Putting the "Co" in Communities

Aug 28, 2015

Credit http://www.shadowlakevillage.org/

They’re often called, ‘the new old fashioned neighborhoods of the future’ planned communities, where the focus is on collaboration, cooperation and sustainability.  It’s an idea that came from Denmark and it’s beginning to take hold in Virginia. 

“This is sort of the periphery of the building area, the actual building area is a little further in.”

Walter Charnley is showing us this thirty-eight acre patch of land in Floyd he’s owned for 15 years.  The plan, is to build the kind of neighborhood here that puts the ‘co’- back in community, something he’s wanted to do since he first heard about the concept known as co-housing.

“It’s collaborative cooperative, it’s communicative it’s consensus oriented. All of those things are kind of ‘co’ things that apply.”

Lisa Poley is a founding member of a community like this, Blacksburg’s Shadowlake Village.  She grew up in northern Virginia, where she said most people literally did not know their neighbors. After she read a book about it, written by a couple from Denmark ---, the Danish word for the concept translates roughly into, “living neighborhood”--- she fell in love with the idea.

“ I was just like, this is great.  I’ve felt sad about the way so many neighborhoods now, they’re isolating.  You know, they’re places for cars rather than people. I liked the idea of having a neighborhood where you could have privacy but you call also have very warm, easy access to community.”

The concept behind this is that form follows function. Houses are arranged in a large circle, facing inward, creating a natural gathering place in the center. The place is set up to bring people together.

Walter Charnley
Credit http://jubileecoho.com/walter/

“All co-housing communities, in addition to a private home with a kitchen, and all the usual things of a home, there’s a community house, usually called the common house and having  access to that resource means you can have a slightly smaller individual home because you can outsource to the common home things like party space, video viewing space and some of the common houses have a big common kitchen and a big dining room. And most communities will sponsor community meals that people can come to if they want to or not."

In Shadowlake Village community, any kid over the age of 5 can go play in the common house unsupervised.  The common house there is filled with toys and ping pong tables.  The only rules in a co-housing community are those that the residents place on themselves.

Charnley says,  “There’s no ideology behind it, not charismatic, sort of nutty leader who s trying to prove something.”

In intentional communities Charnley explains, an alternating group moderator leads community meetings. Decisions are made by consensus. There are some core values, such as respect for others, for the environment.  But the key word in all this is ‘intentional.”

“It’s an intentional neighborhood.  It’s people deciding they want to live in a neighborhood that is like what we could think of, ideally as a neighborhood.  In other words, people knowing one another, people sharing things.  In co-housing communities, we’ll have 33 residences; we’re not going to need 33 lawn mowers. There’s probably going to be one lawn mower.”

Having more by owning less is another building block of this kind of community. Again, Lisa Poley.

“You know the way we live isn’t just our stuff but it’s how we connect with the people around us.”

In the U.S. there are around 150 Co-housing communities like this, two  in Virginia located in Blacksburg and Vienna, and several in the planning stages including Richmond, Harrisonburg, Crozet, and Floyd.

The proposed Floyd Co-housing community is holding and informational session this Saturday at 10 AM at the Co-Lab on Grandin Road in Roanoke.