This is a guest post written by Ann Congleton.

In a Nov. 6 post on this blog about planning for the floor under the proposed Health Center, I described some possible uses of this Lower Floor which I believe would support and strengthen our community life.  Responses I have received have been very encouraging, including suggestions of additional community-enhancing possibilities. Responses, however, have also included requests for discussion of the alternative proposal, the proposal to use the Lower Floor for apartments for new residents, increasing the total number of Kendal at Longwood residents as a fundraising technique.

Genuine discussion of choices about the Lower Floor needs more than a follow-up blog post or a general meeting or two, and I have not heard a convincing reason why it is not possible to postpone this major decision for, say, six months to allow the needed discussion. A delay is also likely to clarify national economic trends.

Therefore two things seem needed immediately. The first is postponement of any decision.

The second is formation right away of a Kendal at Longwood Resident-Staff Collaborative Committee for the Lower Floor, a committee on the model of the collaborative committee that has produced the promising design for the Health Center floor, the plan so well presented by Sarah Matas and others on Sept. 28.

A Lower Floor Collaborative Committee would need to be established before any further decisions are made, because without it, only administrative views are assured of adequate inclusion. And, like the successful Collaborative Health Services Committee, the Lower Floor Committee needs to be a Kendal at Longwood Committee, not a four-campus committee.

Once genuine deliberation about this decision can be launched by the committee, there can be discussion of whether to use the Lower Floor for spaces for community-enhancing activities or to use it for fund raising by building apartments for new residents, increasing the total number of residents.  In a previous post, George Alexander offered a strong case that building apartments in the Center for new residents is not a financial necessity. The two proposals can therefore be compared simply in terms of their long-range impact on our community.

Because my Nov. 6 post has already sketched ways in which the Lower Floor could be used for activities to strengthen community life and attract future residents to Kendal at Longwood (hereafter KAL), here are some thoughts on ways I believe building apartments for new residents in the Center would weaken the community along with passing up possible community-enhancing uses of the space.

The problem that has received the most discussion so far is that using the Lower Floor for apartments that would increase the number of residents at KAL is a danger to the sense of community which is such a major reason many of us have come to KAL. In an earlier blog post, George looked at the general literature on community size. That literature supports the view that face-to-face communities need to be small.

Size has been addressed by others also. For example, Harry Hammond in a valuable comment on George’s Oct. 8 post points out that having KAL be a face-to-face community was a basic goal of the founders, and keeping KAL small enough to be a face-to-face community was the reason for creating a second face-to-face community, Crosslands, rather than enlarging KAL.

Just as community as a value was reflected in the limitation of size and in the ground plan that made the Center the gathering place equally accessible by all, so other founding values of KAL were also expressed in its physical structure. For example, the value of “simplicity” was expressed in the modest design of the cottages. The value of “equality” understood as economic inclusiveness was expressed in having cottages of a range of affordability with the sizes intermixed to avoid discriminations among neighborhoods.  The value of closeness to nature, a major reason for choosing its beautiful location, was expressed in its design as an array of walkways and trails rather than as a giant building in which people both lived and gathered, staying mostly indoors. The value of having residents remain community members even as they declined was expressed by provision for declining members to live in the Center for the purpose of enabling them to remain community participants as much and as long as possible, aided in this by the support not only of our excellent and kind Health Services but of the Independent Living residents coming to the Center.

Deciding to have a large sub-population of Independent Living residents move into the Center without first having been members of the cottage community challenges all these aspects of KAL’s “character of place,” the expression of KAL’s values in its physical features. The proposal thus raises the question of what sort of place KAL wants to be today. This question needs to be seriously discussed before deciding how to use the Lower Floor space, since that decision is of a magnitude that will affect the character of place of KAL for decades to come. 

The first step toward avoiding unreflective drift is to ask ourselves what KAL seeks to be today and in the future before making such a momentous long range decision. The best way to do that seems to me to be immediate formation of a Kendal at Longwood Collaborative Committee on the Lower Floor to do for that major space what the Kendal at Longwood Collaborative Health Services Committee seems to be doing so well for the Health Center.  The meeting on Nov. 28 could be an opportunity to begin the process of creating the needed Lower Floor Committee.