Thriving During the Pandemic: The Story of One Urban Community

Caddis Collaborative has been privileged to design a number of cohousing communities across North America. As society begins to move out of COVID-19 restrictions, we reflect on how many of these communities have thrived during the pandemic. More than hunker-down survival mode, these communities looked actively to self-organize for neighborly care and connection.

A case in point is Wild Sage Cohousing Community in Boulder, Colorado. Kelly Siu, project architect at Caddis, and I helped design Wild Sage, which is located across the street from the Caddis office. Stephen Eckert, another project architect at Caddis, was a founding member of Wild Sage back in 2000. Both Wild Sage and Caddis are in North Boulder’s Holiday Neighborhood, one of the premier examples of mixed-income and mixed-use new urbanism in the United States. Stephen and I moved into Wild Sage with our families when it was built in 2004, and my family and I still live in the community.

Since the pandemic began in March 2020, Wild Sagers have found a number of creative ways to support each other emotionally, socially, and logistically. Here are just some of the community’s innovations:

  • Pods: Neighbors were randomly assigned to groups of four individuals, providing a chance for people who didn’t necessarily know one another well to deepen their relationships. Pod members stayed in touch via Zoom chats, text messaging, phone calls, voicemail, video texting, neighborhood walks, and socially distanced, masked outdoor gatherings. Pods were rotated every six weeks or so to give folks a chance to get to know other neighbors as well.
  • Mask-making: In the early days of the pandemic, neighbors gathered – distanced as appropriate – in the Common House to make masks, which they then distributed to other Wild Sagers and to vulnerable Boulder residents, including those at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.
  • Spreadsheets: Google Sheets that could be frequently updated were used to help manage care and support for people at higher risk if they contracted COVID-19. Community members could post requests for pick-up of groceries, prescriptions, and other needs – and those who were able to be out and about could fulfill those requests.
  • Happy hours: Those who were less vulnerable gathered on the common “green” on a near-daily basis, following Boulder County’s rules for social distancing.

 Wild Sagers gather for happy hour – socially distanced, of course! Bryan Bowen is in the yellow jacket.

  • Carry-out dinners: Neighbors pooled their logistical resources and picked up restaurant dinners for several households on occasional evenings. Many residents took their carry-out food back to their own house to eat, but it was nice to know that their neighbors were enjoying tacos and margaritas, too!
  • Zoom socials: Some neighbors gathered frequently in small groups for Zoom socials. When the members of one such Zoom group were all fully vaccinated, they had an in-person dinner at one member’s home to celebrate!
  • Porch sitting: Many community members felt comfortable sitting outside with masks on, so there was a lot of visiting in pairs or trios on each other’s porches, patios, and decks. Patio heaters were all the rage!
  • Special occasions: One Wild Sager turned 60 just a few days into lockdown. Her planned solo trip to France and Spain was canceled, and because she had an underlying medical condition, her doctor told her that she could not be outside with others. Neighbors surprised her by parading past her back door while singing happy birthday. She was so moved by this unexpected display of love and caring that she recorded an audio diary for the local community radio station.
  • Holidays: Some households formed “holiday meal swaps” where each household cooked part of the holiday dinner and delivered their contributions to the other households in their swap. The households that participated got to have a big Thanksgiving meal, for example, but only had to cook part of the dinner.

    Members of the Wild Sage Cohousing Community in Boulder, Colorado, stuff Easter eggs in preparation for an outdoor egg hunt. Photos by Karin Hoskin. 

  • Financial support: Some Wild Sagers had a loss in income due to the economic downturn. Faced with increased HOA dues, the community accelerated plans to create a financial mechanism to offset those increases for community members who were in need.
  • Slack for introverts: A Slack channel was created for the self-identified introverts in the neighborhood, and they found ways to meet in groups of two or three for masked, socially distanced activities. As the pandemic endured, this group also reached out to the extroverts to make sure they were getting what they needed. This resulted in lots of walks around the neighborhood and tea-drinking in pairs.
  • Hikes: Small groups of Sagers – masked and spread out – went hiking together, taking advantage of Boulder’s extensive Open Space program. These outings included night-time hikes to celebrate the full moon each month. One very memorable outing found a group of Wild Sagers hiking to a viewing spot to watch the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction – an outing that was greatly enhanced by the telescope one community member brought along.
  • Policy-making: Community members worked together – both through small team meetings and through monthly all-community meetings – to establish COVID-19 policies. Initially, the Steering Team met weekly to work through these decisions. Eventually, the community formed an ad hoc COVID-19 team.
  • Intentional one-on-one connections: Many members reached out to each other to connect outside of any formal organization, and this was made much easier by the connections and open lines of communication in place before the pandemic.

What Caddis has learned from this example of community resiliency during the pandemic is that there are deep benefits to dense housing, especially benefits to intentional communities such as cohousing. Being able to know, see, and care for neighbors sustained Wild Sagers during the pandemic and was an unmeasured form of resilience.

Cohousing communities like Wild Sage thrived during the pandemic – yet another reason to support community-first ways of living.

Category: Living in Cohousing

Tags: Community support, Connecting, Covid, emotional health, living in cohousing

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