At EcoVil­lage and other co-hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties, di­verse de­mo­graph­ics, green liv­ing, and shared ev­ery­thing

Scan­di­na­vian-style co-hous­ing is gain­ing trac­tion among boomers “Peo­ple who live in a com­mu­nity live health­ier and hap­pier”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CON­TENTS - −Karen An­gel

The rhythms of EcoVil­lage Ithaca echo those of any small up­state New York town. On a re­cent week­day morn­ing, three home-schooled boys whiz by on bikes. A woman adds top­soil to raised beds of spinach and kale, re­joic­ing that the plants sur­vived the win­ter.

But this isn’t just an­other sprawl­ing res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment. EcoVil­lage is a planned co-hous­ing com­mu­nity whose 240 res­i­dents share kitchens, car rides, and a com­mit­ment to sus­tain­able liv­ing. Born in Den­mark in the 1970s, the co-hous­ing con­cept has been gain­ing ground in the U.S., where more than 150 such com­mu­ni­ties ex­ist, ac­cord­ing to the Co­hous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of the United States. While most are in­ter­gen­er­a­tional like EcoVil­lage, se­nior-only co-hous­ing developmen­ts are grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, with 10 com­pleted in re­cent years and 14 in progress. “One part of the ap­peal is co-hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties are mostly, if not en­tirely, run and or­ga­nized by res­i­dents,” says Stock­ton Wil­liams, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ter­williger Cen­ter for Hous­ing at the Ur­ban Land In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “It’s an ap­proach to cre­at­ing a more tightly knit sense of com­mu­nity among peo­ple with sim­i­lar val­ues, which seems to be an as­pi­ra­tion that many baby boomers have.”

Quim­per Vil­lage will be a 55-and-up co-hous­ing com­mu­nity in Port Townsend, Wash., when it’s com­pleted in 2017. The 28 sin­gle-fam­ily con­dos will range from $277,000 to $425,000. “Peo­ple who live in a com­mu­nity live health­ier and hap­pier and have more fun,” says Pat Hund­hausen, 75, who co-founded the com­mu­nity with her hus­band, David. “We wanted to be more proac­tive about ag­ing and not get caught up in some cor­po­rate or med­i­cal model,” she adds.

An­drew Carle, an ad­junct pro­fes­sor and ex­pert on se­nior hous­ing at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity, says that de­spite its many at­trac­tions, co-hous­ing isn’t al­ways an ideal choice for se­niors, many of whom “are in de­nial” about the kind of care they’ll need as they age. “They believe they can live in co-hous­ing and help meet each other’s needs,” he says. “The re­al­ity is they will in most cases reach a point where that will not be prac­ti­ca­ble or achiev­able.”

EcoVil­lage con­sists of three dense neigh­bor­hoods, each with its own 5,000-square-foot com­mon house for meals and gath­er­ings. The first, named

Frog , was com­pleted in 1997, and the most re­cent, Tree, was fin­ished last No­vem­ber at a cost of about $9.4 mil­lion. The first two neigh­bor­hoods each have 30 town­houses, while the lat­est is a mix of 40 sin­gle-fam­ily homes, apart­ments, and town­houses, a third of which are oc­cu­pied by re­tirees.

The 175-acre cam­pus in­cludes three or­ganic farms. So­lar pan­els gleam from rooftops and are mounted on the ground, and a re­use room en­ables res­i­dents to re­cy­cle clothes, toys, and books. Some vil­lagers use a ride-shar­ing app to co­or­di­nate car trips. Af­ter down­siz­ing from a 5,000-square-foot New Jersey house to a one-bed­room, $187,000 co-op apart­ment in EcoVil­lage last year, Ar­lene Muzyka says she and her hus­band have re­duced their driv­ing by 65 per­cent and their util­ity us­age by 75 per­cent.

The co­op­er­a­tive na­ture of

co-hous­ing re­verses the typ­i­cal pat­tern of re­tirees be­com­ing more iso­lated as they age. At EcoVil­lage, teams of res­i­dents cook for the com­mu­nal meals held three times a week and main­tain the grounds. There are fre­quent movie nights and spe­cial cel­e­bra­tions. The Com­mu­nity Health and Ag­ing Team (CHAT) brings meals to ill and home­bound res­i­dents and ar­ranges transporta­tion to doc­tor ap­point­ments. “It makes me feel younger to as­so­ciate with all these younger peo­ple,” says Richard Hep­burn, 82, a re­tired pi­lot and EcoVil­lage res­i­dent who had meals de­liv­ered by CHAT af­ter hav­ing thy­roid surgery in Jan­uary.

Liv­ing in close prox­im­ity with neigh­bors also can give rise to con­flict. “Pets and guns are al­ways the is­sues,” says Alice Alexan­der, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Co­hous­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and a res­i­dent of the Durham Cen­tral Park Co­hous­ing Com­mu­nity in North Carolina, which bans guns and for­bids pets to roam un­su­per­vised. At EcoVil­lage, di­ver­gent par­ent­ing styles can be a source of ten­sion. “Some chil­dren are more free-range,” says co­founder Liz Walker, which some­times “im­pinges on other peo­ple.” Yet she stresses that dis­putes are rarely al­lowed to fester: “Be­cause many peo­ple want to be here for the rest of our lives, we’re in a po­si­tion of hav­ing to work out these con­flicts.”

The bot­tom line The U.S. is home to more than 150 co-hous­ing com­mu­ni­ties, with 14 more planned ex­clu­sively for se­niors.

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