Universal Design, Cohousing, and Economic Necessity Spur Green Housing Project in Oaxaca, Mexico

At first blush David Hornick appears to be the most unlikely candidate to be spear-heading a housing development in the state of Oaxaca, one of the southernmost and poorest states in Mexico; his Spanish is sparse to be generous, until earlier this year he had never ventured to this part of the country, he’s never designed or built a home, and he’s lived virtually all his life in Schenectady, New York, leading a more or less typical, middle-class Jewish existence.

But Hornick had a vision, born of other life experiences which made him more qualified than most to proceed with the project. “One thing about me,” he explained on his first trip to Oaxaca, “is that once I decide to do something, you know it’s already been thoroughly considered – and then there’s no stopping me.”

For more than three decades Hornick has been a family physician, diagnosing and treating exclusively aging Americans … through home visits. He and wife Roberta, his partner in the medical practice, have learned that where and how we traditionally live is rarely conducive to graceful and easy aging from a position of economic security.

The answer, as I’ve come to conclude over the past several months of tutelage from Hornick, at least for creating a blueprint for the solution, is to import some of the characteristics of collaborative housing (cohousing) and as many key elements as practicable of universal design, into a region of the world where the concerns can best be addressed – Oaxaca … for starters. And that’s exactly what Hornick’s done.

Collaborative housing

Cohousing communities are usually designed as a series of attached or single-family homes along one or more pedestrian walkways or clustered around a courtyard. While the concept originated in Denmark, since the early 1980s it has been promoted in the U.S., and since then similar communities using the basic concept have developed throughout other countries in the Western World such as Canada, France, Germany and New Zealand.

Each community includes a larger building facility, a “common house,” constituting the social center of the complex where neighbors can meet, dine, attend to activities which traditionally are not required on a daily basis (i.e. laundry), and even host guests in small apartments. The latter two points have implications in terms of minimizing overall cost for each resident, since space not normally occupied on a daily basis is omitted from individual homes.

While in the purest of models residents actively participate in the design of their own neighborhood, in this case prospective members are spared that effort – Hornick https://exycasinos.co.nz/ has devoted his entire adult life assessing the needs of Americans as their stages in life change. Accordingly, substantial progress for the Oaxaca project has already been advanced, and in fact there is a website in place, addressing those interested in pursing a lifestyle change in the foreseeable future. It currently includes photographs of the two proposed tracts of land, site plans and architectural drawings of the two models of home.

Hornick prefers to avoid commonly used terms such as intentional or collaborative housing, as well as cohousing, in favor of simply “neighborhoods” and “communities.” The former import the idea of consensus decision-making, which he does not believe is workable. He does envision, however, a “resident council” (perhaps similar to a condominium’s board of directors) to assist with suggestions relating to the neighborhood. This indicates that his approach is realistic and his model is feasible. The project does require, he stresses, participants’ acceptance of, and working together to promote, certain basic goals: energy efficiency; respect for the environment; the utilization of locally produced “green” materials (in construction and otherwise); affordability; and universal design which enables people of all ages to grow and mature well.

Universal design

Universal design (UD) can be defined as the creation of products (including communication systems) and environments (including landscapes) which are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. It has often been associated with exclusively addressing the elderly and infirmed. And in fact there should be no doubt that within the context of the Oaxaca project the concept will be extremely attractive to those in their fifties and older, many winding down their careers and embarking upon a new phase of life, “retirement.” But the project’s use of universal design addresses more – compatibility with a natural progression of functional changes throughout the lifespan, according to Hornick.

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