|The Boston Globe Article on CCH||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: MollyW (MollyWedc.org)|
|Date: Wed, 8 Apr 1998 10:39:17 -0500|
This is from my husband - at my request - who does not subscribe to this list. Molly Lynn Watt (MollyW [at] EDC.org) <fontfamily><param>Times</param><bigger><bigger>I've copied and re-formatted the article about Cambridge Cohousing that appeared in the Boston Globe, Thursday, March 26, 1998. (Those of us who have been waiting for months for our units to be finished thought the headline was a bit misleading!) Dan Watt Instant community In the East Coast's first urban cohousing project, 85 Cambridge residents will share space and ideals By William A. Davis, Globe Staff, 03/26/98 When her children were young, Diane Margolis says, she lived a middle-class suburban version of the American Dream - and hated it. Passionately. ''We lived in Wilton, Conn., a town where everyone had a nice house on a 2-acre lot,'' Margolis recalls. ''There we all were doing the same things - cooking, shopping, taking care of our families - in complete isolation from each other. It was absurd.'' Convinced there had to be an acceptable alternative to being locked up in suburbia, Margolis, a sociologist, began looking for a more satisfying way to live. And, at long last, she believes she's found it. Now in her 60s and a widow, Margolis plans to spend the rest of her life in a community that is the antithesis of suburban isolation: an experiment in group living, social diversity, and urban homesteading called Cambridge Cohousing. Its 85 residents, or community members, as they prefer to call themselves, collectively planned and financed 41 condominium units clustered around a large Common House designed for group activities. While traditional homeowners retreat to the privacy of their own castles, Margolis can leave the quiet of her apartment to help cook and serve food at potluck suppers in the communal dining room. Instead of making all her own decisions about issues affecting her life, she will be subject to group agreement on everything from what to plant in the new communal garden to what books to stock in the communal library. The group sharing will range from the philosophy of managing the place down to activities like card playing and baby-sitting for the development's 25 children. ''This is instant community, a group of people who believe in looking out for each other and are invested in their homes,'' says Chisun Chun, who with her husband, James, and 19-month-old daughter, Megan, were among the first residents to occupy units in the development, which is still under construction. ''We were exhausted when we moved in,'' Chun remembers, ''but neighbors came by and brought us lunch. That was a typical cohousing moment.'' Cambridge Cohousing is an offshoot of the cohousing movement begun in Denmark in the 1960s in reaction to the social sterility and isolating architecture of post-World War II suburban development. There are now some 30 cohousing developments in the United States, including three others in Massachusetts (two in Amherst and one in Acton), with another 130 projects in various stages of development. When this $9 million project on Richdale Avenue in North Cambridge is fully occupied next month, it will become the first cohousing in an urban setting on the East Coast. United by a common commitment to creating a new kind of urban lifestyle, Cambridge Cohousing members are a diverse group. Three households are Asian American (including the Korean-American Chuns) and two African American. Residents also include a lesbian couple with a young child, several physically handicapped people, and four young men with developmental disabilities who will, with a special needs professional, share two adjoining apartments. Two condo units are being bought by the Cambridge Housing Authority and will be rented to low-income tenants. The adults in the community range in age from early 30s to late 70s, the children from infants to upper teens. ''For me cohousing is a way of living my values,'' says Norma Wassel, a Cambridge social worker. Wassel says she became active in the cohousing movement after living in a development in Sweden. ''I was impressed at how beneficial it was,'' she says, ''the mutual emotional and social support, the sharing of resources and the economy of scale.'' The 48-year-old Wassel, who is divorced, will share a two-bedroom condo with her two daughters, ages 9 and 12. One thing she particularly liked about the cohousing she saw in Sweden, Wassel says, is the way it met the needs of different kinds of families. ''Marriage is viewed differently in Sweden,'' she notes. ''There are lots of unmarried mothers, and couples who aren't married but have children and live together.'' ''The way we've been used to living as nuclear families isn't a good way to live,'' says Margolis, who plans to write a book about the cohousing experience. ''For one thing, it's very brittle. The kids go off to school and you're a couple. Then, a spouse dies and you're all alone.'' Lloyd Smith, a 57-year-old former New York City teacher whose main source of income is a disability pension, will be a tenant in one of the two rent-subsidized units. ''Cohousing is like going back to the old African tradition of community living that I grew up with in Barbados and that's only recently been discovered in Northern Europe,'' says Smith. ''And when I heard about it I went for it like a refugee seeking shelter.'' The Richdale Avenue development was built with modular components trucked to the site, which was much cheaper than conventional construction methods. To further reduce costs, the members, who had formed a limited liability company to finance the project, put down 30 percent of the estimated cost of their units to provide the initial funds needed to buy the site and begin work. Despite these economies, units in the cohousing development, while not overpriced, don't exactly come cheap. Purchase prices range from $85,000 for a modest-size studio apartment to $390,000 for a town house with a few extras such as a fireplace. Members own their own condos and are free to sell them, but under the group's bylaws must give the community first refusal. ''Most members select themselves and want to live in cohousing because they agree with the philosophy,'' says Gwen Noyes, who with her husband, Arthur Klipfel, is developer of the project and will also live there. ''But we also want people who contribute to diversity.'' Smith feels that residents of cohousing are sincere in their desire for diversity. ''But,'' he adds, ''because they're middle class they can afford to take time to think about new ways of living. That's something low-income people can't do because they're too busy trying to figure out how to pay the rent.'' Wassel agrees that the development will be essentially, and inevitably, a middle-class enclave. ''Cohousing in the United States is middle class by nature of the financial risk involved,'' she says, ''and the enormous amount of time that members have to devote to it if a project is going to go forward.'' Since the Cambridge Cohousing group was formed in January 1995, members have held general meetings and potluck suppers every other Sunday at the Cambridge Friends Meeting House in Longfellow Park off Brattle Street. That's where the members made crucial decisions about such things as the design of the project, what sort of common areas to create, and who would get which units. ''In cohousing everything is done by consensus,'' Wassell says. ''It's not just one person one vote; we all have to agree.'' To ensure that important issues are addressed and no one gets frozen out of the discussion, every member gets a set of colored signal cards he or she can raise to speak or register an opinion. A green card means a member can clarify the matter being discussed; on a vote it means approval. A red card means a serious objection or a negative vote. According to Wassel, some of the most contentious issues have involved ecological principles, such as whether to contribute to air pollution by allowing fireplaces in the town houses. The compromise was installation of expensive but airtight and virtually pollution-free fireplaces; a geothermal heat pump system using three 1,200-foot wells was also chosen. Touchiest matter of all, however, was choosing between members vying for the same units, which sometimes meant favoring a person who made the community more diverse over those who had been involved longer with the group. ''Something like that is really hard,'' Wassel says, ''because you have to accept the responsibility of affecting people's lives.'' The group had little difficulty agreeing on the need for a lot of common spaces. ''It isn't really cohousing unless you share meals and do things together,'' says Noyes. The Common House area - most of the ground floor of a four-story building - includes a living room, dining room, kitchen, children's playroom, a library, and two guest rooms. Elsewhere in the development are a woodworking shop, exercise area, laundry, teen room, and a 40-car garage. There are also communal gardens and outside play areas. Residents will be asked to pay for some amenities, such as use of the laundry, on an honor basis. There will also be a charge for the guest rooms. Money from condo fees will be used to furnish the living room, dining room, and other common areas, and members - a number of whom are moving out of large homes into smaller ones - are also donating furniture. ''We've been given a treadmill and stationary bicycle for the exercise room,'' says Noyes, ''and we're getting a pool table that may go into the teen room.'' When the cohousing project was in its crucial formative stages, Wassel says, she spent an average of 20 hours a week attending meetings and working on committees. She also took a second, stressful job, as a member of a crisis intervention team, to get the money to pay for her apartment. ''There's also a lot of emotional involvement and you almost have to put your life on hold,'' Wassel says. ''And, financially, it's a real stretch for me. But, I feel I'm going on an adventure that will change me in ways I don't know - and I'm up for it.'' This story ran on page E-1 of the Boston Globe on 03/26/98. c Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company. </bigger></bigger></fontfamily>
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