Exploring Community: A Look at Serenbe

Image

Serenbe: Rural Based New Urbanism

I met Richard Louv in Huntington Beach, California in 2006. He was discussing his then new book, Last Child In the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.  We were in a general discussion of agriculture replacing golf as the amenity impetus for future community development and the need to connect to nature as part of your daily experience. His book resonated with me, becoming part of my canon on what should be the products of our community leadership.

With my upcoming project to reimagine Hot Springs Village in Arkansas looming, I was rereading Louv’s 2011 book The Nature Principal and was intrigued by his description of Serenbe as a “restorative” community.  At first glance this community just SW of Atlanta is a mixture of conservation community ala Randall Arendt and New Urbanism principals of the CNU. It fits in that mold as seventy percent of the open space is preserved, homes are in higher density concentrations, and the community is designed to be pedestrian oriented. As my passion is creating  places where conservation, creativity, and gentleness can thrive, I decided to spend a couple of days in Serenbe.  This was a great experience.

One of my favorite poets is the late Irish mystic John O’Donohue. Much of his poetry pertained to connection to place, landscape and how the natural environment is part of our being.  Shortly before his death in 2008, he discussed our interface with the built environment saying “an awful lot of urban planning particularly in poor areas has doubly impoverished the poor by the ugliness which surrounds them. And it’s understandable that it is so difficult to reach and sustain gentleness there.” In my earlier “Community Builder or Consumer” post, I wrote “Community must be defined as collection of human relationships rather than as a defined real estate space.”  With that being my goal, creating a space where thoughtful living flourishes must be in the forefront.  The Serenbe community is showing what that type of space can look like.

Serenbe connects you to nature and people in a gentle but intimate manner.  You can feel the intentionality to design on the scale of the individual.  This allows you attunement to the landscape you traverse. I believe that your attention subconsciously adjusts to the ambient level of opportunity for natural and interpersonal connection.  This is why people maintain a closed off protective shell to ward off the harshness of daily life in many places. Serenbe has created the environment that makes us forget that shell.  Rather than being on guard, you feel connected to those around you and are pulled into conversations.  You begin to notice detail in nature and craftsmanship.  The quality of place, both natural and built, shines through.  Ashley, my wife, continually referred to Serenbe as thoughtful.  Both in how specific values permeate the community and how it fosters attunement to nature.

Without the connection to nature we lose the rhythms and understanding necessary for thoughtful living. We take our natural environment for granted and do not see the interconnectivity of systems as basic as getting our food.  Serenbe fosters an understanding that the world around us is teaming with interconnections and relationships.  O’Donohue said “it makes a huge difference when you wake in the morning and come out of your house. Whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you but in a totally different form. And if you go towards it with an open heart and a real watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you. And I think that was one of the recognitions of the Celtic imagination: that landscape wasn’t just matter, but that it was actually alive. What amazes me about landscape, landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence where you can truly receive time.”

Image

Fine Grain Planning Creates Spaces of Value

Ester Sternberg, Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, in her book Healing Places: The Science of Place and Wellbeing cites several studies on the benefits of the interfacing with natural environment.  One, environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich’s Hospital Window Study, clearly showed the impact of the natural quality of place on wellbeing.  Simply put, surgery patients recovered quicker and with less pain in rooms with a view of nature than those with a view of parking lots and brick walls.  As in Louv’s description of Serenbe, the interface of the natural and built environments can be restorative.

My personal theory takes this a bit further.  If visiting a unique environment, fostered by places like Serenbe, is restorative, living there on an ongoing basis must be preventative and preparatory for ongoing wellbeing.  I feel that walking out on our farm in the morning before entering the world of screens, phones and meetings.  Where we live is one of our most important decisions.  Can I thrive here?  I want my chosen quality of place to be the primary impetus for thoughtful physical and spiritual growth. If it is not, I did not choose well.

“The human soul does not merely hunger for beauty, John O’Donohue believed; we feel most alive in the presence of what is beautiful. It returns us often in fleeting but sustaining moments, he said, to our highest selves. And a neglect of beauty, he believed, is at the heart of our deepest modern crises.” Krista Tippet, talking about John O’Donohue for “On Being.”

Visit Serenbe.  As a community leader, look at the websites, serenbecommunity.com and proudgreenhome.com and see how this can be implemented in your community.  There are many scales on which these concepts can be implemented. As Steve Nygren, founder of Serenbe, put it in an interview with MNN, they focus on “developing in relationship with nature rather than imposing what we are doing on nature.” It is a new look at a very old model of community.  From homes, wastewater treatment and storm water systems to livable design and human scale planning; Serenbe is informed by quality of place and intelligent policy.

With all my planning nerdery aside, there are rare places you can profoundly feel community, wellbeing, and connectivity to the environment.  Serenbe is one of these places.

wendell for wednesday

Wendell Berry. one of my favorite poets, on the sensibility of uniqueness and celebrating individualism.

grace garden

View original post

Riding to Hounds: Understanding Subcultures In Community Building – David Twiggs

Image

Handmade community building is a people business.  It is intensely local and personal. It celebrates individualism. It draws creative types: artists and performers, athletes and philosophers, poets and farmers.  To use an intentional oxymoron, there are several categories of individuals that are involved with the destination community.  Some are your authentic homegrown tourism assets.  Others become your visitors and often your residents.  We need to understand these classifications to see how a subculture builds community.

  • The Obsessed/Wholehearted
  • The Interested
  • The Curious
  • The Casual

While all of these are important to the fabric of the community.  It is the Obsessed/ Wholehearted individuals that create the subculture. Yvonne Chounard, founder of Black Diamond Climbing and Patagonia lovingly calls the  hardcore climbing folks the “dirt bags.”  Like all the Obsessed, they will do whatever it takes to be where they can pursue their passion.  They spend their money on necessity of gear and the simple costs of getting and being there.  There are these cores in all outdoor sports.  These folks create the lore of the area.

All my wholehearted activities have always aimed for some combination of physical or spiritual growth.  Many of our passions are such because they bring us to focus on the “now” while allowing us to express the values we feel adds richness to our lives.  Much of meditation and contemplative practices bring us to an appreciation of now.  Not dwelling in the past or worrying the future.  While relaxation is part of our leisure goals we rarely want to spend all our time in a soporific state.  We more often are seeking the peak flow experience.

In my family, riding to hounds is our sporting tradition.  We enjoy many other outdoor pursuits but hunting hounds is the avocation that focuses the family energy and dictates the daily lifestyle.  We are wholehearted to be fully involved in training hounds, helping puppies be born, holding old hounds as the die of old age, walking out puppies and having it all coalesce on hunting days.

Riding to hounds is a good representative example of the authentic core developed in the obsessed/ wholehearted category.  These are the root activities that become the basis for strong subculture based tourism economies given the proper resources. These activities go beyond the generic theme park type attractions. It also goes beyond the active participants.  It is also embraced by the surrounding community and visitors curious about the lifestyle. This is recreation at its root; re-creation. These activities exist purely for the physical and spiritual benefit of the participant. These may be spectator sports but they are authentic to a true sub-culture.  These can contribute greatly to developing the authentic tourism brand. Like rock climbing, mountain biking, expedition, surfing, kayaking, fishing, equestrian or skiing, these subcultures are specialized and expect top conditions for their activity. Beyond the specialized activity, these subculture visitors require the same tourism support assets that any other activity does. They need housing, food, provisions and entertainment.  All the same elements that make living in a destination community desirable for other sub-cultures.

I will use riding to hounds as an analogy of how a relatively obscure activity adds to the tourism brand of region. While attracting locals and visitors year round for hound shows and riding out for hound exercise, the tradition peaks with the opening meet in early November.  We organize hundreds of community members  and visitors into wagons, moving them through miles of farm and forest lands.  We organized public wagons for those coming without reservations, reserved wagons for local residents and out of town visitors, corporately sponsored wagons for corporations bringing clients and employees furthering their business  opportunities.  These wagons are loaded down with picnic baskets and ice chests with the provision for a day afield.  We even have a special wagon of with bathroom facilities.

Image

Bringing The Community Together for Connection, Fellowship, and Joy

After the pageantry of the riders and hounds jumping into the grounds surrounded by visitors for the Blessing of the Hounds. The wagons follow a carefully designed route, stopping at preselected vistas for the mounted hunters in the traditional red coats thundering by.  The visitors sensory experience peaks as a hundred horses pass by jumping fences and galloping after pack of 50 hounds giving full voice after a scent line that we have carefully laid for the benefit of our audience.  This happens repeatedly over the course of the day as community and visitors enjoy food and cocktails on their wagons while moving through the beautiful countryside.  All this culminates just before sunset on Champagne Hill where riders, horses, hounds and visitors enjoy fellowship in the gloaming of the day before riding back to fireside barbeque.

A purist could see this as staged tourism event and they would have a point were it not for the authentic sporting culture and lifestyle that exists year round  This event is both authentic and appropriate to the tourism brand.  It is a rallying point that create community pride and belonging.

Understanding your core tourism customer is very important in natural resource / obsession activity based tourism development.  My family is a good example of the motivation and phycology of a recreational subculture.  As I write this I have just spent an entire day on horseback.  First to work on a new thoroughbred my wife has been training for me as a whip horse. Secondly the entire family rode out for one of our twice-weekly hunts on which we followed the hounds following a coyote for 50 minutes before he tired of us and tucked safely into his den.  After hacking back in, we were joined by members of the larger community for a potluck dinner.  The surrounding community proudly bring visiting family to see their hounds.

It is of no tangible value to hurl yourself and a fifteen hundred pound horse though narrow rutted trails, over ditches and fences at full gallop simply to hear the cry of the hounds. There is no trophy, we are not out to kill the fox, coyote or bobcat; nor is there a winner declared at the end of the day.  It is simply the total immersion in the “now.”  My wife who is passionate with the care, training and general happiness of the hounds calls this total focus on the “now” Kairos time or God’s Time.

Foxhunting in Time – Ashley Twiggs

Lately, the types of time keep occupying my thoughts.  Perhaps it’s because we are always so accessible, and so aware of many things other than what is right in front of us.  Or maybe it’s because my girls are growing up so fast that it really is making me stop and think.  Regardless, chronos and kairos time keep coming to mind.

Chronos is the time we live in; the real day to day time.  It is the seconds, minutes, and hours that make up our days, weeks, and years.  It’s the “how many minutes do we have till we need to be there?”  Dressed properly, tack oiled, and horses cleaned. Well, that’s questionable.  Thank goodness for our dirt colored horses.  As a mom of young riders, I naturally spend a lot of thought in chronos time.

Kairos is known as God’s time.  It’s the special glimpses in time that often pass too quickly.  It is the wrinkles in time when we are fully aware and present.  Those instances become something special.  Kairos is time outside of time; those magical moments when time seems to stand still, etched in mind.  Those are the ones we truly cherish.

Foxhunting with children certainly embodies both types.  Often, I am  caught up in the tasks of getting four people and four horses ready for the days’ hunt. It’s easy to get lost in the small details of tack, saddle pads, gloves, garters, hairnets, etc.  There are many things to check and get ready, and then on to tack up our four horses.  Chronos is when I’m late and I snap at someone to bring the right girth, to find a clean pair of riding pants, and “why are you already so dirty?” I admit that sometimes, by the time we are all finally there and on our horses,  it’s hard to “let it go” and truly enjoy the experience that I’ve been diligently preparing us for.

But when I look back on years of hunting, I remember not the chaotic moments of making it come together; but the kairos time of the best of the day.  It is the other small, but special, details.  Those are what I cherish.  When we’ve stopped on a run and I look over to see Salem’s breath in the cold air, the pink of her cheeks, and I see the excitement in her eyes.  It’s when CeCe hears the hounds in full cry and tells me she has goose bumps.  I know she understands the significance.  It’s when I was whipping in with David and I stop the hounds at the right moment.  I can still see their faces looking up at me.  Kairos is being fully present and aware, and a part of the big picture; no matter where we ride that day. 

The gift that we’re giving our girls is being able to spend a day riding to hounds and to appreciate the quiet and wild beauty of nature and sport.  They are forming their own kairos moments. Thank you, God. Kairos. Whether hunting for ourselves or with our children, we all have our kairos moments.  It’s up to us to recognize and appreciate their gift; and to be ever so grateful.

To those who participate in obsession activities, the time spent is contemplative, meditative and yet has the physiological levels of stress response that make us feel exhilarated and alive.  I have described one element of riding to hounds as a focused nature meditation which is actually having your mind and body completely tuning in on every sound smell and movement in the forest and rivers, every shift in the breeze, and even feeling the changes in barometric pressure and ionization of the air.  Each of these refining your intuition of moment.

This is what ancient cultures called being in rhythm with nature. Ancient as in before we self-incarcerated ourselves to our air-conditioned television rooms. This comes from being exposed to nature to the degree that it changes your internal rhythms.  Not being in rhythm to the clock and schedules of chronos time.  This is the meandering of your brain synapses though the collection of experiences, knowledge, and the unconsciously received signals from being in rhythm with the nature.  All this  culminating into intuition and ideas.  It is that which creates that inate “I just have a feeling about this” where we are in tune with nature, engrossed in the “now.” The contemplative part of what Ashley calls Kairos time.

But most obsession activities do not simply strive for a zen soporific state of mind. A point of commitment is crossed. Beyond this point is only instinct, intuition, physical endurance and gut reaction.   That may be that first dropping of your ski tips over the steep lip of an untried basin.  It may be digging your paddle in to spin your kayak into that technical section of water.  The physiological stress and pleasure responses start firing. Adrenaline and dopamine flow; different areas of the brain engage.

The second element to Kairos time is just beyond the Point of Commitment.  You are in a meditative state soaking in the natural rhythms, when the first hound speaks, then another, and then the entire pack smells the scent trail of a coyote, bobcat or fox.  What ensues from here I liken to a combination of a horizontal free-fall on horseback and an abandonment of self-direction to the whims of nature, geography, landscape.  This is primal joy.

Fear evaporates; you are not even cognoscente of your horse.  You flow through the countryside instinctively picking your path based on the sound of the running pack.  On lucky occasions, you are blessed to run amongst the hounds galloping with the coyote in sight ahead of you but never knowing where the next direction may be.  It is not about what you want.  There is nothing under your control.  You are blessed to be a spectator of an ancient play.  The actors are the natural instincts and physicality of the animals and they have been playing out this scene for millennia. The coyote’s superior knowledge of his home area and the hounds drive to follow the scent. I have followed them on circle after circle in one square mile before the coyote ducks back into one of his dens.  I also have followed them on a 14 mile points never making a turn.  When that first hounds speaks, we know not what direction we may go, what duration we may run nor what obstacles we may encounter. We humans are not necessary to the play.   It is this state of flow that motivates the Obsessed / Wholehearted to create the lifestyle that draws others.

When my family decided to move to this region, we chose to live in an area where riding to hounds shared space with other complimentary subcultures that were also important in the lifestyle of the region.  In our hunting country, we coexist with golf, housing, shooting sports, farms, and a small airport.  The combination of all these activities created a diverse engaged community. The branding brings high quality visitors from throughout the United States and Canada.  These visitors bring a large lodging, rental and second home market with them as well as additional business for area retailers and restaurants.  Many of these visitors now consider the region their second home.  There is a diverse authentic lifestyle that creates the culture of the community.

When developing a destination community, having conditions that attract and engage the obsessed and wholehearted will attract the Interested, the Curious and the Casual. Where I say Riding to Hounds, insert your own combination of activities.  Sporting Clays, Golf, Trail Running, Paddling or any flow inducing activity conducive to place. Any activity that authentically fits into the nature of your landscape to create those unique lifestyle opportunities will help you create a more diverse destination community.

Leading the Sporting Communities of the Future – David Twiggs

Image

Community turning walking the puppies into a celebration.

In order to be successful in the future sporting community market you must be good at what you do; authentic, relevant and specific. You don’t need to try and attract hundreds of thousands of people in hopes someone may like your community.  You need only find the people that believe in the vision of your community.  Your tribe. This is easy to do in today interconnected world.  Being a one size fits all will not attract your tribe.  It lacks vision and specificity.  True believers are not generic; they are individuals that have chosen to excel in a chosen passion.  They don’t believe in half measures when it comes to their passion.

 

The wonderful thing about our creating communities is that having a successful product means giving our residents a better quality of life than they would have without us.  Quality of life is the core product. Destination communities, like people, develop a character. To be successful in today’s market you cannot be generic. You must fall within the vernacular of the lifestyle vision.  To attract your tribe; be it equestrian, golf, hunting, fishing or any nature based activity you must have the knowledge and be a serious believer in the lifestyle you advocate. In large communities, you often need a mixture of complementary subcultures to build a healthy diverse community.

 

Many start up communities have been developed over the last 40 years. Part of our leadership responsibility is to help shape their character into a positive and vibrant places. What a potential resident is looking for in a community varies more today than at any time in the past.  Sporting communities have become a authentic options in a world where the transient nature of our careers have moved us many times from the connection to the land we knew and understood in childhood.

 

The lifestyles wanted are varied. The new urbanism, new ruralism, small town life, the mountain, beach or lake lifestyles, tennis, golf, sporting, boat in, fly in, and equestrian are just a few of the amenity rich lifestyles vying for attention in the national market.   While quality of life is impacted by the quality of amenities and maintenance, these things are minimum standards that are easy to benchmark.  Belonging, the key to quality of life, is more intangible but can be equally impacted by our leadership.  Building a sense of community, opportunities for individual growth and support of chosen lifestyles are essential to building quality of life for the residents.  Too often the leadership stops at providing facilities and take little responsibility for belonging and celebrating the differences of our residents.  Building a sense of community is about creating opportunities for individual growth and social interaction.  People want to feel their lives are being well spent not that they are simply being entertained. 

Destination Community Diversity: Sharing Quality of Place

Image

Do you remember the kid who blew the grading curve in class by not making the same mediocre grades as the rest of us?  Now days everyone is blowing the curve.  No one is doing what everyone else is.  I think I would be about the average person based on my demographics.  48 year old white male coming of age in a southern college town in the mid 1980’s.   One generation off the cattle farm, I grew up watching the Beverly Hillbillies, football, and bluegrass music.  You would think I would be right in the middle of the class.

I think I am typical yet why don’t I fit into that old mass marketing mold.  Hardly anyone does anymore.  Twenty years ago you could rely on my cohort to be watching one of 2 things on TV on a Thursday night. There was just not much choice. We listening to the same 2 radio stations and read the same magazines.  You could make a couple of easy advertising investments and put your message in front of most of us.

Today I get the news I am interested in tweeted to me directly from a myriad of online print and video sources.  I don’t watch television in the traditional sense. I buy only the television shows I want and have not seen a traditional commercial since the Superbowl.  There is no channel guide or schedule in my life. I don’t have cable and gladly pay to stream my favorite radio station which is from several states away over my truck stereo. The print material I do faithfully follow; Garden and Gun, Covertside, Urban Land, and Fast Company are so niche specific only those that have an insider position dare to advertise.  There is no middle of the class. No way to get in front of the majority.

We can find our interests so specifically; we have no need to be a generalist.  Seth Godin said there is no longer an American canon of materials that we can reliably expect to be common knowledge.  We have an unlimited supply of media but can laser focus on our interests only and tune out the noise of the advertising machine.

This specificity along with the mobility of Americans means we do not have to live in a generic place and take our chances that we will find our “people.”  Today we can just go on Meet Up and find a group that shares our affinity for eclectic banjo covers of baroque composers or whatever your weird interest may be.  Generic is dead. Average is dead.  Compromising to the least offensive denominator is dead.

In creating a community, you must build the environment for the specific to thrive.  In my experience developing outdoor sporting venues, I have always found that if you create the conditions for the expert, the fanatic, the gear head to flourish, the interested amateurs will flock there.  These are the people that buy the homes, fill the restaurants and create the demand for services.  These folks build community.

It is so easy to find the real.  We can find our authentic people living our favored experiences.  Building a community for the generic average is a failing proposition.  We cannot continue creating simple monocultures but must embrace inter-related layers of complementary subcultures sharing the same natural resource.  It could be a tremendous surf break, a beautiful mountain region, or lake system.  Many subcultures can love a region for many different reasons.  If no one loves a thing, no one will care about it.  Diverse communities are resilient, listen to the investment gurus: diversify.  Embrace individuality and the diverse subcultures that share the same love for quality of place.

If you listen to the investment gurus all we hear is diversification.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Yet many communities for the last 30 years have basically put all their eggs in their golf basket.  Nothing is wrong with the golf basket unless it is your only investment.  Today people want a more holistic experience yet still based on their values of place.

What will attract people to band together in communities in the future, it could any of thousands of  interests that will tie these places together.

It starts with:

Quality of Place:  Is this place beautiful to me?  Does it have the natural resources that support my interests?  Does it have the provisions and third places I need?

Complimentary Sub-Cultures:  What different groups can share the same resources compatibly.   Is it attractive to more than a single monoculture?

Authenticity:  Is the lifestyle real or a construct.  Does it really deliver the potential for personal growth and challenge.

We will explore recreation and sporting subcultures as we continue the conversation.