Creating an Intentional Village

As I mentioned in a previous post, many of us do not have a ‘village’.  We are alone, isolated, cut-off from meaningful relationships outside of our own family.  Enough people feel this way that some of them are intentionally creating the village that they are missing.  They are cohousing.  Cohousing isn’t living with a college roommate, or moving back in with your parents after college. You might think of it as the commune of the 1960s reinvented and presumably with less sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Cohousing is an intentional community – people living in their own homes but agreeing to share certain areas like open space, courtyards, playgrounds and a common house, and participating in shared events such as weekly communal meals or planting a common garden.  A movement that began in Denmark in the 1980s as community living, cohousing has become popular throughout Europe and the United States.  Communities can range in size from just a few families to more than 60 residences.  Some cohousing communities share a philosophical point of view – for instance a green sustainable living or family centered lifestyle – and all embrace the notion of ‘it takes a village’.

According to the cohousing directory, there are over 200 cohousing communities forming or in use in the United States.  California leads the nation with 51 cohousing communities, followed by Washington with 21.  While largely a coastal movement, cohousing communities are also popular in the mountain region and are sprinkled throughout the Midwest and southern states.

The largest cohousing community, with 67 townhomes on a 20-acre site, East Lake Commons is located five miles from downtown Atlanta, Georgia.  Managed with consensus decision making, the community values “sustainability, visitability, diversity, affordability and community”.  In addition to the homes they have a 4500-sq-ft common house with classroom, office, playroom, media room, woodworking room, workout room, and guest rooms.  Other shared areas include a playing field, playground, an organic vegetable garden, beehives, woodland, blueberry groves and a pond.  Members have independent finances but pay HOA dues to maintain common areas and may subscribe to the CSA (community supported agriculture) to share in the garden produce and fresh honey.

One of the smallest cohousing communities in the U.S. is Tamarack Knoll, located 8 miles west of Fairbanks, Alaska.  Although situated on 90 acres of wilderness land, Tamarack Knoll has only 6 housing units occupied by 9 adults and 4 children.  The residents share evening meals and a water source (for showers, laundry and the communal kitchen) in the common area.  They are active in environmental organizations, conservation, and wilderness preservation and enjoy outdoor activities. They aren’t accepting additional members, proving that some people are happier with a village the size of an extended family.

Another sort of cohousing communities is elder cohousing.  These communities are similar to retirement communities in that they are generally geared towards active older adults without children, not families or seniors requiring in-home nursing or caretaking.  However, the residents of the Elder Spirit community in Abingdon, Virginia focus on “late life spirituality and mutual support” and do include hospice care in their community ideals. Community members contribute 4 hours of mutual support to each other or the community of Abingdon at large and enjoy activities such as music, dance, theater, storytelling, gardening, crafts, weaving and retreats as part of their spiritual growth.  There are 29 homes, a common house and a spirit house on a 3.7 acre site.

Whether large or small, urban or rural, these communities have certain things in common.  People join to practice the ideals of participation, cooperation, sharing, and knowing one’s neighbors.  As Ann Zabaldo resident of Takoma Village and partner in the cohousing collaborative says, “People come to cohousing because they want connectedness. They want to come into the community and have somebody know what their name is. I don’t want to be a stranger in the place that I live. ”

In an article about life in Greyrock Commons, located in Fort Collins, Colorado, resident Katharine Gregory tells how the members help each other and share resources and about how they ‘muddle through’ and resolve differences.  She says she and her husband wanted to join a cohousing community because they intended to have only one child, and they wanted that child to have close friends.

“One of the first warm evenings this past spring, I stood in my doorway marveling at the sight of kids, kids, kids (including my now nine-year-old daughter) running around together on the common green. There are currently thirty-seven kids between the ages of two and eighteen and the summertime ritual of playing there together until after dark had begun. This time it was a beloved game of Capture the Flag and I counted twenty-five children, ages two to fifteen, playing it together, the older ones helping the youngest.”

Sounds like my kind of village!  If it sounds like your kind of village too but you are unsure about how to join, or create that village, I’ve listed cohousing internet resources at the end of this post.  You don’t have to buy a large plot of land and start building straw bale homes.  You don’t need to be a new ager or into beekeeping and organic gardening.  You don’t have to give up your privacy or share your home with strangers.  Many of the new cohousing communities are created by retrofitting neighborhoods, starting small, just a few homes at a time and growing from there. Check out the directory and see if there’s a cohousing community in your area – most are happy to welcome visitors with advance notice and any number are looking for additional people to join.  If you don’t want to move, perhaps just talking to your neighbors about the benefits of cohousing will spark a movement in your neighborhood. If nothing else you’ll get to know them better!


Cohousing Internet Resources – each with a wealth of additional links:

Intentional Communities:

The Cohousing Association of the United States:

List of 10 reasons to live in cohousing:

Elder Cohousing:

National Cohousing Conference in Oakland, California, June 13-17.

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6 Responses to Creating an Intentional Village

  1. Jeannette says:

    CS, you are correct it is always darkest before the dawn, I can see your sadness and seems to be well earned, I too have lived through much sadness including loosing my son 2 years ago to depression. To date I still can’t find a piece of me that wants to be happy,, I play the game but inside its a mess. I have picked up and started over many times, I refuse to give up, sometimes going through the dark room is needed to find the light switch. I let God be my guide, yes He too allows for sadness so that we reach out for him. He doesn’t cause it, but he does allow it. My hope is that my children and their children learn and find a better life. That will be my contentment.
    He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2

    I have to believe and have faith that my future may not be on this earth but in whatever God has for me, God gives us peace and rest inspite of our storms.

  2. Lynn says:

    I love this idea! Maybe something to look forward to in my old age, after all! I like the idea of having my own little space where I can shut the door if I need some quiet, but also space with other people to enjoy and learn from.
    Of course what I’d need now is one that caters to senior citizen parents with young children.

  3. cs says:

    So maybe I have swallowed a bitter pill of life it certainly wasn’t my deliberate choice. In other words, those who buy into the ‘Oneness’, ‘Karma’ and ‘I drew the negative energy’ theories. I had nothing to do with my father’s fatal heart attack causing him to fall down basement steps to bleed out, nothing to do with the crack head who stabbed my sister to death 3 states away from me and nothing to do with an industry that allows crotch rockets to be driven as street bikes that would take my youngest on a narrow tree-lined road. So, maybe I see life through a dusty lens – but as gas as risen to $4.00 a gallon now in my area which is a .75cent increase in two days; a Postal Processing plant closing in 90 days which will add 300 MORE people to the thousands out of work in my area; as I contemplate how to begin to dismantle a life I spent 55 years building all because of NOTHING I had anything to do with – I didn’t buy one of those pay onle the interest homes; I don’t live in 3,000 square feet; it’s what many called in the 70’s the ‘starter home’. Yep, at 55 and still in my starter home. So you would think there would be nowhere to go but up, right? Even WorldCom and Enron didn’t do this to the nation. Even the 1980’s Savings & Loan disaster didn’t do this to the nation. Even when the Hunt Brothers (who lived just miles from me) who cornered the silver market, didn’t do this to the nation. No, there is something much, much bigger happening here. We will be going to cohousing but it won’t be under the pretense of enjoying the rain barrels and planting gardens. Call me bitter. I have a dusty lens, I also call it like I see it. It’s getting darker in this nation, much darker. The good news is it is said it’s always the darkest just before daybreak. May the sun rise soon over this great nation and the hardworking, honest people who still live here.

    • Lynn says:

      cs, at only 55 you still have a lot of years ahead. You have had more than your share of tragedies. I hope you can heal and consider the kind of life you want to have, and build it.

    • Cs, do you live in Ohio? You just described my town in your post and I wonder if we are neighbors. I’m sorry for all the tragedy you have gone through. Life really isn’t fair sometimes. 🙁

  4. Kelly says:

    Another possibility is – it’s sort of a matchmaker service for single moms to find single mom roommates. Obviously, it can take a while to find a good fit, but for single moms one of the biggest blessings is knowing that another adult is in the home, ready to help on occasion. The chores can be split, car drop offs are easier to arrange with two cars and two drivers – it’s a lighter load, even with more kids.

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