I have sought community in many ways over the years — be it how I managed a business, facilitated groups, served on boards or shared living spaces — yet it seemed transitory. My philosophy has always been that acting in everyone’s best interest works out to being in everyone’s best interest. It took me a while to realize I was often alone in this effort, which made creating the community feeling I sought difficult to sustain.
Then I learned about cohousing. As I looked to my “third act” in life, the idea of simplifying, downsizing and having my own private home, yet sharing public spaces and activities with others of all ages and backgrounds, held tremendous appeal for me.
The term “cohousing” originated in Denmark in the late 1960s. I knew cohousing communities already existed in various parts of New Mexico and around the world, with new ones forming all the time. When I learned about the vision and values for CohousingABQ, a project currently in the design phase, it spoke to me because it included creating an inclusive, diverse multigenerational community operating with kindness and compassion. The website asked: “Have you ever dreamed of living in a neighborhood where neighbors know one another well, children can play and explore safely and seniors are able to age in their own homes?”
I was a goner. The idea of being around young families was invigorating, especially as I’m looking to my own future. I don’t want to be dimming my light and expectations for myself. I look forward to being a cohousing “auntie” and finding those natural ways to connect and be a kind person in the children’s lives and for them to be in mine. Mutuality matters.
Plus, in these times of parents doing so much, often without the right support or others to rely on, I imagine all of us cohousing aunties and grandpas in the community can be a valuable source of care and presence. Also, the children’s community and experience of reliable adults around them can expand. With some families living an ocean away from their family of origin, we get to choose to create community that works for everybody.
Many of our future neighbors in this cohousing group started life outside the United States: I’m from Canada; Marlies is from Austria; Setso is from Bulgaria. So far, our group represents at least eight countries, which makes for a wonderful variety of dishes at our potlucks, satisfying our vegans and our barbecue rib lovers. Our diversity of experience, ages, backgrounds and preferences is vast, but we have common ground through our intention to be kind and compassionate.
As a way to structure ourselves and organize, we agreed on consent-based decision-making. For now, we are exploring the Sociocracy model, so that each voice is heard. Building trust and understanding takes time, and it is what grows a strong, healthy community. It can seem ambitious, full of goodness and sometimes wobbly, yet together we keep showing up. At stressful moments when we go around the room to check in, we find the connection and shared sense of community is the strongest tie of all.
One of the founding members, Marlies, is our agreed-upon project manager. She is a mother of two, and uses her great mom qualities — like patience, clarity and fairness — as she navigates this new territory. As a future neighbor of this project, I, like the others, have become one of the “developers.” There is no outside company deciding for us; we decide what matters to us. We bought the land in southwest Albuquerque and hired the right professionals to make it happen.
Our project incorporates the passive house standard, solar panels, conservation, zero waste, use of gray water, an orchard and organic gardens. That means my values are supported by this project and community. Some members know far more than I do about zero waste, shared power governance or organic gardening, yet to learn with others with the passion and knowledge is a beautiful and encouraging thing. Imagine what I might learn from the young people!
Cohousing design includes parking vehicles on the perimeter of the property, which allows kids to safely run from home to home, in the play areas and to the Common House. The Common House is shared by all, with amenities including a large kitchen, pantry and indoor/outdoor dining areas to accommodate the community as desired. My cooking gene may have been in repose these past few years, but I suspect that with many cooks, bakers, growers and eaters around I will easily get back into the kitchen enjoying creating tasty dishes as part of a group.
Once we have the majority of home units spoken for, we will begin the build. Ultimately the project will include a total of 27 privately owned, net-zero energy homes with one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom options, and a smaller casita unit, clustered around shared open space. The homes are smaller as a way to simplify and conserve. Private homes range from a less than 500-square-foot casita to a four-bedroom home just over 1,500 square feet. The Common House offers a way to share amenities and space we might need, including two guest rooms. As of this writing, nine homes are still available.
Estimated home prices (subject to change based on current market and building conditions) will range from $125,000 to $430,000, comparable to prices of newly built energy-efficient homes in Albuquerque. Use of the common house for community activities and shared meals, including guest suites for residents’ visitors, is included in the price of the home.
Other community amenities will include a shared farming area with an orchard and year-round greenhouse. We have discussed adding a natural outdoor pool based on biological processes and an adventure playground for the kids.
We currently meet regularly for socials, celebrations, baking workshops, learning tours, working on teams and general meetings. At these meetings, we receive updates and discuss the pertinent issues at hand. That includes updates from all the teams (or circles) working on specific tasks to further the cohousing project. We have capable people from all walks of life donating their time, energy and expertise for the group-at-large.
While the adults meet, the children play in another room or outside with a play-sitter, then join us for a potluck. At first, I found the children’s presence distracting at meetings — coming in and out, making sounds in the hall, or maybe throwing a ball through a window (OK, just once so far). It was a new energy I needed to adjust to as it wasn’t on my radar. Now I realize how many parents have to go to meetings and other commitments where there is little consideration for their children.
Recently, during the after-meeting potluck, there was an informal circle of kids (the eldest is 8) eating, talking and giggling. They seemed to be great friends with one another already, looking forward to the day they can just run across the grass to one another’s home. I imagine that holds great appeal for their parents, too.
Who doesn’t need a cohousing auntie? I think the chocolate gold coins I gave the children at our holiday party was a nice auntie touch. (Hey, I gave it in the spirit of kindness and compassion. And with their parents’ permission!)
To learn more, visit cohousingabq.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (505) 227-1301.
Originally from Canada, Anne Stirling is a New Mexico-based filmmaker, creative, facilitator and longtime community volunteer.