The Neighborhood for Families

This is a product brief exploring a possible path for Cabin in Fall 23.

TL;DR - a place to raise kids near friends

  1. Background
  2. Problem space
  3. Location
  4. Product
  5. Phases

Background

Projects like The Neighborhood in SF, Radish in Oakland, and Fractal in NYC are demonstrating a successful model for co-housing: put out a bat signal for a small, walkable area of an existing built environment and get good people to move there. This allows people to build a network of nearby friends without needing to build a new place from scratch.

It’s a great fit for people who want to colive in major urban areas, but when people have kids, they often radically reprioritize their lives around places where they can:

  1. get their kids a good education
  2. be around other caregivers
  3. have a bigger house
  4. have safe places to play outside

This is how the suburbs were born. But suburbs designed around cars and single family homes of strangers are isolating. What would it look like to apply the lessons from The Neighborhood to family living? Could we create the schelling points that would allow us to build a new type of Suburbs for Elder Millennials?

See @Phil Levin’s initial docs that inspired a lot of this content here and here

Problem space

  • Core pain point for target users: 10/10
    • “Where to raise your kids” is the single most important question for young families
  • 10x better than alternatives: 5/10
    • Living near friends is a huge quality of life improvement, particularly for parents, but people don’t want to leave where they already are
  • Share of wallet: 10/10
    • Homes & education are the most expensive things most people buy
  • Feasibility of execution: 3/10
    • Getting people to move their families is a very hard coordination problem
    • Requires large capital allocations for real estate (institutional and/or customer)
    • 3rd space & school require additional operating layers
    • Using existing town infra and social networks to start makes this much easier

Location

Requirements

  1. Quantitative
    1. Housing cost: $500 - $750 / square foot
    2. Walkability: 600+ houses / 0.5 mile radius = 2k people / sq mi
    3. Housing availability: 50+ homes sold per year
    4. Great schools score: 7+/10
  2. Qualitative
    1. Access to nature
    2. Access to airports
    3. Access to hospital
    4. Palatable politics
    5. Positive brand

Possible locations

  1. California
    1. Alameda
    2. North Berkeley
  2. Colorado
    1. Salida
    2. Golden
    3. Boulder
    4. Longmont
    5. Louisville
    6. Grand Junction
    7. Durango
  3. Other areas
    1. Asheville, NC
    2. Austin, TX
    3. Bozeman, MT
    4. Madison, WI
    5. Portland, OR
    6. Minneapolis, MN
    7. Santa Fe, NM
    8. Boise, ID
    9. Salt Lake City, UT
    10. Chattanooga, TN
    11. Greenville, SC
    12. Black Mountain, NC
    13. Northern Virginia

Product

To get families to move, you need to make sure they have three things:

  1. Housing

    1. Option 1. Become a realtor, make 3% commission representing buyers.
    2. Option 2. Opportunistically acquire below-market real estate for future residents, add density (ADUs, etc), possibly serve as a property manager and/or benevolent HOA with some degree of collective ownership.
  2. Education

    1. Microschool
      1. Requirements
        1. 10-30 students (5-20 families)
        2. Walkable from housing (<1/2 mile)
        3. Cheaper than average private school ($10k / kid?)
        4. Better education than public school
        5. Start with elementary (pre-K to 5th grade)
      2. Pedagogy
        1. Single classroom across ages. Encourage cross-age teaching/learning
        2. Evidence based curriculum
        3. Self-guided exploration
        4. AI tutor enabled
        5. Learn by doing rather than learn a subject in abstract
        6. Lots of outside/nature time
      3. Business model
        1. Use the third space
        2. One full time teacher + parent help
        3. Also offer childcare for pre-K and after school
        4. Probably run at break even or a small profit
    2. Good public school options
      1. Maybe not strictly necessary if you’re doing a micro school, but you still want options and for the rest of the surrounding community to be educated
  3. Third space

    1. A place to co-work, a place to host a dinner party, a place to stop for morning coffee, a place to work out, a place to host events. The commons will be the beating heart of the neighborhood, its town hall. Convert an extra house or existing commercial space. Maybe try to strike a development deal with the local Chamber of Commerce for creating this.
    2. Amenities
      1. Shared kitchen and dining room
      2. Coworking space
      3. Gym
      4. Guest rooms for visitors
      5. Daycare
      6. Hot tub/sauna/fire pit
      7. Workshop/art studio/makerspace
    3. Business model
      1. Charge a monthly membership fee for access. Open it up to the broader community.

Phases

  1. 0-1: The First Project
    1. Pick an ideal place
    2. Try to get 10 commitments to move from our existing social network
    3. Co-buy a 3rd space & set up a micro-school
    4. Buy houses & move
  2. 1-10: Building a repeatable model
    1. Create a dating app for families, IRL events to build deeper relationships, commitment-to-move signaling for specific places
    2. When there are 20 commitments to move with deposits, green light a project
    3. Set up the 3rd space & micro-school and partner with companies like Synthesis to offer online education access to all members
    4. Help people complete real estate transactions
  3. 10+: Taking on bigger development projects
    1. Once we’ve done enough of these using existing infrastructure, we could start doing ground-up developments if we want a higher risk / reward option that can be more customized to the needs of these communities
3 Likes

Selfishly, I’m excited about all this but would vote to consider New England. I think some areas in our greater Boston MA area or where my extended family is in the greater Portland ME areas may meet a lot of your criteria. Your housing price per square foot seems pretty high – maybe not compared to San Francisco but compared across the country…?

  • Arlington MA (where we live with our kids) - we paid $363/sq ft and median is listed as 554/sq ft per redfin (median sale price 1.1M). I can bike commute (or take the T) to downtown Boston; Arlington itself has a great culture not typical of suburbs
  • Portland ME median 361/sq ft and sale price 610K and a very nice small city
  • Brunswick ME 1/hr north of Portland college town which usually has a nice vibe imho. 270/sq ft; 490K median sale price, has a cute downtown.

For me also, I’m interested in switching toward rural/farm living. Currently I can walk to shops but I feel if I could walk to the coliving neighbors and a third space I’d prefer that the next most accessible thing beyond that be nature and arable land – the restaurants, theaters and airports can be further. I think a ~homestead (community-stead?) would be a great place to raise kids and to grow resiliency. I don’t think we’re likely to find a farm and a downtown all walkable as cool as that would be. The rural/urban divide of preferences might split up folks interested in this general coliving direction into different iterations of this?

Thank you for sharing your vision it is exciting!
Diana

3 Likes

I also agree, having a bit of space for a garden (and maybe some chickens/rabbits?) trumps restaurants and airports for me too.

Having a deliberate, well-utilized commons sounds like a potentially incredible win that answers a lot of the remaining needs.

2 Likes

We’ve gotten several recs for New England, especially from @grin who is interested in doing a village near Boston—you two should connect! My wife @lauren is also from the Boston area.

Yes, those are some great housing prices compared to SF our baseline of San Francisco. One of the key factors to make this work is finding places affordable enough for people to move to, so it’s great to see some good choices in the $300-500 / sq ft range.

I hear you on the rural/farm living—this is also what I want & am building at Neighborhood Zero outside of Austin, TX. But for many people, being walking distance from a town center seems important. We wrote about some of the tradeoffs between existing towns and bottom-up development in The Neighborhood for Families, and I think both types of villages will make sense in the Cabin network.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feedback here!

1 Like

Yes, I agree! Definitely harder to do ground up developments in more rural areas, but it’s what we’re building at Neighborhood Zero outside of Austin.

Too funny, that’s my husband. Should’ve started in the “introductions” area my apologies. Look forward to meeting you eventually Jon.

4 Likes

:joy: my bad — Diana, yes, of course, I’ve heard all about you from @grin! Looking forward to meeting you as well : )

2 Likes

The text was missing some context for me. I’m understanding that you are testing to create a new type of suburb for families that aren’t like the US suburbs.

I’m wondering if areas outside of the US are also considered? I’m specifically thinking about Europe. Within Europe I see the following opportunities

Ireland
Small country but also not densely populated areas. A lot of rural towns are getting empty, meaning free houses and land. This problem (empty houses) is even worse on the islands. However, not all locals on the islands are open for “blow-ins”.
Grow Remote would be an organization that we could tap in for contacts, or the Western Development Corridor. It would be important that people come with jobs. Major roadblock would be stable internet in rural areas.

Souther Europe: From Portugal to Greece
I’m mostly familiar with Spain. And here mostly the Canarian Island. It’s a “remote worker paradise” especially in the Winter. This isn’t super-conductive to building a community, but it could be a model with a all-year-round-core, and a number of periphery families that come every winter (October - March). I was thinking about southern Europe given it’s lower living costs.

Regarding education, there is the School of Humanity who been teaching teenagers online and offline. This might be another option for kids.

3 Likes

Yes, we hope to build these villages all over the world! Thanks for the tips on Ireland and Southern Europe. There are Cabin community members building in Portugal, France, Italy, etc. Lots of incredible properties available in Europe, from towns or castles.