25 May 2006

Cohousing: the modern equivalent of a "village"

Old Berkeley pal Aditya passed along this glimpse into to cohousing -- something I never knew existed. Amazing stuff, especially given how many of us struggle with the pressures of modern parenting in relative isolation, far away from extended family, or in neighborhoods that aren't conducive to distributing the childcare load. Cohousing looks to be a fantastic alternative.

It occurred to me that in the hierarchy of hacks this might be rather large, but one we have adopted and is well-tested is "It takes a village to raise a child".

Specifically, we live in the modern, hip, non-"hippie" equivalent of that village, called "Cohousing" -- ours is Great Oak Cohousing in Ann Arbor.

Attributes that make Cohousing the ideal setting to raise a child include:

  • intergenerational intentional community -- in other words, we know and are friends with our neighbors; that is, everyone who lives here, wants to live here knowing all their neighbors -- from kids to retirees; it is stimulating, diverse, educational, comfortable and absolutely natural
  • safe, pedestrian and kid-friendly physical layout -- we have a non-motorized vehicle path that runs between our homes and kids can roam with their parents' full confidence. A family who moved in last week wrote that within a day of moving in, their 6 year old already had 3 play dates on one day, 2 of which she arranged herself!
  • shared Common House with a kid's room and game room, so your child can have a neutral place to play with other kids, and away from home at the same time
  • a natural meeting place on snow days and vacations when a suburban parent would cringe at having to chauffer
  • the physical layout and proximity of units and the Common House lend themselves to shared child-minding and adult interaction without needing to plan way in advance and drive somewhere -- it's convenient, can happen at the spur of the moment and does (we do it over email [broadcast or unicast], phone or just step outside and see who might help out)
  • optional common meals (5 nights a week at Great Oak) where the quality, variety and convenience is staggering (you can see the RSS feed of our upcoming meals at our website) -- the meals are cooked and cleaned in rotation and the cost of ingredients is shared. Where else can you eat for the same price and quality as homemade, and only have to work for about 2 hours a month? and be home (if you don't get caught up talking to your friends/neighbors) within a minute?

So yes, the world is shrinking, and our communication options make virtual presence easier, but when your physical neighborhood is designed to help you interact, take care of the kids and share resources, you can be modern, hip, earth-friendly and relaxed!

Maybe this is too much of a lifestyle-hack to merit a blog-entry, but for any new parents, I feel it is imperative that they at least know such an option exists, especially before they plan on moving to a larger or different home.

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that sounds so wonderful. i wish i had known how important community was going to be with a new baby. it's so easy to become isolated at home. my husband and i are about to move in with another couple, partly to cut down on rent, but also to have some daily forced community. it won't be easy to give up my personal space, but i'm looking forward to sharing the load.

This is very much like where we live now and it is wonderful. It's probably shocking to some but our location, on a military installation, is very communal in nature. Everyone watches out for all the neighborhood kids, we have group BBQs when the weather is nice, and, in general, just talk and get along.

We lucked out with our neighborhood as well. Since I've been in and out of the hospital with baby number 2 (due in Dec), our neighbors have all jumped up to help my husband, taking our son off his hands for hours at a time. We didn't know this about our neighborhood when we bought our house, but it makes it all so much better to know that the people around you care about you and your family. We have so many close friends who are within 4 doors of our house!

Hi, we just published a documentary on the cohousing phenomenon. It won an award at the 34th Ekotopfilm festival 2007 and was designed to show what is cohousing "from within" as a complement to the existing books.
The trailer can be watched at http://notsocrazy.net/video.html
Director of "Voices of Cohousing"

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