Can we meet the increased need for attainable housing while preserving the beautiful landscape that is our most valued resource here in Southern Chester County?
Steve Nygren, award-winning changemaker and founder and CEO of Serenbe, will show how this is possible in his presentation at the next How We Build Matters Speaker Series in Kennett Square on Tuesday, May 17th. You can RSVP here.
Balancing Nature and Community
One sign of the times here in Kennett Square—and in Southern Chester County as a whole—is a “sold” sign. Homes on the market are selling quickly, often for well over asking price. As a result of this seller’s market, growth pressure, and persistent inequities in our communities, attainable and dignified but affordable housing needs are front of mind for municipalities and for nonprofit organizations working with underserved people. No one who would like an adult child or an ageing parent to be able to afford to live nearby, or who knows a family that can’t find housing, or professionals who can’t afford to live in the community where they work, would argue. More housing, and more housing options at different price points, are needed.
But most people also feel a slight rise in their blood pressure when they see a yellow planning application sign—a sense of dread rooted in the foregone conclusion that what is being proposed will be more of the same soulless structures that will destroy even more of the landscape.
Feeling similar tensions over 20 years ago in the Chattahoochee Hill Country outside Atlanta, Steve Nygren set out to save his own backyard—and to prove that balancing nature and community is possible. The result of his vision, hard work, and perseverance is Serenbe—an award-winning, sustainable urban village in the middle of preserved woodlands that is home to over 700 people from all walks of life and from all generations.
A Development that Houses More People and Preserves 70% of the Landscape
While suburban development patterns today disturb at least 80% of a parcel of land, Serenbe consists of walkable clusters of homes, shops, businesses, and artists’ studios that house more people but disturbed only 30% of the landscape so the rest could be permanently preserved as publicly accessible open space.
Nygren created the Serenbe community as a model to demonstrate that preserving 70% of green space interlaced with agriculture, housing, and retail is not only economically viable but the future of community wellbeing. Serenbe’s distinct and beautiful hamlets, modeled on traditional English and European villages, are set within 1,200 acres of preserved forest with a 25-acre organic farm and connected by miles of nature trails.
In his presentation in Kennett Square on May 17th, Nygren will share his story—the vision he and his family had to create a community and protect the land in the early days of the environmental movement; the struggles he encountered and overcame to be allowed to build with nature instead of destroying the landscape; and the lessons he learned as he created a community that is better both for people and for nature. “It wasn’t complicated, but it wasn’t being done,” he says.
Nygren describes the feeling of being at Serenbe, which is on the outskirts of metropolitan Atlanta, as being “in the middle of nowhere on the edge of everywhere.” Over the years of building and living in the Serenbe community, Nygren has seen the central role that the built environment can play in living a healthy lifestyle. One of Nygren’s hopes is that history will look at Serenbe as part of a movement that helped return development to responsible uses of resources in a balanced way.
A Commonsense Approach to Development—A Way Forward for Southern Chester County?
“While we know an anti-growth sentiment is incompatible with the pressing needs of our community, we’re justifiably frightened of the kind of development that does more harm than good. Instead of spending untold resources fighting the kinds of developments that destroy our landscape, we’re asking people to pause and consider how thoughtful development could both preserve and enhance the way of life and sense of place we treasure here in the Brandywine Valley,” says Kennett Collaborative Executive Director Bo Wright. “Conservation and development don’t have to be in opposition to one another if the places we build are thoughtfully designed. Southern Chester County rightly prides itself on being forward-thinking and conscientious, and supporting this commonsense approach to development could put us on the map as a leader in thoughtful development and land preservation.”
“At this event on May 17th we have a chance to learn from someone who has created something remarkable and world-class, and who has fought through the many challenges—from zoning to utilities, engineering, and infrastructure—to maintain sustainability and build a beautiful and quality place,” Wright says.
“Nygren believes that our places should fill us with a sense of awe,” says Wright. “And they should. The number-one question community members ask about a proposed development at zoning hearings and planning commission meetings is, ‘What will it look like?’ Often officials can’t answer that question. But it’s important. Beauty, quality, and human scale are all central to our sense of place. We’ve been led to believe that we have to settle for developments that don’t fit any of these criteria. But thoughtful development is possible, and Serenbe is just one example we can learn from. We only need to look around Kennett Square to know that we were able to build beautiful places 100 years ago—and we can build beautiful places once again.”
Kennett Collaborative’s How We Build Matters Speaker Series event with Steve Nygren will take place on Tuesday, May 17th, at 6pm at the Presbyterian Church of Kennett Square (211 South Broad Street, Kennett Square). All events are live-streamed, recorded, and interpreted live in Spanish. You can RSVP here.
Kennett Collaborative helps make Kennett thrive. We intentionally create programs and events that help Kennett become a more beautiful and welcoming community where all can belong and prosper.