Fine Article from Detroit Free Press and Chicago Tribune
From: Joani Blank (
Date: Wed, 16 Jan 2002 12:15:01 -0700 (MST)
Howdy Cohousing Friends,

I've been so tied up with Cohousing Network projects and commitments that I haven't read or contributed very much to this listserve in recent months. But I awoke this morning with plans to pass on two requests to you today. First, however, I opened an email from fellow Board Member Dennis Jay and found this wonderful article from the Chicago Tribune, apparently originally published in the Detroit Free Press a couple of weeks ago. [I don't believe this has appeared on coho-l previously, but if it has and you've already read it, just hit that delete key.]....Later for those two requests.....

Joani Blank
Swan's Market Cohousing
Oakland, CA

Nice positive article in Sunday's paper. This article previously appeared in the Detroit
Free Press two weeks ago.

Chicago Tribune
Sunday, January 13, 2002

Community found in cohousing ; Condo group emphasizes participation
For the 19 years that he lived in his Ann Arbor condo, Ed Herstein
drove to work, drove home, parked his car in his attached garage and
rarely saw his neighbors. "There were few opportunities to meet other people," Herstein says.

That changed when he moved to a new condo with an association that
puts an emphasis on community and participation. These days, Herstein
volunteers on several condo committees, eats in a communal dining
room four times a week and is greeted by name as he takes a
neighbor's dog for a noontime stroll.

"Here, I know everybody," says Herstein, 58, a retired technology
consultant for a regional educational service agency. "It's extremely
pleasing to know that if I ever need to borrow a cup of milk, I can
go to one of 40 households and never get turned down."

Herstein's one-bedroom condo is among the 40 units at Sunward
CoHousing in Scio Township, just west of Ann Arbor. The neo-colonial
townhouses, covered in clapboard-like siding in yellow, pale gray or
blue with white trim, are clustered along walking lanes and back up
to common areas. Each has a small front yard and porch to promote
easy visiting.

The one-, two- and three-bedroom units are 750 to 1,600 square
feet and sell for $125,000 to nearly $300,000, with monthly
association fees of $75 to $135. About six units have been resold
since the development opened in 1998 and prices have kept pace with
or risen a bit higher than the local market, according to Nick Meima,
49, a Sunward founder and resident.

Cohousing originated in Denmark about 35 years ago and arrived in
the United States in the 1980s. There are now more than 60 cohousing
developments and another 100 planned, says Meima, a partner in the
Cohousing Development Co., which assists others who want to start
similar projects.

Sunward, Meima says, is Michigan's first cohousing community.
Great Oak and Honey Creek, both scheduled to begin construction in
2002, will be built on adjacent land, sharing access to a natural
area and connected with walking trails. Another cohousing community,
Meadowood, is planned for Lansing.

In cohousing, the residents collaborate to plan a pedestrian-
friendly, neighborly community. Although each unit is complete and
separate, members have access to a common building, where optional
communal meals and other facilities like meeting rooms are available.
Members manage the development once it is built.

One aspect that attracts considerable interest is the prospect of
living among people of diverse ages who have chosen to be part of a
close-knit community.

"As a parent, it's an extraordinary place," says George Albercook,
36, who lives at Sunward with his wife, Caren, and their 3-year-old
son, Zander.

At Sunward, condos are clustered, so much of the site remains
undeveloped. There is a prairie with native plants, a walking trail
through 10 acres of woods, and a wetland and pond that help filter
and manage storm water.

About half of the 92 residents are between the ages of 26 and 59,
with a quarter younger and the rest older than 60. Most have college
degrees. Owners include married couples, some with children; single
people; same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples. Residents
include whites, Asians and African Americans.

While they represent many professions, religions and political
views and interests, "a hard-core conservative is not someone I
typically find in cohousing," Meima says.

The community building is between the parking lot and the condos.
Inside, members pick up their mail and newspapers and can watch
television, eat dinner, do laundry and use exercise machines or
woodworking tools. They may also reserve the guest bedroom for
occasional visitors.

The association requires adult members to work about four hours a
month on projects that benefit the whole, such as shoveling snow,
doing yard work, serving on committees, cooking the group meals or
cleaning up afterward.

"If you eat, you cook or you clean," says Meima. The cost of the
food is divided among those who share it, usually $3 to $4 per
dinner. Vegetarian options are always on the menu.
Cohousing projects promote the use of sustainable materials.
According to J.D. Lindeberg, a partner in Cohousing Development Co.
who lives with his family at Sunward, linoleum is the choice for the
community building floor because it is made of natural materials. The
exterior siding is a concrete-wood fiber composite, and each unit is
equipped for solar panels. Walls are extra thick to improve

The landscape is maintained without herbicides or pesticides and
Sunward has its own recycling program. It limits cars to the parking
lot near the entrance, and residents use pushcarts to carry their
groceries to their homes, about the equivalent of half a city block.
Although it remains a niche housing market, cohousing is likely to
become more popular in the next decade as more people seek
alternatives to traditional housing, predicts Robert Marans,
professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of

"People are looking for places that offer a strong sense of
community, concern about the environment, some shared
responsibilities, and are willing to give up a bit of privacy in
order to have this," Marans says.

Advocates say cohousing attracts people with lifestyles other than
the traditional two-parent-family-with-children that comprised the
target market for single-family, detached houses built after World
War II.

Meima says that's how he felt when, in the late 1980s, he read a
book about cohousing and "instantly recognized that's what I wanted.
. . . I had the sense that life could be better if I had a more
connected lifestyle." He started talking to people about cohousing
and found others in Ann Arbor who thought it would be worth a try.

The group held meetings at a bookstore and eventually signed on as
codevelopers. They found the 20-acre parcel with an old gravel and
sand pit, a small farm and woods. Members made down payments to buy
the property on land contract, got a construction loan from a bank
and found a builder. The last unit was sold a month after building
Because members manage cohousing developments, there are plenty of
committees and frequent -- sometimes tedious -- meetings. "People who
don't like meetings would get frustrated" in a cohousing development,
Herstein says. But residents say this way of making decisions is
fair: "When you include everybody, you invariably make better
decisions than if they're not involved," Albercook says.

Albercook and his family moved to Sunward from a duplex where they
knew few neighbors. Here, son Zander is free to venture outside on
the traffic-free walkways, finding playmates among the other members'

"The world is a safe, interesting place to him," says Albercook, a
consulting research scientist. Caren Albercook is a doctor in family

In addition to communal meals, Sunward residents meet at social
functions. One resident recently posted a notice inviting everyone to
an open house to see her newly decorated living room. There are
community events like the May Day festivities, featuring "schlepping
cart" races, where residents push the wagons they use to transport
goods from cars to condos.

When people go out of town, neighbors volunteer to feed their
pets. When residents return from hospital stays, neighbors bring in
their meals. In some ways, it's like an idealized version of life in
a small town -- except that all these residents have elected to be
part of it. And can it be too close, like some small towns?
"It's hard to live here and not have people have a pretty good
idea of what's going on in your life," Herstein admits. But, he says,
the level of support and respect for individual lifestyle choices
shared by residents are far more important.

When it comes time to sell, Sunward residents select their own
buyers and negotiate their own prices. Prospective buyers receive a
copy of the binding cohouse bylaws as well as a book of agreements so
they know what kind of community they're buying into.
With that kind of preparation, it is rare -- though not unheard of
-- that someone moves into cohousing with unrealistic expectations
and subsequently decides to leave. More frequently, people lean about
cohousing from friends who are already residents, so they're familiar
with the concept before joining. In that way, condos have sold to
like-minded people without being advertised.

"When someone moves out of cohousing, the next household moving in
agrees" to the community commitments, Meima says. "That's one of the
critical aspects to sustaining a community.

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