Next week we are going to participate in a sort of DIY workshop designed to produce, in Vivian’s well-chosen phrase, a “visual representation of how we imagine living together.” That is to say, we want to know what cohousing, WRCP-style, will look like. What do we want to see in the site, the common house and the individual units? From a theoretical perspective, we (well, Michele mostly) are coming up with group activities aimed at encouraging us to use building design and site planning to nurture and sustain community.
We’re calling the workshop Space Camp.
Previous discussions have narrowed some of the choices we have to make.
For example, we dealt some time ago with the urban-rural divide. There are serious legal impediments in Ontario to putting multi-unit housing on property designated as agricultural. An ecovillage, modeled on Ithaca, New York, would be virtually impossible here. (The free-wheeling, lightly regulated approach to development in the United States is not without its advantages.) So, ours is not to be an Edenic, rustic retreat.
In any case, a preponderance of our members lean toward—or are firmly committed to—living in an urban setting. We want ready access to public transit, public libraries, farmers’ markets and the kind of coffee shop that sells free-trade, caramel-flavoured skinny machhiatos.
I’m joking. Sort of.
So that’s settled. As much as anything is settled in this ever-evolving business.
But we’ve been circling the other, more granular issues for a long time. Different people have brought their own ideas to the group. Some have tarried a while and then moved on. Others have found their ideas more malleable than they at first thought.
One couple, since departed, made it clear that, while they looked forward to the relationships they would develop in cohousing, they needed a private unit of not less than 2,500 square feet with a big kitchen, kitted out with all mod cons. They were prepared to pay for it, so why not?
Others, approaching the project from an entirely different perspective, have indicated that their needs are modest: five or six hundred square feet, sensibly designed, will suit them just fine.
Still others have found that their initial expectations have changed over time: that wanting community overrode their desire for a small-scale farm.
Some shudder at the prospect of shared laundry facilities. Others can’t live without cats.
At one established cohousing development we visited, we encountered a woman and her snake. It was just a milk snake. Just. We will not, however, be addressing the reptile-in-domicile issue at Space Camp. Or cats.
Cohousing, in its physical manifestation—the buildings—is about sustainability and environment, so the size of the individual units, the materials used in their construction and their relative proximity, all are important considerations. In its human manifestation—how we relate to one another—cohousing is about balancing privacy and community. Just how close do we want to be to one another, not just physically, but also psychologically? Where, on a continuum that extends from neighbourliness to intimacy, do we expect our manufactured village to land?
Someone unfamiliar with cohousing once asked one of our members how often we expect to sit down for naked meals. I don’t know the answer, but "never" sounds about right.
So the point of Space Camp is to draw an imaginary plan of our community and, in the process, come up with tentative answers to these questions, about what we will share and what we’ll keep to ourselves. With luck and Michele’s facilitation skills, we’ll uncover a shared vision.
Teeing things up, the night before the workshop, Wendy has arranged a Skype call with Christopher Kailing and Jennifer Barrett of PMGM Architects, based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Chris and Jen have worked with Charles Durrett, the North American cohousing guru. So preparations for blast-off are falling into place.
It should be fun and revelatory. It should draw us closer together.
Closer. And fully clothed.