Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What is cohousing anyways?

So what is Cohousing anyways?

Good Question. Cohousing is kind of a funny word isn't it? I thought so the first time I heard it. I knew what I was looking for, but had written off this funny term "cohousing" as perhaps being too extreme for me. Images of communes and sharing my paycheque stopped me from checking it out.

What I wanted?

When I was twenty, a group of us in University dreamed about buying an old three story walk up apartment in the down town area. Our thought was that we'd each get our own unit on one of the upper levels, and then all of the lower level suites would be reconfigured into a large common area. The idea back then was to have a big pool table, BIG screen TV, craft and study space, a little bar (it was University after all) and a nice kitchen for preparing one big meal together instead of 20 lonely ones. We all wanted to have more private space than being room mates allowed, but none of us really wanted to live alone. This seemed to be the perfect fit.

Years Later

Needless to say as a bunch of twenty-year old students we were limited to dreaming by our extreme lack of funds. Years later, with three kids and a husband, I found myself eating one of 70,000 lonely suppers in the little town we were in demanding more out of my life. In the end I found cohousing.

Cohousing is a resident designed community that balances private ownership and thriving public spaces. Most include a resident designed "common house" with features they as a community decide they will make the most use of. Most have a community hall feel with guest room space and an awesome children's play area. It is through the process of building the community together that what would be just neighbours next door become well known friends. It is through thoughtful design that the buildings support both the private family time and ongoing, enriched connection within the surrounding neighbourhood. One thing is certain. While we all will bump into pockets of community throughout our lives (hockey teams, the five years you lived in that great cul de sac, a good book club that you used to find time for), a really tightly knit community is something you have to plan for and commit to.

Things we've done to support community and private life:

-Front porches allow people to sit and visit where people walk by. They are an excellent community building tool. (When not overshadowed by a giant garage!) Back porches and small private yards give you a place to sit without the whole community showing up to join you.

-Parking near the Common house instead of in a private driveway means you have to walk past the "Hub" before going home. This might mean you'll get roped into a fun project later on in the evening, or at least say hi a few times on your way home. The "Hub" gives people a place to be when they want to be around people, so your private home does little to no large group entertaining. Perhaps a pot of tea shared with a good friend, or dinner with visitors from afar, but there is no need to have 12 neighbours in your home at a time.

-Kitchen Windows facing the front of the home allows people to see people passing when their up and about. No one feels like popping their head out to chat half way through a good TV show. We put the living rooms near the back.

- Gardens all placed together help bring people together over a common passion. It also makes it easier to get garden-sitting services while you're away camping.

-A great shared indoor and outdoor play space gives kids and cooped up moms an easy place to pop out and find other kids to play with. Gone are the days of planning and driving for a playdate, though you'll always have friends in the rest of the city you'll still have to plan and drive to see.

Our Cohousing Projects are designed by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett who will one day be known as the parents of cohousing in North America. Together with their team of careful architects they have taken our wishes and dreams about how we want to live together and turned them into a reality one group workshop at a time. While we still have about a zillion decisions to make, we know we're building something we'll love to live in.

And the cohousing is only one part of our project. We're doing our best to create one mile living by providing farm land and work spaces for families who want to come here. Combine that with the walkability and resources of greater Yarrow and this eclectic mix of farm life and city is truly heaven on earth. (and I get to live here! Tee Hee!)

Below is a link to Tocoma Village's website. They highlight what is called "The elevator speech" It's a pretty great way to explain cohousing to newcomers.

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