Building a Gingerbread Community

Richmond Cohousing wants to be a family friendly community. We envision a whole neighborhood watching out for kids, like it used to be in the olden days. But having children can be a lot of work and parents who might benefit from cohousing often have very little extra time to share for meetings – even if we provide free babysitting!

In an effort to reach out to families, our Marketing & Membership committee decided to host family friendly programs to appeal to both parents and children. We just completed a Gingerbread House program and we hope to have future family programs with themes involving Legos, bubbles, and maybe even yoga!

A gingerbread community – complete with common house, solar panels, and homes ready to be decorated!

As a former children’s library worker, I’ve given quite a few family and children’s programs in my time. But few have been as important to me as the ones I have lead for Richmond Cohousing. After all, these are children and parents whom I hope will be my neighbors – and I’d like to make good impression!

Having worked in libraries, I knew that where family programs are concerned, it’s either feast or famine. You have many, many people come to your program or not a single soul. Imagine how happy I was when 5 additional adult volunteers came to help at the Gingerbread House program. Thank you Adele, John, Anne, L, and Lala! We couldn’t have hosted as many families without your help. The company of my fellow cohousers made me feel much more relaxed about being on stage as the primary presenter for a program I’d never done before.

And thank you to the 29 kids and parents who came to learn about cohousing and, of course, build candy houses! I wonder if Santa Claus was on the kids minds as the children were absolute angels. There were no fights and no crying, only laughter and the sounds of children learning and crafting houses.

Beth Morris and the Richmond Public Library did a wonderful job of promoting our program and even printed and distributed our Gingerbread fliers throughout the library system. Crafts are not my forte so I was very pleased and grateful to Beth, she took the Gingerbread House building project in hand so I wouldn’t have to. Thank you, Ms. Beth!

And while it helped that we were following up on a popular library program which books up every single year, our committee member Meg got the event posted all over the virtual world. Thank you, Meg!

Two Richmond Cohousing families brought their children to the event. Every time that I asked for help relating an aspect of cohousing, they piped up and participated in presenting. Their participation got the children looking around and listening to more than one person. And I was particularly grateful when L asked the kids what solar panels are when we checked out the Gingerbread Common House. I’d forgotten to ask that question and it needed asking. And even their kids helped by dishing out the candy and unwrapping plastic. They had fun interacting and getting to know other children that frequent the Main library.

And last but not least, many thanks to Kathryn. She volunteered herself and her kitchen for over 8 hours of gingerbread house construction. Who knew prefabbed houses could take so long to build! It was Kathryn who helped construct the Common Gingerbread House and made sure it held together. She installed the solar panels, too!

Building a cohousing community is a big project – one that takes a a lot of help and hands. Thank you everyone who helped with this event and with the Richmond Cohousing project. It may be a lot of work now, but when we are finished it will be as sweet as a gingerbread house!

Caroline is a long time resident of Oregon Hill, vegan cheesemaker, and gingerbread planner extraordinaire. She is also one of the founding members of Richmond Cohousing – if you’d like to hear about how our group came to be, she’s a great one to ask!

Finding Cohousing – Richard’s Journey

My interest in intentional community was originally sparked in the early 1970s by a reading of Walden Two, a utopian novel written by B.F. Skinner. I was attracted by the opportunities for social interaction and sharing of resources, which the community model implied, and kept casual tabs on the movement for several decades.

When intentional communities began to cluster private homes around shared common space with a common house and other shared facilities, this form of community became cohousing (the term coined by architects Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett, who brought cohousing concepts to the U.S. from Denmark in 1980). With this evolution, I became very intent on either joining or creating a cohousing community. Over a number of years, I visited 17 cohousing communities – urban, suburban, and rural – before discovering the forming Richmond Cohousing community in May of 2015. The group is now investigating buildable land for an urban cohousing community within 5 miles of the city center so that members can walk, bus, or bike to shopping, work, entertainment, etc. The intention is to create a multi-generational, ethnically-diverse group of families and we are well on the way to achieving that goal.

The group’s business meeting (called a “plenary”) is very objective-oriented and includes a shared agenda published several days before the meeting. The governance structure encourages inclusion and involvement of all who attend. I feel very optimistic about Richmond Cohousing’s trajectory toward successful community design and construction. I look forward to living in community with my Richmond Cohousing friends.

Richard’s travels have taken him to over 17 cohousing communities across the country – including Nyland Cohousing, PDX Commons, Harmony Village, Takoma Village, Arboretum Cohousing, and Stone Curves. We’re thrilled to hear about his adventures along the way! 


Choosing a Development Model

515m+LeEpyL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Over the last few Plenary meetings, group members have been discussing takeaways from chapters in The Cohousing Handbook, written by Kelly ScottHanson and Chris ScottHanson. At out next meeting, we will discuss the chapter on the development process.

This chapter is very timely for us since we are currently searching for a development partner. Over the summer we reviewed various development strategies and decided to seek a developer with whom we would develop a mutual (or “joint”) partnership. This will require some work on our part to find the right match since most developers sell their product as “market housing” that targets buyers looking more for privacy and personal comfort. Although cohousing communities enjoy these features, they place emphasis on sharing and closeness through aspects like interior sidewalks, peripheral parking, and a multi-use common house.

As described in the book, it gets down to financial risk and control. In a joint-partnership, the developer assumes some of the risk and retains some of the control. However, on the positive side, the group is not expected to come up with all of the cash required, will share the risk and, “most importantly, will have a partner who knows what he or she is doing” as we navigate through the technicalities of housing development.

The book talks about other options, including working with a government housing agency. This is a possibility that we have also considered; however, I wonder if this is the best route for us since it “requires extreme patience and an abundance of time.” If we want to stick with our goal to have the community built out in 2017, this may not be the best option for us.

I am looking forward to hearing what takeaways the Richmond Cohousing members will bring to the meeting this week.

Jane has first-hand experience in searching for local developers as an integral member of our Development subcommittee. We look forward to utilizing her Master Gardener talents in our shared garden come 2017!

A neighborhood fit to a “T”

I gave my husband, Charlie, a spiffy new Richmond Cohousing T-shirt this morning which fit him to a “T” and looks really sharp. At the same time, I gently suggested that it might be time to retire that shabby old gray shirt he seemed so fond of, the one that lost its shape and began to fray months ago. I hinted that repurposing his old favorite as a cleaning cloth might make the most sense.

He reluctantly agreed but wistfully reminded me that in the past, when our daughter, Dell, was younger, we used to save his old T-shirts as painting smocks for Dell and her girlfriends to wear whenever they got involved in various sloppy projects. Charlie was always the one to supervise a job like that and relished the role. No one was ever better at it than he was.

Now, with our daughter grown and gone, we have little reason to save an old T-shirt as a smock. We both love kids and are good with them, but we don’t have grandchildren now or prospects for any in the future. There aren’t even many children nearby in our older, quiet neighborhood in Richmond’s Near West End.

Actually, a few kids do live near us, but we rarely see them. They seem to be either scheduled up with activities around the area or busy inside at home under close supervision, safe from the reach of dangerous strangers, but also missing the opportunity to become friends with an elderly retired neighbor who was (and is) an exemplary dad and could easily contribute as much to their development as he would benefit from the connection himself. What a sad commentary on modern American suburban life.

Meanwhile, Charlie maintains close ties with Dell in Atlanta, editing Wikipedia articles with her over the phone on the Finnish-Russian war that preceded World War II (who knew?), on forensic chemistry (really!), and on any other topics they find of mutual interest for their remarkable collaboration.

Fortunately, Charlie and I are also full members of the Richmond Cohousing community, a group committed to planning an intentional neighborhood to be built in about two years somewhere within a six-mile radius of Richmond. I’ve been exploring the concept for several years now and am totally committed to it, while Charlie’s less familiar with it but warming up to it more and more. Among its many attractions is the chance to be part of a thriving multi-generational community where genuine cross-generational friendships are the norm, not an exception.

I fully expect that before long we’ll be saving Charlie’s old T-shirts as painting smocks again, and he’ll have the chance once more to oversee a group of youngsters energetically making a mess painting, working with clay, dying Easter eggs, or throwing themselves into some other project that would threaten their good clothes otherwise. Can’t wait!

Adele and Charlie are founding members of Richmond Cohousing and Adele does a fabulous job of managing our spreadsheets and budgets as Treasurer (big thanks!).