The Boston Globe Article on CCH
From: MollyW (
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]

<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.

''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

''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

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

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

''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.


  • (no other messages in thread)

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.