Globe Syndicate

for release Friday March 26, 2004

Another Way

by Melodie Davis

Living Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Would you like to live in a place where everybody knew your name?
Where you didn’t have to worry about traffic dangers every time your child went outside, because there was no street nearby? Where there was virtually no crime? Where kids had “grandparent” type neighbors who could read a story to them after school?
So is this paradise, or at least utopia?
Some may think so, but cohousing—or planned communities where people intentionally share some of their outside lawn, parking, play, and gardening areas, is a trend that is growing in many areas across the U.S. and Canada. In a cohousing community, people own their own homes, but the land is owned conjointly with others.
If it sounds like a commune from the 60s, or for religious or social fruitcakes, the promoters insist that communities are not tied in to any particular philosophical path. Households have their own income, their own bank account. In most communities persons have the option of participating in a community meal one or several times a week, taking turns sharing the cooking and the expense. After the meal families and individuals frequently socialize—playing games or talking.
To be honest, cohousing communities haven’t exactly made it to the heartland of the U.S. or Canada yet, and the 72 completed neighborhoods are concentrated in places like California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Washington. In Canada, some are found in Victoria, Toronto and Vancouver. But an estimated 150 more cohousing groups are known to be in various stages of formation.
Drawbacks include the amount of time it takes to get a co-housing community operational. Communities are best suited for persons who value relationships highly and are willing to: work at communicating with others, make decisions by consensus, and work through conflict. Communities make decisions together regarding roaming pets, how many yard and garden tools to share and who does maintenance (from a community budget), and practical things like tending the compost pile in winter.
Yet the benefits are many. I wondered how a community could get by with no streets. Kate de La Grange, who works for an organization that helps housing units get started, said that different communities organize their houses in different ways, but in general houses face each other with lanes and parking in the back, with front yards designed for children’s play. The houses emphasize front porches, which tend to draw people out to rest, talk and communicate (rather than backyard decks and fenced patios which hide people.) Some communities have a parking garage for all cars to the side of homes. So if you come home with groceries or packages, there are a number of wheelbarrows or little red wagons you can borrow to help cart your groceries. Elderly residents find that there is always someone wanting to help them out.
Cherry Anderson and her husband Aaron Brockett bought a home in a cohousing neighborhood because “It was our long-term goal to live where we have more connections with other people. The whole idea of other adults knowing our child was appealing to us.”
Cohousing neighborhoods welcome diversity of age, with retirees serving the role of surrogate grandparents. Kate says that residents find that they don’t have to suffer through illness, tragedy or death alone. The support of neighbors can make the unbearable, more bearable.
An interesting medical study relating to possible health effects arose out of one “unplanned” community of 30-40 years ago which had many of the characteristics of these modern urban cohousing units. In Roseto, Pa., doctors were amazed to find that a close-knit Italian American community suffered heart attacks at a rate only half of the rest of North America. When subsequent studies noted that all of the families contained three generations of family, with younger folks caring for older folks, and coming together frequently for heavy, pasta-laden family meals, it seemed to point to the fact that people are nourished by other people. Good social networks can promote longevity. (If you do a search for a study of “The Roseto Effect” on the Internet you should find more details about this interesting study.)
While many of us will probably never live in planned cohousing, (and some may think this sounds like a living nightmare), we can work informally at incorporating various elements of more healthy lifestyles into our own, such as making a real effort to get to know our neighbors.

For more information on cohousing go to You can write to me at: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail:

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Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.

NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 765 words; end material = 105 words

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