Cohousing Part 1
A few years back I learned about the concept of ecovillages. With my interest in sustainable residential buildings, renewable energy, and a desire to have a big organic garden, an ecovillage sounded like a great idea! I posted an entry at the Intentional Community Database, and dreamed of my strawbale home out in the country. As the ICDb.org entry was my only method of publicity beyond word-of-mouth, it quickly flopped after garnering only piddling interest.
In the summer of 2006, however, friends of mine started a group that would become Grand River Intentional Communities, with a mandate to promote cohousing in the area. It immediately piqued my interest, and after reading through the brochure they had prepared, I was hooked.
Cohousing isn’t too much different than what I had originally hoped to do in an ecovillage. They both fall under the intentional community umbrella. Ecovillages are typically more rural and open, whereas cohousing can come in many different formats, but with shared common area such as a kitchen and dining hall, and often much more. There is a lot of overlap between the two, but cohousing assumes shared areas of some sort.
Now, having a sustainably-built house (dare I say green house?) would be great, but I can have that with or without an intentional community. So why am I all jazzed over cohousing? Frankly, because the neighbourhoods we are so eagerly building and populating right now simply don’t work. I live on a crescent of townhouse blocks – relatively dense living, compared to the sometimes sprawling single family homes surrounding us. Despite that density, I know only a handful of people on my street. I know all of the other families in our townhouse block (all three of them), and perhaps four or five others. That’s it.
Shouldn’t I know more? Yes, I should, but the design of the neighbourhood makes it hard. The front of our homes consist of a garage and a front door. The one window at the front of any townhouse on the main level is the front door sidelight. So I virtually never see my neighbours coming or going, let alone have the chance to say hello. Being on the inside of the crescent our backyards are all connected, but despite erecting a “good neighbour fence” (only high enough to keep our kids in the yard but doesn’t block anyone’s view), everyone else has erected standard privacy fences, lattices, or hedges. When we moved in 7 years ago I could see all my backyard neighbours. Now I can only see two.
In a cohousing development, I will actually know all my neighbours. All of them. This is because we are choosing to come together to develop something that we’re going to share. My existing neighbours and I simply saw a new townhouse for sale, bought what was being sold, and became a neighbour to someone. In cohousing it works the other way around, in that the group comes together first, and then we decide as a group how we’re going to build our neighbourhood. Community first, infrastructure second. As cliché as it sounds, we’re going to capture the feeling of neighbourhoods of yesteryear, where you knew your neighbours and could go next door to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar, and your kids could just run outside and go play with the neighbours’ kids.