[Editor's Note: Many of us have "Joani" stories. Many of us can thank Joani for engaging us to cohousing; still more of us are grateful for the wisdom and encouragement she has provided to so many. I encourage you to share those stories with me! Alice Alexander, Coho/US Executive Director; alicecohous [at] gmail [dot] com]
I have very recently received a diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer. It is a very aggressive form of cancer with a poor prognosis, and it is likely that I do not have a lot of time left.For that reason, I intend to treat only my symptoms, not the disease itself, because I want to enjoy myself and not feel sick during whatever time remains....People often don’t know how to respond to a cancer announcement, so let me tell you what will work and not work for me.
Catherine and Allan Stephenson (Rancho La Salud Village, Ajijic, Mexico)
So you are thinking about retirement. Or may already be retired. You know that in this next phase of your life you would like to have a new adventure-- new experiences, new culture, new environment, new lifestyle, new climate and maybe a new language. But not so different that you are no longer connected to your American culture, your children and grandchildren and your friends. These were the desires that my husband and I had as we approached our retirement years.
Following the first cohousing community in the US, Muir Commons in Davis, California, cohousing has not only continued to expand throughout the US and Canada, it has also become a model for other housing types (seniors housing, nonprofit affordable housing), and a building block for other larger communities, ecovillages in particular. The Yarrow Ecovillage is one such project. True to the cohousing concept in general, it aims to re-establish many of the advantages of traditional villages within the context of 21st century life....The site of this community is a former dairy farm, left inactive in the 1980s. Quite conveniently, the site is also on a main road that connects the small town of Yarrow (drained by decades of suburban sprawl, and now incorporated with its neighboring town of Chilliwack) with both urban Vancouver (to its west) and the natural beauty of the Fraser Valley. Yarrow Ecovillage offers the possibility of creating a new town center for Yarrow, a place for living combined with commerce. The 25-acre site on Yarrow Central Road in Chilliwack, British Columbia, includes a 33-unit intergenerational cohousing project, a 30,000-square-foot mixed-use area (commercial, rental units, learning, etc.), a 20-acre farm, and a 17-unit senior cohousing community.
One of the challenges faced by forming groups is who makes decisions at the outset. When people first come together to explore whether or not it makes sense to form a group, there can be ambiguity about who has a voice in that....Is it everyone in the room? Everyone who was invited to that first meeting (including those who couldn't make that first meeting)? Everyone identified as a stakeholder (including some who weren't even invited to that first meeting)? Only those in favor of moving forward? Those who show up to a second meeting after it has been announced ahead of time that the new group will form for x purpose on y date at z location? It can get confusing.
Charles Durrett, The Senior Cohousing Handbook (New Society Publishers, 2009)
Successful and dignified aging for most seniors means maintaining control over their own lives and not feeling burdensome to their children. Unfortunately, with living situations limited to options like retirement facilities, assisted living, personal caregivers, or reliance on family for help and housing, the loss of independence and self-sufficiency may seem unavoidable. In The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Charles Durrett not only gives an enlightening overview of cohousing as a whole, but encourages seniors and families to consider this approach to aging with their independence intact. Cohousing is a way of cost-efficient, environmentally-friendly communal living, where custom-built neighborhoods fit the needs and aspirations of their residents. Here there are shared resources, safety and security, and perhaps most importantly, accessible social contact, which leads to better physical, mental, and emotional health. Built with an intentional emphasis on autonomy, cohousing provides a way to grow old in community.
For many years I have offered an introductory workshop on conflict entitled, "Conflict: Fight, Flight, or Opportunity?" In it, I explain that many people engage conflict with a flight or flight response and that there are better choices. However, even if I can sell you on the idea that working constructively with conflict is possible, that doesn't mean it's easily accessible.
Many of you may remember the story of Gou (Joy) Chuangjing and her five colleagues from China who attended the 2015 National Cohousing Conference. In June last year, I shared correspondence from her, thanking all of us for a great conference experience (below).
Thanks to Megan Shea from Berkeley, California, we have an update on Joy’s efforts. Megan recently spent a few months in China, and enjoyed connecting with Joy. Megan will be back in China next spring and has offered to keep chatting with Joy and post blogs about what she and her group are up to.
Sara Zeff Geber, PhD, is a professional group process facilitator, a transition coach, and a gerontologist with a special focus on aging in community. She spoke on the topic of her article at the May 2016 Aging Better Together Cohousing Conference.
Aging in Community...for many, it’s an idyllic thought. However, much as we would like to think that we will just grow a little older each year, continuing to share meals with our community, putter around the common garden, travel, take long walks with friends, do volunteer work, and attend concerts and local events, growing older often brings with it some challenges....
One day, cohousing won't be an underground movement but a fact of life. From the people I've met and the stories I've heard, we're well on the way. Can't wait. --Jim Leach Wonderland Hill Development, at the Aging Better Together Conference in Salt Lake City, May 2016
Last week, I attended the Aging Better Together Cohousing Conference in Salt Lake City. Before the meeting, my knowledge and understanding of it was vague. The concept sounded intriguing and I looked forward to learning more. My assumptions of cohousing looked a lot like a senior independent living place that used a trendy name.