An Idea For Our Time
I’m in Seattle right now, and staying in my friend Susan’s townhouse in Jackson Street Co-Housing. She went back east to visit family and I’m living with her dog Wolf, and her huge orange cat, Pumpkin.
Co-housing is defined as an “intentional community” where buildings are erected according to a communal style design, or existing buildings are “retrofitted.” Co-housing developments have individual self-contained residences and also community facilities. These may include a dining room and kitchen, children’s play areas, free internet, pools, gardens, and in the case of Jackson Street Co-housing, a hobby room and a secure indoor garage. Some rural co-housing communities have substantial acreage and raise a hefty percent of their own food.
The overriding philosophy is to have a low impact on the earth and learn to share resources. Everything here is meticulously recycled. In this house, there aren’t any disposable paper products, zip lock bags, or any disposable plastic.
The food served in the dining room is mainly vegetarian. This urban development has vegetable and flower gardens on the steep paths between the buidings. I only ate in the community dining room a couple of times, but I had my own cloth napkin sealed in a bag with my name on it, waiting for my next visit.
Often, a core group of people will get together to organize such a community. They might buy land, hire architects, and get the residences going. Other people who share their values, buy into units.
People depend on each other. If you need a ride, or need to have your child watched for a while, or you want to borrow a book, share a cup of coffee, or whatever, there are people all around you who are here because they want a semi-communal lifestyle and they’re (reasonably) available to each other.
You can sign up for meals or stroll in and ask the cook whether there is enough for another person on a given day. They serve meals about four times a week, and people take turns cooking. Saturday morning there were three kinds of quiche, with fresh fruit, juice and coffee. Meals cost $4.00 for a guest like me.
Here is a group at dinner. Attendance is sparse because it’s a holiday weekend and the majority of community members are out of town.
The population is multi-generational, ranging from small children to people in their 80s. The community values their elders and are meeting these days to talk about how to be more supportive to them. Several of the older people were instrumental in designing and bringing the place into being about ten years ago
I’m staying in a three-story townhouse, but there are “flats,” apartments in an elevator building. Living units range from studios to three-bedroom homes. Legally, the co-housing developments are structured as either co-ops or condos. This one is a condo. There are 27 separate units.
The residents have regular business meetings and decisions are made by consensus. I am hoping to attend a meeting. There are no leaders.
Of course, everyone knows everyone else and are closer than most neighbors. They are genuinly helpful and friendly. Before I came, Susan circulated an email so everyone would know who I am, and everyone greets me as I walk through the beautifully gardened paths between my house and the parking area, the trash area, the communal building, or the street.
The only drawback to this place that I can see is that the internet system is truly awful and I had a heck of a time getting up on line. The DSL operates in fits and starts and my service goes in and out. But in a way, it’s in tune with the place. No one gets too pushed out of shape though, and yes, they will get to it and have it upgraded, but there will probably be a few community meetings to figure out the specifics.
I’m enjoying the meals and my neighbors. There is wonderful six-year-old named Hannah who lives next door. She’s a brilliant little girl who plays independently for long periods, does not scream, and is comfortable with adults. We who don’t ordinarily live around children forget how exciting it is to see ordinary objects through a child’s eyes. I like hearing what Hannah has to say.
This little boy is the son of the guy who prepared brunch July 3. We had three kinds of quiche, plus fruit.
The co-housing movement originated in Denmark in the 1960′s and co-housing communities exist all over Europe. There are 115 of them in the USA. See www.cohousing.org for a full background and a directory with descriptions of all the USA communities.
I’m told that the units here sell for between $200,000 and $400,000 depending on the size and configuration. They are well-built, attractive structures, with balconies, bay windows, large kitchens, and a lot of windows. There is also a monthly maintenance fee, as with any condominium.
I got to know several people in the two weeks I was at Jackson Street and hope to get to know them better on another visit. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and would consider living here if I ever returned to the USA full-time.