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Cohousing, Part 2

February 9, 2007

Yesterday I started telling you about how I got involved in cohousing, and ranted a bit about how I think current neighbourhoods aren’t designed to allow neighbours to actually get to know each other. I’m no planner – I don’t even play one on TV – but seven years in the same house should introduce me to more neighbours than it has.

Back to cohousing. Having gotten Grand River Intentional Communities (or GRIC, as we call it) off the ground, our small-but-growing group started sharing cohousing resource materials, and decided to hold shared potluck vegetarian-friendly meals on a monthly basis. The group was originally called Kitchener-Waterloo Area Retrofit Cohousing (or KWARC), as both cofounders had a keen interest in retrofit cohousing. That sounded like a fine idea to me – it really didn’t matter how we did cohousing, the model of cohousing itself was what attracted me. Of course, I wondered how we could retrofit older homes to make them energy-efficient without breaking the bank, but that was a worry for a future time.

One of the resources I borrowed from our informal, communal resource library was the de-facto bible of North American cohousing, CoHousing, A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves. This is an excellent book which I cannot recommend too strongly to anyone even remotely interested in cohousing or intentional communities. While voraciously devouring the book, the idea to start a brand-new cohousing project in Waterloo began to form.

In the book, one particular Danish cohousing project – Jystrup Savvaerket – really caught my eye. The residents decided that having to bundle up against the harsh Danish winter would dampen resident’s spontaneity for heading to the common house to see who was around and what was going on. To counter this reluctance, they built their homes as facing rows of townhouses, enclosed the pedestrian street between them with glass, and put the common house at one end of it all. Voila – now you can get to the common house in your slippers, even in the dead of winter. That concept really appealed to me, especially having young kids. (Shoehorn a 2- and a 5-year-old into snowsuits just to walk down to the common house? No thanks.) After doing more research on cohousing in North America I found Windsong Cohousing in Langley, British Columbia, which uses the same concept of the enclosed, glass-covered pedestrian street. I decided that I wanted the same sort of cohousing development here in Waterloo, and Laurel Creek Commons was born.

Laurel Creek Commons will be a local interpretation of Windsong Cohousing. Just as Nanaimo, B.C. will soon build Pacific Gardens Cohousing based around an enclosed, common pedestrian area between residences, that is what I hope to get out of Laurel Creek Commons. Why “hope to get”? Well, despite the idea of Laurel Creek Commons starting with me, I’m not going to be the only one designing it. Far from it. Cohousing is typically design with group consensus, where everyone gets a chance (and is encouraged) to make suggestions, speak their mind, let the group know of any issues or problems. So what I want and what the other members might have in mind could differ. I believe there is great benefit to an enclosed common area linking the residences, so I will certainly champion the idea. Everything else, of course, is pretty much up for discussion.

Now you know the story behind me and cohousing. You may be asking yourself, “What does cohousing have to do with sustainable building?” Good question. Stay tuned, later I’ll explain the link between cohousing and sustainability.

For more information on cohousing, visit the Canadian Cohousing Network, or browse through my del.icio.us cohousing links.

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