Co­hous­ing em­pha­sizes neigh­bour­hood

Cape Breton Post - - Classifieds/Lifestyles - BY TRACEE HERBAUGH

When Joanna Vander Plaats moved with her two young daugh­ters to Grand Rapids, Michi­gan, nearly eight years ago, she wanted to find a friendly and wel­com­ing neigh­bour­hood.

The fam­ily’s move from Kala­ma­zoo, a home they’d al­ways known, was nerve-wrack­ing. They didn’t know a sin­gle per­son in their new city - much less a friend who might watch the kids or come over for din­ner.

As Vander Plaats, 30, was re­search­ing Grand Rapids, she came across a co­hous­ing de­vel­op­ment, New­berry Place. It was a pedes­trian-friendly neigh­bour­hood with 20 sep­a­rate townhouses that shared some com­mon spa­ces, in­clud­ing a club­house, where there were weekly din­ners for res­i­dents.

“Co­hous­ing made it eas­ier to start a new life,” Vander Plaats said. Two months af­ter she and her girls moved in, they knew the neigh­bours in all the other 19 houses.

“I knew a lit­tle about each of them,” she said. “I knew their fam­ily dy­nam­ics. It helped me feel like Grand Rapids was home a lot quicker.”

What ex­actly is co­hous­ing? It’s a com­mu­nity-fo­cused liv­ing ar­range­ment, where res­i­dents share space, chores and fel­low­ship. The idea started in Den­mark in the 1960s and has spread across Europe and the U.S.

“It’s about shar­ing re­sources and en­gag­ing in your com­mun- ity,” said Thomas Bar­rie, a pro­fes­sor of ar­chi­tec­ture at North Carolina State Univer­sity and au­thor of the new book “House and Home: Cul­tural Con­texts, On­to­log­i­cal Roles” (Rout­ledge).

Co­hous­ing de­vel­op­ments and starter groups - those who get to­gether to plan a new site - have been grow­ing in Amer­ica, Bar­rie said.

It’s a promis­ing model for those who want to “age in place,” he said. Older folks can live in­de­pen­dently for longer be­cause there is a steady stream of neigh­bours to check in on them.

Yet co­hous­ing hasn’t reached its full po­ten­tial in the U.S., Bar­rie be­lieves. “It’s not some­thing that’s been cap­i­tal­ized yet in Amer­ica,” he said, be­cause hous­ing in the U.S. has been de­fined as “your pri­vate realm.”

At New­berry Place, park­ing is to­ward the back and on one edge of the de­vel­op­ment. What you see while walk­ing through the neigh­bour­hood is porches and front doors. It’s built to fos­ter in­ter­ac­tions be­tween neigh­bours.

This was ap­peal­ing to Dan Miller, 66, a re­tired pro­fes­sor at Calvin Col­lege in Grand Rapids. Miller and his wife wanted to down­size af­ter their chil­dren left home.

“It’s like liv­ing in a big ex­tended fam­ily in a way. You have a re­ally rich sup­port sys­tem,” Miller said.

There are weekly din­ners in the club­house, and neigh­bours sign up for a turn to cook. At some de­vel­op­ments, neigh­bours share yard work or child­care du­ties. As with a con­do­minium, res­i­dents pay into an as­so­ci­a­tion fund for com­mon-space up­keep.

But at many co­hous­ing de­vel­op­ments, the im­promptu events are just as im­por­tant as the planned ones.

On Fri­day evenings, neigh­bours at New­berry tend to gather at the com­mon house or out­side on the deck with wine and snacks.

“We’ll com­plain about our week or we’ll share laughs,” Miller said. “It’s not or­ga­nized by any­body but it’s kind of a cus­tom. It’s pleas­ant.”

AP photo This photo pro­vided by Katy Kildee shows res­i­dents of New­berry Place Co­hous­ing Com­mu­nity in Grand Rapids, Mich., as they vote to ap­prove shared de­ci­sions. They vote on such things as an an­nual bud­get, ex­pand­ing the de­vel­op­ment with more units or to change de­vel­op­ment by­laws.

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