Here’s a nice nytimes article highlighting why people are drawn more and more to the idea of living in a community where neighbors know and look out for one another, share resources and spaces, and in general live happy and healthy lives together.

While Pringle Creek isn’t co-housing, we have certainly borrowed from many of the values of co-housing; community gardens, tool library, Painters Hall, clustered houses, 12 acres of open space, and neighbors that know and care about one another…

From the New York Times
March 3, 2011

Co-Housing Group Plans for Shared Future



A BOOK editor, two physicians, a nurse, a retired teacher, an organic gardener — the people
gathered in Dick Margulis’s living room were all well established and financially secure.

They had gathered on this recent weeknight, as they have on countless evenings over the past five years, to discuss another commonality: all residents of Connecticut suburbs, they have each felt alienated or disconnected from their communities.

“It seems like the only time we see our neighbors is when there’s a big snowstorm and we’re all out shoveling,” said Marie Pulito, a nurse who works at Yale-New Haven Hospital and lives in Bethany with her spouse, Brenda Caldwell.

The members of this group hope to put an end to that. They have been working toward an alternative to suburban isolation — one that goes well beyond get-togethers over tea and cookies. They intend to build Connecticut’s first co-housing community, an energy-efficient development they have named Green Haven.

A kind of condominium with a conscience, co-housing is collaborative living, usually around a unifying theme or vision. Residents own their own homes but share other spaces, like a kitchen and dining area, recreation facilities, a laundry and gardens.

The concept originated in Denmark, but the Cohousing Association of the United States has documented more than 100 co-housing communities in this country, according to its Web site.

Such communities are planned, designed, managed and maintained by their members, in a system that helps keep costs down. Houses are typically clustered close together, and the shared areas are contained within a large common house.

The Green Haven group, some of whose members have been involved since late 2006, is working with a housing consultant, has an architect lined up and is shopping for a suitable site. Its members have completed what is possibly the hardest part of creating such a community: reaching consensus on defining values. Green Haven’s overarching theme is sustainability, which will require maintaining more than just an ecological balance. If the community is to be vibrant and lasting, they say, it will need residents of all ages, with a variety of skills and backgrounds.

“We want a community that is multigenerational so we can support each other to stay there our whole lives,” said Ms. Caldwell, who manages a small organic farm in Cheshire.

They are looking for a New Haven-area property of at least seven acres, enough to support 20 to 33 households, a common house and a sizable organic garden with open space to spare. They envision small, energy-efficient homes averaging 1,000 square feet. The common house is to have a kitchen, a dining room, guest rooms, a library, workshops and a laundry.

The members are also aiming to keep home prices in the $200,000-to-$300,000 range.

“It’s a wonderful challenge,” said James Childress, a partner in Centerbrook Architects, Green Haven’s chosen architect. “It’s not a moneymaker. It’s just something that’s easy to get passionate about.”

This would be Centerbrook’s first co-housing project, and an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained incorporating energy-efficient technologies into large academic buildings, like the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, on a smaller, highly cost-sensitive scale.

The affordable aspect has piqued the interest of some of the architectural firm’s younger employees, and a few have attended informational sessions.

Finding a place to build the development may be a challenge, said David Berto, the president of Housing Enterprises, a consulting firm in Enfield that is working with Green Haven.

“Most of the towns would not have inherent zoning that would allow this type of development and density as a matter of right,” Mr. Berto said. “But it’s very probable that some cities and towns would find this to be really desirable and would approve it.”

According to Mr. Margulis, Green Haven has 11 committed members, and another 10 loyal followers who don’t have time for the planning process but may buy in later.

New members must do more than sign a contract, however. Green Haven requires that they first visit other co-housing communities, read six months’ worth of minutes from group meetings, and take a course in cooperative decision-making. The approach guides all meetings.

Hewing to formal consensus can be time-consuming — no decision is finalized until everyone is satisfied — but it’s an effective way to keep the peace, said Tina Smillie, a physician, who is Mr. Margulis’s wife.

“If you have majority rule,” Dr. Smillie said, “you’re going to have an unhappy minority.”

The members came close to buying a piece of land last month, but ultimately decided against it. Now they’re back on the hunt, checks in hand and “ready to jump,” Ms. Caldwell said.

She and other members are eager to get to the fun part of the process: designing their compact houses. And they talk excitedly about the finished community, with Mr. Margulis looking forward to cooking big dinners, and Ms. Pulito glad to be able to downsize without losing access to amenities.

Joanna Heller, the retired teacher, who now lives in Greenwich, envisions herself outside in the dirt, spade in hand. “I like the idea of being able to garden with a group of people,” she said, adding, “some of whom actually know what they’re doing.”