Shared facilities and open space—instead of gated entrances and private yards—are attracting more and more Americans to the neighborly option of cohousing.
Years ago, Sharon Hamer and her husband, Richard Curran, lived in a large apartment building in Boston. The couple encouraged their friends to move into neighboring apartments, resulting in an informal community of very friendly neighbors. Occasionally, several couples and families got together for meals or an outing, Hamer recalls fondly.
When the couple's children Jeff and Nora, now fourteen and eight years old entered the picture, they began looking for another home. They flirted with the idea of moving to the country, but they were reluctant to give up the pleasure of living close to friends. That's when an acquaintance told them of another option cohousing.
Today, Hamer and her family are residents of Cambridge Cohousing. A complex of forty-one condominiums in the middle of urban Cambridge, Massachusetts, it's part of a national trend of bringing neighbors close together. Hamer's family of four has joined nearly 100 other people in a community where her children have room to roam and more kids to play with than ever The family joins with fellow cohousers to break bread, tend a community garden, share tools, and generally help each other out.
Listening to Hamer describe a typical day at Cambridge Cohousing, one understands why many young families opt for the convenience and camaraderie of cohousing. Coming home from work after picking up her daughter at school, Hamer often hangs out with her own friends while Nora heads off to play with a girlfriend who lives on the other side of the common yard. "I can't see my daughter if she's down on the other end of the yard, but I feel secure in letting her go there and play,'' Hamer says. Twenty-eight children live at Cambridge Cohousing, so Nora always has a playmate.
On the three days of the week when a community dinner is served in the common house, Hamer and Curran are free to work or play until dinner, knowing there will be a wholesome, hot meal served at 6:30 sharp. Thirty or forty people usually gather for the dinner and a chance to chat with neighbors.
Everyone who participates in the dinners takes a turn helping out. But, as the saying goes, many hands make small work. "If you eat, you help by cooking, cleaning, or shopping, but only three times every two months,'' Hamer points out. Other nights, "it's so wonderful to come home at three in the afternoon knowing that I can spend time with my children rather than running around trying to get dinner on the table.''
For more about the growing trend of cohousing, its European roots, and what cohousing can mean for your community, check out the January/February '01 issue of Natural Home.
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