Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Cohousing, collectives, communities

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I've always been intrigued by the idea of intentional communities. Instead of living as a self-contained uint where a family or couple or individual is wholly responsible for their housing, their meals, housework, childcare, and all the money needed to support this venture of daily living, members of an intentional community pool their resources, talents, and labor for the greater good. Think of the possibilities. Shared meals (and shared cooking and dishwashing); shared childcare; shared gardens and shared produce; social activities.

I used to joke that I was going to form my own collective, but I wanted to make the rules. I called myself the Benevolent Dictator. Rules about tidiness and a clean house would be strict. I didn't like the image of the 1970s commune with compost fermenting in the kitchen corner and a self-composting toilet in the bathroom. I envision separate living units but also a shared space. Members can choose their level of community involvement based on how they feel on any given day. Shared dinners once a week or every other day. Movie screenings, music sessions, community gardening, ad hoc childcare--the idea is codependence, interdependence, yet each member is able to maintain their own space and privacy.

I'm not the first person to dream this up. Collective living has come a long way from the hippy communes. I read an article in the Christian Science Monitor that highlights a number of different cohousing arrangements from separate yet connected houses for retirees to houses in San Francisco shared by young professionals who share a desire for social change. The documentary Happy takes a look at a cohousing community in Denmark where members buy or rent their own living space but share all meals and outdoor space. Here's a nice reference page that explains cohousing.

My own marina is a version of a collective living community. We share dock space, picnic/bbq/deck space, bathroms, a bike rack, and a washer and dryer. We have a message board. We have frequent get-togethers in the warmer months. Our community is aweseome. Great friends, great neighbors. We all care about each other, we all look out for each other, and we all have our own space (our boats!).

The idea is to make connections with our neighbors and fellow citizens. We can share ideas, share work, and share both sorrows and joys. Humans are social beings, yet most of us also value our independence and privacy. I see the modern cohousing movement as a great bridge between privacy and communal living - one that can elevate any member's wellbeing.

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