The Lotus Mission is a great idea looking for a home. That great idea is to create an assisted living facility for people with autism which allows their clients to engage in meaningful work while integrated in a meaningful way into the surrounding community. The integration occurs by sharing many of the facility’s servics with the community so that the clients and their neighbors interact regularly in a natural way. This prototype design is meant to guide the search for a site.
To be sustainable, customers for the facility’s goods and services should be located nearby; ideally within walking distance. The Lotus Mission’s clients will live within walking distance to their workplaces as well. This means The Lotus Mission must either locate adjacent to compact, mixed-use, walkable urbanism or create a community large enough to support their clients’ work. Community types, from most detached to most attached, are as follows:
A village in the countryside should be designed to be self-sustaining, as dependance on customers commuting to buy the clients’ goods and services is not sustainable. Because this model is largest (up to 300 acres or maybe more) it has the greatest potential income from real estate sales. But because it may contain 2,000 units or more, it may take years to reach critical mass and is therefore the least likely viable model.
Prince Charles’ Poundbury is the classic urban extension to an existing village, and has the twin benefits of nearby customers from the very beginning and the ability to start with the lowest infrastructure and building investment, making it the most likely type for the first Lotus Mission. This model is the one used in this example, which bolsters its standing in the existing village by preserving open space around or near the village.
A substantial assisted living facility, whether designed for autistic clients, elderly clients, or both, can turn many of its common uses outward and serve the larger community. New Urbanist town centers may otherwise be built years or decades later, so Town Founders are motivated to make the deal work. This is the second most likely type, and doesn’t rank first primarily because it works best with a larger initial investment than the village extension.
The Lotus Mission in a highly urban location might occupy as little as a block or two in a vibrant walkable place (with many potential customers nearby), but requires the largest initial investment because buildings are 3-5 stories with greenhouses on the roof to provide the same farm-to-table experience as the other models.
The village extension model should attach to an existing village that is large enough to have a significant customer base for the goods and services the Lotus Mission will produce, but small enough that the distance from the village center to the edge of the Lotus Mission site is no more than about 3 blocks. The village should have surrounding land that can be developed by right (the yellow area) and the road leaving the village should break shortly after entering the countryside.
In this scheme, the Lotus Mission would buy all of the developable land around the village and donate the majority of it (dark green) to a land trust or land bank. Effectively, this is a voluntary transfer of development rights. While not strictly necessary because the land is developable, this approach may have significant financial benefits, and it may create goodwill in the village because it forever preserves most of the village’s views into the countryside. The Lotus Mission site is shown in light green; the yellow-green space south of the site should be acquired as agricultural land for the Lotus Mission’s farm-to-table activities.
The five phases below illustrate growth of the infrastructure. Within each phase are three sub-phases where buildings and other elements are added within the infrastructure of that phase.
The first phase of infrastructure converts the bend in the road at the edge of town into the framework of Lotus Square. From the beginning, infrastructure should be given meaningful names. Because the client who commissioned this work named it the Lotus Mission, the natural name for the square is Lotus Square, not the often-overused "Town Square," as the actual town square is three blocks away in the existing town.
The first phase begins very small, with just a barn and four buildings around the Lotus Square. The buildings house residents upstairs, and a sandwich shop and the Lotus Mission office downstairs. The largest investment is building the square. The turn in the road allows the barn to be built on axis with Main Street, making the Lotus Quarter visible from the center of town from the very beginning.
This phase adds live/work units on the square. These are 14’ wide wood frame buildings designed to be moved later, when Lotus Square is rebuilt with masonry buildings like those further up Main Street in the village. This phase introduces a new building type: the far-right building in the image below is a carriage house, which is an apartment over a garage. In this case, it’s a two-story apartment (one full story and bedrooms in the dormers above).
This phase adds more live/work units on the square. By now, the shops probably include a coffee shop, a tiny grocery, a general store, and a kitchen or two that make some of the early food products (jams or jellies, hot sauces, etc.) Because no more than a third of the residents may be people with autism, the Lotus Quarter will also house care-givers, shop-owners, and farm-workers from the very beginning.
The infrastructure of Phase 2 is very modest, confined mostly to a few streets and rear lanes around Lotus Square plus infrastructure for the Farmers Market at the edge of town. Modest infrastructure in early phases helps assure a positive ROI (return on investment) earlier in the build-out process.
The Phase 2 infrastructure expansion extends Center Street east off the square to connect into the village. The largest building built at this time is the Manor House, which houses a number of Lotus Mission clients. The Lotus Mission administrative office moves to the Manor House, which is its longterm destination. The Manor House looks exactly like a large mansion, not an institutional building.
This phase adds the farmer’s market where the country road enters the village, fostering the sale of Lotus Farm’s growing list of produce. This phase also sees construction of the first two masonry Main Street buildings, which begin at the edge of the existing village so the village has a finished edge early. And because the Manor House is located on axis with Main Street, it replaces the barn as the view at the end of Main Street.
The first block of Main Street buildings are complete at this time. These house shops on the street level and residents above. They are shown as two-story buildings, but could be built taller if demand is unexpectedly strong. Because the backs of Main Street buildings are typically messy, they are enclosed with garden walls anchored by carriage houses at the corners.
Phase 3’s infrastructure expansion is a rear lane and street extensions which will serve the homes on the existing street at the edge of the village. The goal is to always make the best use of existing infrastructure before building more and finish the town edge early so that existing townspeople don't have to look into a construction site for years.
The houses built along the edge of the village should be similar in type and character to the ones they face so that the Lotus Quarter blends smoothly with the existing village. Nothing should feel institutional.
Work at this point is concentrated in two places: building more houses along the street at the edge of the village, and building more Main Street buildings on the square. Building out the village edge as soon as possible is not just a good use of infrastructure; it also creates a finished edge, shielding village residents from the inevitable messiness of all future construction that will eventually take place.
Homes along the edge of the village are complete at this point, as are the live/work units on the first half of the square. This is one of several points at which the Lotus Quarter could be considered complete. This means that the scope of the project can be adjusted at several milestones along the way according to demand for goods and services and also financial considerations.
This is the first major infrastructure investment since the square was built, extending Center Street west from the square. By this point, the previous phases should be producing substantial revenue to support this new infrastructure.
The first half-block of Center Street off the square is populated with brick townhouses. Beyond that are the original wood frame live/work units that have been moved off the square and repurposed as residential cottages to make room for the completion of the square with attached brick live/work buildings like those on Main Street.
Construction continues west along Center Street, mostly with smaller cottages. Greater density is appropriate here for three reasons: Facing the existing village with many small units might create resistance from longtime resident. And the Lotus Quarter’s view lots on the other side naturally will be populated with larger homes. Also, having a lot of residents on Center Street puts them within easy walking distance of businesses on the square.
Center Street is built out all the way to Park Avenue at this point. Although Lotus Mission operations continue to grow, there are now more cottages, townhouses, live/work apartments, carriage houses, mews, and single-family houses than needed for all the clients, caregivers, employees, and administrators. The first outside market to tap should be families of clients; the Lotus Quarter should be so good that they want to move here.
This last infrastructure expansion completes Lotus Farm Drive along the edge of the neighborhood and extends cross streets to the edge, including Park Avenue, which now connects the original village park with a large farm-to-table restaurant that actually sits in a corner of the farm. Back-loading most of the infrastructure means that these investments only occur once the Lotus Quarter is large and thriving.
The new infrastructure allows construction of the first houses along the cross streets leading to the farm, and the large restaurant embedded in the edge of the farm at the end of Park Avenue.
More homes are built along the cross-streets to the farm, leaving the most valuable lots with long views for last, when they command the highest price. The civic building at the end of Center Street is built at this point. It is shown here as a town hall, but it could also be a wedding chapel or even a neighborhood church building. Whatever use it houses, it should definitely be designed to be a beautiful view at the end of the street.
The Lotus Quarter is fully built out now, with the last farm-facing homes, the last live/work building at the end of the square, and the tiny Cottage Square next to the Manor House. All along the way, it has always been indistinguishable from the village it is expanding; always a neighborhood, never an institution. And always a place for the clients who are the heart of the mission of the Lotus Mission to work and live in a classic American neighborhood.
There are so many Lotus Quarter stories to tell… too many, in fact, for this page. But what follows are a few of the details that haven’t already been discussed.
This tiny group of cottages beside the Manor House is intended for clients with a different levels of needs that allows them to live more independently. Each cottage has its own walled garden, which in turn opens into a larger common courtyard at the center. Interestingly, these cottages began as Katrina Cottages in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The largest houses are often built on lots with the longest views, so it is natural to build a row of mansions along the big sweep of Lotus Farm Drive. And while they are indistinguishable from single-family mansions from the outside, these are actually mansion apartments, each housing several clients, caregivers, and other residents.
Lotus Quarter streets are designed to slow traffic so that residents walking the neighborhood are safer. On-street parking is encouraged, but the Lotus Quarter is so walkable and has such a mix of uses that you don’t need a car if you live and work there. There are sidewalks everywhere, designed so that walking trumps driving. Everywhere they cross, there are “speed tables” that raise the roadway to the level of the sidewalk. This has several benefits: A speed table is in effect a huge speed-bump because you drive up 6 inches going into the intersection and down 6 inches on the other side. Walking across a speed table intersection is easy because you go straight across at sidewalk level and don’t need a curb cut if you’re in a wheelchair. Also, the speed table is paved with concrete so the material color changes, making the intersection more visible to drivers.
Most Lotus Quarter homes have their own garages, and if you look closely at the images of successive phases, you’ll see that the garages which are detached are often shown being built after the houses. This exemplifies the “build only what you really need right now” approach that creates less front-end burden with Lotus Mission infrastructure.
But back to the garages… occasionally, there is a cluster of really tiny cottages like the ones in the upper-left of this image. Providing freestanding garages for each of them would require more land than the cottages themselves, so when this happens, there is instead a shared garage with apartments above like the four-car garage shown here.
Farm-to-table jobs are central to the Lotus Mission’s work strategy because their clients often excel at both farming and food service tasks. Because food is central, the farm buildings and farmer’s market are located prominently in very visible locations. Food will travel from the farm to the table in several ways:
The farmer’s market is obvious. Initially run on weekends, it may also be open during the week once production ramps up. Carts of produce would be backed into the stalls where two or three Lotus Mission clients manage sales.
The farm will run a CSA. The pickup would ideally be on Friday evening on the square, giving CSA customers an opportunity to shop for other things or have dinner at one of the restaurants after picking up their produce.
Produce from the farm will get processed into several food products. These could be anything from the jellies, jams, or hot sauces mentioned earlier to bread, canned fruits and vegetables, or almost anything else that can be processed in a relatively simple kitchen at small scale. Ideally, these food products should have some connection to the place so there’s an interesting story to tell. In any case, the food products should foster a number of cottage industries run in the buildings around Lotus Square.
The fourth path from food to table is the restaurants...
This is the big fine dining establishment sitting in the corner of Lotus Farm at the end of Park Avenue. There likely will be one more fine dining place in a more urban setting on Lotus Square. But because Lotus Mission clients do so well in food service settings, there likely will be several more. As noted earlier, the sandwich shop would be the first place to eat, followed closely by the coffee shop. Other candidates would be a pizza parlor, a bakery, and specialty cuisines of any ethnicity for which there is a viable market in the region.
The one common thread running through all of these eateries is the farm-to-table local food story. Normally, farm-to-table is advocated by single restaurants, but when it’s a strong theme of an entire community, there’s a good chance that people may come from miles around to eat in the Lotus Quarter.
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