Michael Black, who has designed three cohousing communities in CA, now also offers development and development consulting services through Community Life Development LLC. He is currently spearheading two elder cohousing communities, one near Austin and one on the northern CA coast, and is assisting an aging-in-place cohousing community in Austin, TX. Michael Black & Associates has been providing consensus-based community planning and architectural services to a wide variety of clients for over twenty-five years. Michael is now partnering with other architects, while focusing his design and community-building skills on aging-in-place and elder cohousing.
Q: What are the benefits of "Aging in Community"?
A: Those involved in creating communities, are usually younger in age, rarely in their "sunset years." When the oldest of the members begin to experience the physical difficulties that await us, it is usually discovered that the community was not "designed" to accommodate this process. Accessibility is only one of the issues. The need for care is another issue that can be addressed by design. In my next cohousing design, I will be including "caregivers" homes, which will allow a few older members to share "caregivers."
There are other considerations in intergenerational communities such as the relationship between elders and the young. While many elders will see their elderhood as an opportunity to share their wisdom with the young, some will become more fragile and contained. Some of these elders will desire some separation from the joyful squealing of the young. A community that is designed for "aging-in-place" will allow young families to grow their children in community, to eventually become "empty nesters," deciding to downsize to a smaller home in the community and then eventually they might need the help of caregivers.
Q: I wonder how does one get one of these eco-homes. Maybe they will be common in ten or more years, but now I only see them in magazines. I live in Ottawa, but think I would move within reason to get this kind of home and community planning where things are accessible without having to drive all the time. Oh, and of course, at a reasonable price. Can you give me some pointers, insights, references?
A: (Kelly) Most often if one wants a well-designed green home, he will need to find a good place to build it, and certainly it makes sense for that place to be within an easy walk to a community where most of your needs can be found. Our auto-dependent society has created many problems, which people are finally realizing with the advent of global warming and peak oil. One thing that you might consider in seeking the sort of community that you describe is to research eco-villages, intentional communities or co-housing projects. There is more information about these at here. Happy living.
Q: I have partnered with a well established builder with the intent of getting into truly green construction. We are looking at the options available as well as what has been done successfully by others. Our thought is to build an entire subdivision with a central area for play, coop farming, composting and other related activities. This community would be simple, low impact and affordable. We would like to do this in a typical suburban setting and or convert inner city space. Our thought is that a rural setting is great but there are many professionals who need to be within commuting distance to major business hubs who would love to live more naturally. I suspect this is not a new idea but I haven't seen it done on the community scale the way we envision it. Please tell me if this makes sense or are we dreaming? Do you know of any communities of this kind? Any thoughts, criticisms, guidance would be greatly appreciated.
A: (Kelly) I think that your vision is lovely, and certainly appropriate now, since we need to rethink the way we live to bring it more into alignment with ecological and economic laws. What you describe is similar to what is often called an "ecovillage" or even an intentional community. A more condensed version is known as a co-housing project. Many of these do exist across the U.S. and other countries. Sharing facilities is a basic tenant of sustainability.
I think it is wise to focus on a more urban situation for this, since the conventional American suburb is rapidly becoming a dinosaur, requiring vast transportation energy to be viable. One older example of something similar to what you describe exists in Davis California, and it has been enormously popular, out-performing all other real estate in that area. See http://www.villagehomesdavis.org/
Another area of study that might be fruitful for you is the current "Transition Town" movement, which is basically finding local solutions for all of a region's needs. You can read more about this at http://www.transitiontowns.org/ and many other places. I wish you the best of luck in manifesting this dream, and that it is fruitful, both ecologically and economically. We need good examples of this for others to realize how well something like this can work.