Monday, May 5, 2008

The Pod People

The second stop on my bike tour of UC Davis took us to a secluded corner of campus where the patchouli is flowing freely, but so is the good will. It is another of the housing cooperatives on campus made up of undergrads and graduate students, and it made me think of one of my favorite quotes from The Know it All, by AJ Jacobs. "My favorite reform movement leader is a Frenchman named Fourier, whom this Britannica entry matter-of-factly describes as "more than a little mad." In Fourier's utopian vision, humans would live in cooperative groups called "phalanges," where they would "cultivate cabbages in the morning and sing opera in the evening...Love and passion would bind men together in a noncoercive order."

Sort of a cross between Tatooine and the Shire

Well, these students are not cultivating cabbages or singing opera, but they are living cooperatively in cement domes, which are meant to maximize space and energy efficiency. Each 2 level "pod" houses 2-3 people. The benefits of living in this type of community abound; while the students are still living in campus housing, they take turns sharing meal duties (there are communal outdoor dinners most nights), they all have space to garden, a few of them run an on-site (or should I say on-commune?) bike salvage and repair shop, and everyone gets around by riding a bike. Of course, this favorite local mode of transportation uses no fossil fuels. In short, compared to most co-eds, their footprint is miniscule.

Pod people are kind and handy, but unused to our surface dwelling ways

Because the pod folks' gatherings can get a little cold in the winter, they are in the process of building a community yurt that will be heated completely by solar panels made from salvaged materials. It is a community project as are most here, and on the day we visited, we ran into a graduate student who was doing a few repairs to his home using tools from the communal tool shed. I'm not sure how it all works - I am type A after all and was scanning the area for schedules - but everything seemed to be running peacefully, and there were a lot fewer empty beer bottles than one saw in my college dorm.
New take on an old Mongol idea - The Solar Yurt

Just like at home, the ball pein hammer's missing

While this type of living may not appeal to everyone, as a twenty-something it is idyllic, educational, low impact, and even cheaper than the regular dorms. More importantly, it provides a model for innovation, creativity, and communal good cheer that arises from committing to a shared a goal.

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