal result possible within their budget. They have worked on that dream together with the people who live in the same neighborhood. They have gone through conflicts and successes with them, they have gotten to know each other. There is social cohesion in such a neighborhood, because in the process of working on it together people have bonded.

 

Click here for the next chapter (full text)

Next chapter summery