Thursday night, November 20, the University of California and the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians hosted a community conversation about the proposed MendoVito settlement. Bill and I attended, and these are my thoughts. For information on the ideas and the site plan you can go to the MendoVito website http://mendovito.com/.
What is it?
A new development concept for creation of a self-contained town of 10,000 people to be located in McDowell Valley, Southeast of Hopland on 423 acres. A “VillageTown.” The brains and energy of it belong to Claude Lewenz, a native of Baltimore.
Before MendoVito could become a reality, 5,000 county voters would have to sign a petition to have it put to a vote either by the county supervisors or by registered voters in the county. The petition would be in support of an initiative to change the general plan and the zoning to permit the MendoVito settlement.
Is it a good idea?
MendoVito would be the first of its kind, a fact important to consider when pondering what it could mean for the county. The concept has been around at least since 2007 when Lewenz published How to Build a Village. In 2010 he presented the idea to an audience in Sonoma County; it did not take hold there. In fact, it has not taken hold anywhere although the concept endures in Lewenz’s worldwide presentations and Amazon sales of his four books.
Interestingly, at least to me, is Lewenz’s early connection to Libby Rouse, wife of Jim Rouse, the developer of the new town Columbia that is located half-way between Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland. By way of comparison, Columbia now has a population of 100,000 people on 32 square miles. (MendoVito would put 10,000 people on 423 acres, 3,000 people per square mile compared to 10,000 people on 6/10ths of a square mile.) According to Lewenz, Libby Rouse told him that many of Lewenz’s ideas were considered but rejected for Columbia because the industry was “too rigid at the time.” Now, we have suburban sprawl 45+ years on, and so the question is put to us, the county voters: Do we want MendoVito in our midst, and if so, what will happen to the rest of us?
I lived in Columbia in the mid-70s, and my daughter lived there for her entire schooling from first grade through high school. She says she realizes now that her experience in a truly economically and racially integrated community was unique. Since then, however, the rest of suburbia has caught up. Integrated suburbs were the issue then. Today, we face the question of how we are to live in the face of climate change and a myriad of social and economic problems. Lewenz offers one answer.
Lewenz is on today’s cutting edge. He would ban cars in the town area; his denizens would live in high-density villages, and work in the same town. Life would be conducted in plazas, not in backyards or rec rooms. Old people would stay in the VillageTown among friends. All manner of activities would be provided in the surrounding green space. A vision of cradle to grave care, all using way fewer resources than are required to maintain life in suburbia and most other places.
Who would pay? Jim Rouse found investors for Columbia at a time when the development industry may have been rigid, but there was enough idealism in 1968 that even hard-nosed financiers were willing to take a chance. As a testament to its success, Columbia is still expanding.
As for MendoVito? Lewenz says that the county would pay nothing, and that the MendoVito would return big bucks to the county treasury in the form of property taxes. Still, a certain amount of capital is required to get it going: One to Two Billion Dollars. To generate this amount, all the houses would be contracted for simultaneously and built within a matter of months. Et voila—the inhabitants, the money, and the housing would all come together and MendoVito would be a reality.
It is true that we need to change the way we live. Can we use Lewenz’s ideas in our existing communities or does their implementation require an entire new town?