Growing a Great Urban Community

We are getting a rainy reprieve on our first day in New Mexico. The change of setting and weather is letting us relax and enjoy the company of my good friend Luisa Kolker.

We are entering the final stretch of our journey before we return to Phoenix and the real work begins. We have gathered almost 16 hours worth of video, a notebook full of notes and many pictures to sort out. Our views of cohousing and the possibilities it offers has been greatly influenced by this research and it will take some time to integrate it all.

Common House

Casa Verde Commons, a little over a mile from downtown Colorado Springs, is a great example of urban infill. The 4-acre parcel used to be a family nursery that had lots of greenhouses on it. It is located in a historic neighborhood district with quaint renovated homes and tree-lined streets. The process of establishing a cohousing community here but finally a core group emerged working closely with the neighborhood association and the city to make it happen. The result is a community that blends beautifully within it’s context. You enter into the community from the street passing by a small park and walking trails and a small retail building with a community coffee shop named Dog Tooth Coffee Shop where we spent several hours blogging and meeting the locals.

We sat down with Angela, a busy mother of four to hear about Casa Verde and how her family got there. She initially learned about cohousing from members at her church and that gave the whole idea some “credibility.” Her husband then went to visit Harmony Village and came back really enthusiastic. Shortly after Angela went to a three hour meeting and felt completely the opposite, joking, “no way are we going to live with others like this.” This juxtaposition of the challenges of cohousing is not uncommon but eventually they reached consensus and have been living at Casa Verde for about 7 years, involved in the community for 11 years.

At first the community had some growing pains, but now there is a better balance with young families coming back after some older couples left for a variety of reasons. Angela commented that she found that elderly people who live in cohousing have a vitality often not found anywhere else.

When they told people that they were moving into a cohousing community she described it as the “commune of modern day” where you have your own home but you share common meals and experiences. She took us around to see several homes and a tour of the garden. The place had an almost mid-western neighborhood feel to it. Which is the feeling that cohousing wants to generate–an “old-fashioned” neighborhood where everyone knows and cares about each other.

After the interview we were invited to share in the Sunday community supper prepared by Marjorie and her partner. Marjorie is a key member in organizing the meal program touted as the “crowning jewel” among cohousing communities. It draws high participation with people waiting in line to sign up for a shift.

We were nourished by a delicious vegetarian ragout and conversations with several people willing to share their views. After dinner we headed back to the Guppy who incidentally met another Roadtrek in the coffee parking shop. I guess while the Chicks were learning about community, the Guppy was building community on her own. 🙂

Posted in Colorado, Greetings from the Guppy | 3 Comments

Celebrating Life at Highline Crossing

Common House

It took us a while to find Highline Crossing in Littleton a suburb of Denver. It’s like a little gem tucked in a business park with office buildings and many beige-colored apartments. The community started in 1995 and was built in stages. It currently has 40 homes on 3.6 acres and about 70 people live there.

We were greeted by Leigh Ann who serves on the marketing/communications team. She asked us inside her 2-bedroom home and offered us some freshly made apple muffins made with apples from the community orchard.

It was a warm Sunday morning and several residents were milling about on the sidewalk. She introduced us, they were friendly and open. They shared a few highlights with us about raising their kids here, the proximity to Denver and the overall lifestyle. We then we sat outside of the Common House to start the formal interview.

Leigh Ann has lived at Highline almost 13 years and has seen many changes during that time. Over 40% of the community are entering the “third phase of life” (over 60) and many are women head of household. This shift creates challenges for the community such as needing to outsource more of the community activities. This is an active conversation that many communities are dealing with as they evolve.

The community asks everyone to put in 4 work weekends a year or 4 hours towards community service a month. Many members do much more than that but if you can’t or choose not to participate you pay a little more in HOA fees. If you are 65 or older you are exempt from the recommended guideline.

She then took us into the Common House pointing out the bee hive that had created a nest way above the door. It was the perfect symbol for this meeting place. The dining room had pretty tablecloths and there were small flower arrangements and leftover cake from a “life celebration” for a beloved member of the community the day before. You could still feel the love in the room.

This Common House had a really inviting feeling. It was in the process of getting an “aesthetic” facelift with the guidance of an interior designer who is a resident there. Several of the walls had already been painted and in the kid’s room there was a presentation board showing how the room would evolve. The overall layout of the Common House seemed to work well for the various community celebrations and evolving population.

From there we walked the grounds which is built along the Highline Canal trail giving the residents access to over 70 miles of foot/bike trails. It is also a short walk from a light rail system with easy access to downtown Denver. Like every other cohousing community there was a shared garden that was showing the end of the growing season. Leigh Ann offered us to pick some plums and apples. Tall chick couldn’t resist getting into the tree to reach apples from the higher branches.

Taking our little bounty of plums and apples back to the Guppy, we felt that they had successfully created a sweet blend of condo type living with the best parts of cohousing. When I asked Leigh Ann what they did well there, she said, ” We are great at celebrating Life together.” It felt true.

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The Golden Touch at Harmony Village

From Nyland we drove to Harmony Village in Golden Colorado, famous for the Coors brewery, it’s lovely setting and proximity to Denver. Harmony is also regarded as one of the more successful cohousing communities and we were eager to learn why.

We were greeted by Matt Worswick, one of the core founding members and designer of the community, along with four other committed cohousers in the “mission style” Common House. Among them was David Wann, the author of Reinventing Community a book Donna and I really enjoyed reading prior to our trip.

Harmony Village has 27 townhomes in a southwestern “pueblo” style and around 60 people, considered the ideal ‘tribal” size. Since the inception of the community in 1996 only five people have left making it one of the most stable cohousing communities around. The home prices there have steadily increased. Matt made the comment that this success has created a new challenge in that younger families cannot always afford to move there so the community is evolving into a “naturally occurring” elderly community. There are many issues that are being addressed with this shift.

Another change has been in governance, there are no committees. Instead they have a governing council with five people who represent certain key areas who address specific tasks. It seems like a streamlined and efficient process.

After the interview we toured around the lovely grounds. The common garden was a real highlight showing off David Wann’s strong influence. The community is surrounded by a strolling golf course, man-made lakes and an affluent neighborhood.

After the tour and our Guppy gourmet supper, we walked to downtown to check out the scene on a Saturday night. The main street was lined with small shops, restaurants and bars. We strolled into one filled with locals getting ready for the Saturday night karaoke competition. After several glasses of chardonnay, tall chick got up enough nerve to belt out a bad version of John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High sung with a local regular with a decent voice.

So, we will remember Harmony and Golden for it’s special glow and a song that went flat.

Posted in Colorado, Greetings from the Guppy, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Nyland Cohousing: It takes a Village

Durango Joes

Greetings from super cool indie coffee shop called Durango Joes. We have officially finished interviewing all twelve cohousing communities in Colorado but still in catch up mode writing about all of them. We head to Sante Fe next to visit the last three on our itinerary. Hard to believe we are in the final stretch.

Nyland

Nyland Cohousing has 42 “farm-style” homes with about 150 residents on 42 acres making it one of the largest and most rural communities we visited thus far. The community with its natural meadows, rolling hills and sweeping mountain views gives you country living despite it’s relative proximity to Boulder only 6 miles away.

We were greeted by Tere Mann, a 2-year resident, who also works for Wonderland, the developer of the project over 19 years ago making it the first cohousing communities in Colorado.

The community has gone through many changes over time given its size and shifting demographics. One change that Tere mentioned is more single women between the ages of 30 and 74 are subleasing spaces from each other in order to afford living there.

To govern such a big community Nyland has three community action groups or CAGS for short that focus on the land and their community supported garden, common house and well-being.

As Terry walked us around that cool misty morning she pointed out how many of the residents had just completed a major painting project. Unlike other communities more densely situated every home here got to select their own color combinations. We were struck by the individual expression and how vibrant it looked like a colorful necklace loosely strung together.

Community Garden

Nyland’s community supported agriculture garden was also somewhat unique. They had a little store where people from the community could go to purchase eggs, flowers and vegetables on an honor system.  The community also had a nice woodworking shed and active recycling system.

Woodworking Shed

The overall feeling of the community was more like a small European village in the country. It had a relaxed, casual and spacious sense about it.

Posted in Colorado, Greetings from the Guppy | 4 Comments

Silver Sage: The Cadillac of Cohousing

Greetings from the Chicks. Hard to believe that we have less than a week left in our journey. With twelve interviews behind us; our heads, heart and laptop are full of images, videos and notes. We share our initial impressions while they are still fresh and plan on putting the material together in a more comprehensive fashion at a later time.

Entrance to Silver Sage from the street

Silver Sage is located just across the street from Wild Sage in the hip Holiday neighborhood but feels like a completely different world. It is comprised of ten market rate homes and six affordable units, again a stipulation put forth by the City of Boulder to encourage economic diversity. Please bear in mind that what is considered affordable in Boulder is very different than other places.

Front Porch of Homeowner

We sat down in the media room/library of the Common House with Annie Russell, an elegant mature woman who is both a resident and instrumental community facilitator in the cohousing movement. She has worked closely with Jim Leach, the developer behind Silver Sage who also lives there with his wife.

Sitting Room

The level of design, detail and elegance of Silver Sage was very apparent and attracted an older 55 plus, affluent and sophisticated group. Although they don’t market themselves as a “senior” community, it is what is called a “naturally occurring retirement community.” Most of the owners are mature adults who have finished their parenting and working years and prefer to live with others in a similar phase of life.

Common Green

Annie initially lived in Wild Sage with her son, but as their lives shifted she happily moved to this more tranquil setting.  There were no children’s toys scattered about and the landscaping was impeccable. However, the cost to maintain the community grounds and amenities was higher because the elders chose to outsource much of that work to others. That is fine for more affluent communities such as this but is proving to be a challenge for others.

Garden

After the interview, Annie took us around the complex and introduced us to a group of six adults sitting in a spacious and tastefully decorated living room having conversation. Several of the residents volunteered to show us their homes including Arthur Okner, a longstanding cohousing advocate. The layout was very well thought through and he carefully pointed out some of the design features to us. Arthur quickly shared some of his views of cohousing that included how important it was to focus on building social capital as it was to design details.

We then went to see Annie’s place. There was no discernable difference in quality between the market rate homes and the affordable units other than size. Annie’s home, a mere 900 s.f. was tastefully done–a comfortable and lovely environment.

Annie’s Living Room

The Common House is over 5,000 s.f. and looks out over the lovely interior courtyard gardens.  We can see the appeal of spending your “silver years,” in a place such as this but it does come with a higher price tag.

Kitchen

Posted in Colorado, Greetings from the Guppy | 2 Comments

Where the Wild things are…

Greetings from the Guppy. It has been a very busy weekend with six interviews and driving in between. So, forgive the delay in the updates, we are in the process of catching up from an indie coffee shop in Colorado Springs.

Pathway in the community

Wild Sage http://www.wildsagecohousing.org/is an urban infill community situated on a 2-acre lot that once belonged to the Holiday Drive-in theater. The City of Boulder donated the land with the stipulation that some of the development be dedicated to affordable housing. Thus, 14 out of the 34 homes were built by Habitat by Humanity making it somewhat affordable for young families. We did learn that the term “affordable” in Boulder is a bit of a misnomer. Housing is very expensive in this area.

Community Garden

The community is wedged in a dense “new urbanist” neighborhood of condos and apartments against the backdrop of the Flatiron mountain about 15 minutes from downtown Boulder.

Common House

Upon arrival, we briefly waited for Bryan Bowen, a resident and the local community architect to finish his meeting. It was around 5 pm and he offered us some “community brewed” beer. He took us into the Common House he helped design and poured us a glass.

Front Porch of one of the homes

We talked a while about the cohousing movement and then on to what made Wild Sage the unique place it is. Nearly the whole time Bryan was sharing, kids of various ages came out to play on the common green in their martial arts and Ninja outfits across from where we were sitting. Toys, bikes of all kinds were scattered about. Even the cats and dogs came to check out the visitors.

Common Green

The children were highly interactive with the adults and Bryan waved over Annie, a sweet eight years old, who recently moved into the community. She was very confident and shared what she liked about living there. She really enjoyed the freedom and commented how quickly she knew everyone, “like the back of her hand.”

Annie and friend

After spending about an hour with us, Bryan said, the only reason he could sit with us this long was because he knew his wife and young children were fine because they had community support in child-rearing. He also shared about a time when the community came in to help him out when his wife had an injury and he just couldn’t keep up with everything. He recounted how different people came in and cleaned his house and brought meals so he could manage things.

90 Minute Art Show

During our stay at the Common House over three days, there were several community events. The first evening was an art show for people of all ages. The artwork was represented both from within Wild Sage and around the area. The next day while we were blogging, three teenager girls came in to work on a school project playing their music. It was totally comfortable for all of us to share the space. Later that day just before we left the common house was being set up for a coffee cafe with live musicians.

Coffeehouse set up

While the Chicks were having lunch outside the Common House we were surprised to run into Christian, a friend from Phoenix. He just moved into the community with his wife and 8 month old infant. We shared some of our salad and asked about his decision to take the leap to move there. For years he tried to create intentional community in Phoenix. But after visiting Wild Sage he fell in love with the place. After lunch he gave us a tour of his new home that he was renting. You could feel his excitement and we were sure as we said good-bye to him that his young family would thrive in this vibrant, creative and active community.

View of one of the single family homes

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A Glimpse into Nomad Cohousing

Entrance to Nomad

Nomad Cohousing is a small 11-unit community situated on an one-acre site about 2 miles from downtown Boulder. The “common facility” is shared with the 54 year old community playhouse. The theatre uses the common house on opening nights and for other special events. Nomad is walking distance from a small neighborhood, shopping center, public transportation and the foothills of the Rockies and trails.

Outdoor patio, grassy knoll

We sat in the garden with Zev Paiss, resident and sustainability marketing consultant, who shared his passion for cohousing as a way of life. Zev has been involved in the cohousing movement since the early 90’s. He said living in cohousing is the “longest personal growth workshop you’ll ever attend.”

View from Common House – looking at outdoor common house patio

The houses range in size from 675 to 2400 s.f. and are all owner occupied. This community had a stipulation from the City of Boulder to offer affordable housing-a common theme for Boulder city developments.  The scale of the community made it feel like a European village where people naturally take part of ” active neighboring” because of proximity and intention. The houses were not designed for aging in place. Zev commented that cohousing is not a medical model like it is in Denmark. It is not set up to bring health care to you as you age.

Upstairs community patio

The community had an intimate, well organized feel and appearance. Zev mentioned that they typically get 90% participation to the meetings and meals.  Of all the communities we toured so far, we left with the impression that this smaller size community might be easier to build and sustain in an urban setting.

Front door to one of the homes

Posted in Greetings from the Guppy, Utah Update | 6 Comments