What do Oakland, Calif.; Takoma Park, Md. and Boulder, Colo. have that Germantown/Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill doesn’t?
While we all have food co-ops, indie coffee shops, bookstores, and local foods aplenty, they can all boast a cohousing community.
Not to worry! A group of cohousing enthusiasts has birthed Wissahickon Village Cohousing, aiming to correct this neighborhood deficiency.
Cohousing is a thriving concept around the world, creating living quarters that establish a balance of private and public structure, both architectural and social. For most of human history, people have lived in interdependent cohousing, sharing responsibility and companionship. Of course, it was simply called a village.
American culture has veered very far into the private sphere. The American dream house, a mini-mansion surrounded by a moat of lawn, accessed via a long driveway to a four-car garage, sounds more like a nightmare to some.
For me, a location needs to pass the cup-of-sugar test. If I am so far from neighbors (or so unacquainted with them) that I need to drive to a supermarket to get the sugar, no deal.
In my Zionist youth, I fantasized about living on a kibbutz, those classic Israeli communes where people ate together in a dining hall. (And where I imagined them bursting into Israeli song and dance every Saturday night).My husband David thought this sounded more like Dante’s Inferno, so that was the end of that fantasy. A generation later, the burgeoning cohousing movement has created a model that bridges the need for privacy with the benefits of structured options for social connection.
The Wissahickon Village Cohousing group is in active conversation with a local developer who owns a Germantown Avenue site near amenities including bus lines, library, banking, coffee, and a gym. The neighborhood will consist of a variety of privately owned units ranging from 800 to 2,200 square feet. To increase economic diversity, there is a hope to also have investors buy units that will be rentals.
One of the most brilliant aspects of cohousing is that by designing shared facilities, each household can live comfortably in smaller space, lowering costs as well as eco-footprint. Cohousing complexes include a common house with shared facilities such as meeting space for occasional shared meals, office space for individuals to work in, a media room, even a guest room and possibly laundry facilities. The grounds are communally owned, so that gardening can be shared by those who enjoy it. Parking is at the periphery, prioritizing the porches and balconies that characterize the new urbanism.
When residents don’t want to interact, they needn’t. They just shut their doors. But when residents want to connect, the design makes it simple and natural to do so. This return to a more natural social co-existence, in which humans evolved, offers a deep reservoir of social capital. Having a natural village of neighbors close at hand provides health, economic, ecological, and cultural benefits impossible to quantify but much valued by cohousers.
Hence, cohousing is appealing to a wide variety of ages and household configurations. Elders like it, because it affords connection and stems the dreaded isolation of aging. Parents of young children love it because their kids always have other kids on site to play with, plus all those extra surrogate grandmas and grandpas around. Trading off becomes natural and simple and does not require elaborate planning, long drives or major cash outlays.
Singles like it because it provides them a de facto family to share life with in a natural, comfortable way. Self-employed people enjoy how cohousing generates water-cooler conversation options when they take a break from their monitors. Environmentally-minded people like it because they can avoid all the material duplication of single-family homes. One snow thrower, not ten. Bikes, equipment, and even cars can more readily be shared, whether by design or just through impromptu conversation.
WVC is holding regular info, business, and social meetings, reaching out to interested individuals and families. This is a chance to get in on the ground level of design. Note that the houses will be market-rate new construction. They are bought and sold as regular property and do not require the approval of the group. Wissahickon Village Cohousing needs around 20 committed households to start construction once the site and plan are approved.
Interested? Curious? Intrigued? The public is invited to an informational session on Saturday, May 12th from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Weavers Way Annex, 608 Carpenter Lane.
Betsy blogs at www.moneychangesthings.blogspot.com and chairs the 3 Weavers Way Dining For Women chapters.