A community sprouted up outside of Austin, Texas with the goal of bringing people together to help end homelessness. Community First! Village started from a Texan developer trying to help his local community and has now grown into a fully functioning small town. Anyone is welcome to join as long as they pay rent, which is below market rates. Part of the effectiveness of the community is that they provide on-site jobs for tenants; perhaps the most important part of the community is the community itself.
“Before I moved here, I honestly didn’t think my life would have anything other than being a homeless drug addict,” Devore says. He’d lived in an apartment for two brief stints during the years he was homeless and once held a steady job. But old habits were hard to break. “I hung out with the same people. I didn’t know any of my neighbors. I was living the same life, just with shelter,” he says. “Eventually I decided I wanted to get high more than I wanted to pay rent. If nothing changes in someone’s life, when the money runs out, they’re going right back to where they were.”
Like any small town, there’s a lot to do here: You can get your hair cut at the hair salon, take your dog to the dog park, shop at the Community Market, help out at the garden, cook in one of the communal kitchens. The village’s design has been optimized for socialization: There are no backyards, only front porches, adorned with potted plants, patio furniture, and the occasional bike. Without plumbing or running water, the tiny homes are grouped around shared bathroom, shower, and laundry facilities. Residents regularly gather for neighborhood dinners in one of four outdoor kitchens, open 24/7.
I’m in Austin right now attending (and presenting) at the Captivate Conference and this city has come to impress me. While I’m at that conference about digital design there is another conference happening in Austin that readers of this site may enjoy: SXSW Eco. It’s an event focused on making the world a better place!
SXSW Eco is a conference about solutions – solutions that bring new thinking to today’s challenges and inspire meaningful progress towards a sustainable and prosperous future. This year over 250 speakers will participate in more than 100 sessions that encourage cross-sector collaboration between professionals from business, government, academia, and non-profits.
Each day of programming begins with a Morning Wake Up Call, which highlights the trends driving progress in sustainability across multiple industries, and continues with special presentations from the 2013 Keynotes and Distinguished Speakers.
Find out more here.
This may shock you as much as it did me: Austin, Texas may just be the best place in the USA for clean-tech companies. Time Magazine has a good article on how the socially regressive state is forward-looking in the corporate sustainable energy sector. Ironically, or rather appropriately, the same state that brought the world many oil barons is now bringing up a new generation of sustainable energy leaders because the business culture in Texas is used to taking risks on the energy market.
But as politically conservative as Texas tends to be, it’s kept an open mind on renewable energy, which is one reason more wind power has been installed in the state than anywhere else. And within Texas, Austin has always been an outlier: a fairly liberal college town that has managed to marry high tech with hipster culture. Now that’s paying off in the renewable-energy sector, as Austin contends with Silicon Valley as a top clean-tech hub. The city is home to dozens of green start-ups like HelioVolt, many funded by homegrown venture capitalists. Some 15,000 Austin residents are employed in the broader green economy, and the municipal utility, Austin Energy, has pledged to get 35% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Over the past eight years, the number of clean-tech jobs has grown more than twice as fast in the Austin metro area as it has in San Francisco. With its background in information technology, Austin is set to take the lead in one of the most exciting areas in clean tech: the marriage of new energy technology with the Internet. “Austin is already a high-tech city,” says Jose Beceiro, the director of clean energy at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. “Now it’s becoming a clean-tech city.”