Urban Green Cohousing: A Better Way to Live

Darcy and Sashaby Darcy Fleming

On a glorious summer day back in 2012, my partner Monique invited some of our family, friends and neighbours to a meeting to discuss a book she had read about cohousing, a model of intentional communities that is growing all over the world. Over wine, we spent hours talking about the challenges of modern urban living, and together we explored our values and how we wanted to live. We talked about the huge transformations that society has undergone. For example, we discussed how at the beginning of the 20th century, 80 percent of people lived in large, rural multigenerational families and how since that time, 80 percent live alone or in small nuclear families in cities. We reminisced about our childhoods growing up on the streets (kicked out by our parents in the morning and only expected back for food or when it got dark).We remembered how we were guided and mentored as much by neighbours and friends as by our parents.

On that same day, we talked about the pressures of earning a living while staying well and caring for those that we love. Finally, we talked about global warming as a major crisis of our time.

Turning to our hopes for the future, we talked about how we wanted to live. We talked about how we could live in a way that would substantially reduce our environmental footprint. We talked about the importance of living in a vibrant, walkable community, where there are fun things to do and where we wouldn’t have to drive everywhere. We envisioned a caring community where we would know our neighbours and could rely on them when we needed help. We imagined how much fun it would be to have interesting conversations with others, sharing ideas, knowledge and skills. We agreed that we would be much more resilient as a group than as individuals and how much easier it would be to reduce our impact on the environment if we could share things rather than buy them for ourselves. We discussed how great it would be to live in a place where kids could play and not have to set up play dates across town and where people could age in place.

Fast-forward a few years, and now many of the same friends, neighbours, and family are still pursuing the same conversation, the same dream. Since that first conversation over wine, we have joined with others and are now poised to make our dream a reality. We have bought property in Old Strathcona, a historic neighbourhood in Edmonton that has single family homes, high rises, and low rises, many parks and amenities, all within the same walkable area. We have brought on project managers, architects, and developers; and we are anticipating breaking ground this coming fall 2016.

We have done all of this through a process of consensus-based decision making, in which every voice is heard and valued, and in which we strive to find compromises and make decisions that provide the greatest benefit for all of our members and that are in harmony with our shared values.

These accomplishments have taken a lot of hard work and more than a little guts. That said, it has also been a fantastic adventure. It has renewed my faith in people, as I have observed the tremendous wisdom, openness, hard work and adaptability of those that have participated along the way. I have forged meaningful friendships and have witnessed the creation of a real community of caring people.

I simply can’t wait until we move in. Not only have I grown through this experience, but I have also watched my son, who is now ten, grow and develop. Because of this cohousing project, he now has a large network of peers and adults that care for him. Perhaps most importantly, simply witnessing a group of people taking on such an ambitious project together, in a respectful and caring manner, has provided him with valuable tools for life.

Finding sustainable solutions to creating vibrant urban living is a key challenge of our time. I want to leave a better world for my son and others; and in all honesty, I can’t think of a better place to start than where I live.