Cohousing: A Growing Interest - September 8, 2010
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
The Arizona Highlands Garden Conference was held in Payson last weekend and the theme was “Sustainable Gardens for Homes and Communities.” There were a range of site tours, indoor presentations, and demonstrations that resulted in a well-rounded conference with something for everyone. For me, the most thought provoking presentation was by David Wann, author and filmmaker that promotes sustainability through simple living, making wise personal choices, and managing our tendencies toward consumerism. His most famous work is a book he co-authored called Affluenza. Some attendees were a little uncomfortable with Mr. Wann’s “radical ideas”, but he and others believe we need to challenge ourselves if we are to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and live within the biological means of our planet.
At the core of David Wann’s presentation were adjustments we can make to where and how we live. He is a proponent of cohousing: a Danish concept that has spread to other European nations, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. Cohousing neighborhoods and developments are consciously designed for people that want to live as part of a small community. Cohousing communities are small in scale, usually consisting of between 20-40 homes on average, and are designed to provide a balance between personal privacy and living amidst people who know and care about each other. Each household owns a private residence but also shares extensive common facilities with the larger group such as workshops, kitchen/dining areas, gardens, and other amenities.
A few general characteristics of cohousing are: a participatory process of design by the future residents; pedestrian friendly with motor vehicles parked some distance away from individual dwellings; residences are purposely clustered to promote interaction and community; management and maintenance are often done by the residents; decisions are made by consensus; and some meals are eaten communally.
Cohousing strives aspires to promote social, economic, ecological, and neighborhood benefits. Social benefits may include: shared childcare; friendship; shared chores; care giving when sick; etc. Economic benefits may take some time to recoup if there are significant investments in alternative energy, community resources, and green construction. After construction, money is saved by sharing tools and appliances and buying bulk foods with other community members. Ecological benefits may include use of alternative energy, weatherization, appropriate land use, and permaculture landscape design. Neighborhood benefits may include sustainability projects such as tree-planting, community gardens, speed bump and bicycle lane safety advocacy, recycling, rideshare programs and green space preservation.
The cohousing development where David Wann lives is in Golden, Colorado and is called Harmony Village and they have a web site (www.harmonyvillage.org) where you can see and learn more about cohousing. His talk spent lots of time describing the garden area and how they have improved it over time. Being in a high elevation area similar to Flagstaff in climate, their garden area had large cold frames where greens were grown year-round. Several raised beds were constructed for outdoor growing. They start warm season plants from seed and use cover crops to build soil fertility and increase organic matter. They also compost. There is a small orchard and they recently added bees for pollination. They have plans to add a greenhouse, grapes, and a canning area.
Many readers are probably getting turned off because it sounds like a “hippie commune” and in many ways it is. Proponents of cohousing realize it is not for everyone and residents of cohousing developments are maintain some controls over who can buy in. In Yavapai County, we have Manzanita Village: a cohousing community in Prescott (www.manzanitavillage.com). I know two Master Gardeners that live there and find it to their liking. There are also three cohousing communities in Tucson and one planned for Phoenix. I would not be surprised to see cohousing coming to the Verde Valley in the future – we could sure have some great gardens there! Visit this column on-line for links to David Wann’s books and additional cohousing information.
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Information About David Wann
Website of the Cohousing Association of the United States
Cohousing Communities: A Sustainable Approach to Housing Development (University of California Extension)
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Last Updated: September 2, 2010
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