Co-housing: Not Your Grandmother's Commune

Somewhat like 60 being the new 40, co-housing is the new yesterday’s small town. Think pioneer groups sharing meals around a campfire… then think post-2000 college grads seeking affordable housing and wanting community; or think 60s communes with wifi and central air conditioning. You’ll get an idea of today’s growing U.S. co-housing movement. (The term is written with or without a hyphen.)

At a recent OWL-sponsored panel discussion, two representatives of different (in some ways vastly different) California cohousing projects outlined some of the reasons this option is attractive to Boomers (downsize into simpler lifestyle, find community) and seniors (anticipate future needs, find community) in particular, but multi-generational others as well. The big key word: community. Cohousing villages are designed and self-managed with intention. They range from west coast to east and in between, from simple to posh, urban to rural. Swan’s Market in downtown Oakland, CA is on the National Register of Historic Places in an area fast morphing from down-and-out to up-and- coming. Mosaic Commons in Berlin, MA west of Boston boasts of green space, green planning, green building. Blue Ridge Commons near Charlottesville, VA touts organic gardens and a renovated 1890s farmhouse, while recently completed Great Oak Cohousing, Ann Arbor MI’s second such venture, lists 30-some households which include “about 65 adults” and “about 37 kids.” Cohousing populations are moving targets.

The common thread is the desire for economically and ecologically viable close-community living. Most cohousing villages have at least two or three shared meals per week with everyone taking turns in the communal kitchen, while the rest of the time residents dine at home. Most share other things like laundry space, recreational space and assorted activities. The same occasional conflicts that probably afflicted cave dwellers arise among today’s cohousing residents, but enthusiasm runs rampant.

And increasing numbers of Americans are considering, or at the very least familiar with, the concept. This reporter appeared to be the only person in an overflow audience who had to ask who the oft-mentioned Chuck and Katie were. (Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett; they wrote the book.)

Affordable Health Reform

It was actually spoken out loud on NewsHour Friday night: we could have a workable, affordable healthcare system if we would address the excessive costs that go into the last six months of life, particularly the last few days. The remark was immediately followed by the standard caveat: of course, no one is going to suggest doing this.

Good grief, why not? Everybody knows it, a few others have even said it out loud. Sure, it’s political suicide, but if someone were ever brave enough to fall on that particular sword there would be a lot of people around to pull out the sword, cleanse the wound and stand him or her back upright.

It could be done. If individual choice were encouraged and enabled. If physicians had to be honest about the quality of life (if any, usually for a few days or weeks) being bought with aggressive treatment at life’s end. If futile treatment were avoided. If protections were put in place for physicians and hospitals complying with the above, since fear of lawsuit is behind most of the mess. If all of us began to look at — and make clear — what extreme measures we would or would not want.

Big ifs. But the reward would be a workable, affordable system.

On Getting Started, and Re-started…

Front pages of the two east coast newspapers that arrive on our west coast doorstep every morning featured references to a few of the primary issues this column proposes to address: staying active and upbeat while confronting one’s mortality; the multiplicity of housing shifts in late generations; and whether one’s life experiences lead to rigidity or understanding.

 

Even the front page of today’s True/Slant, in Scott Bowen’s innovative take on Boston Globe books and publishing writer David Mehegan’s Over and Out, takes up the end-of-life choices question which has consumed much of my time and energies over the past decade and which I tackled (albeit anecdotally) in a 1999 book, Dying Unafraid.

 

Now. If life experience can be applied to mastery of T/S’s technological tools – which are not, after all, quite so daunting as the above – it will be great joy for Boomers &Beyond to explore these through headline grabs, riffs and commentaries and perhaps some lively reader responses. Stay tuned.