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: http://www.ic.org/
The Cohousing Association of the United States: http://www.cohousing.org/
List of 10 reasons to live in cohousing: http://www.touchstonecohousing.org/why-live-in-cohousing
Elder Cohousing: http://abrahampaiss.com/ElderCohousing/eldercommunities.htm
National Cohousing Conference in Oakland, California, June 13-17. http://www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventID=1050568