In search of community
BOULDER – With a beer in one hand and a knife in the other, Chris Hauck realized he didn’t have a hand left to greet his dinner guests, piling their plates high with his freshly cut garlic bread, steaming pasta and marinara sauce in an informal buffet line.The neighbors soon settled themselves in a large eating area, sharing wine and lighthearted conversation during one of the weekly community meals at Wild Sage, the newest cohousing neighborhood in Colorado.Like most cohousing communities, Wild Sage was designed to encourage interaction. The 34 homes resemble tightly grouped townhouses, with garages located on the outskirts. Front doors open to sidewalks that lead to a large common house, where community meetings, dinners and activities are held.At Wild Sage, guest rooms and mailboxes are also located in the common house.
“I just can’t walk out and get my mail. It’s a 30- or 40-minute event, because I’ll wind up talking to 12 people,” said Hauck, taking a break from his dinner duties. “It’s such a refreshing change of lifestyle.”The first U.S. cohousing neighborhood was set up in Davis, Calif., in 1991. Since then, more than 65 developments have been built across the country and at least 60 more are in the building or planning stages, according to the Cohousing Association of the United States.Colorado has 10 cohousing neighborhoods stretching from Durango to Fort Collins, ranking it behind only California, Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon.The state’s largest and first cohousing neighborhood is the 43-unit Nyland development in nearby Lafayette. The smallest is Boulder’s Nomad, with 11 homes on a one-acre plot.”The concept (of cohousing) is unfamiliar to a lot of people. But in a way, it’s a throwback to the 1950s,” said Richard Rogers, 53, a father of two teens who recently moved into Wild Sage. “It’s very close to your way of living in a condominium community – with some perks.”
Cohousing residents often organize years before construction begins, then work closely with architects to determine the neighborhood layout and amenities like common-room hot tubs or a communal workshop.Environmental efficiency is a primary concern in many developments: Sharing walls saves energy and building up instead of out preserves open space.Community decisions are made through consensus, from the type of screens allowed on front doors to building a new playground. Residents say it can be frustrating and debates can get heated.”Once you get a thumbs down, the process stops,” Hauck said. “But it’s worth the time, because everyone agrees. Everybody’s needs have got to be heard.”Residents work on teams to maintain landscaping and common facilities. Others take care of neighborhood finances or baby-sit during workdays and meetings, though Hauck said shared work is only a small part of cohousing living.
Friday has become movie night at the Wild Sage common house. Community dinners are held Wednesdays and Sundays, brunch is served Saturday, and adult-only dinners are Saturdays.There are seven different home models at Wild Sage, from 600-square-foot single level homes to 2,700-square-foot three level homes, Hauck said. Prices range from about $90,000 to $490,000.Wild Sage also has low-income homes built by Habitat for Humanity.Hauck, 42, runs a home-based marketing research consulting firm. He moved to Wild Sage with his wife, Jules, and their two young children after living in a Dallas suburb. He said he didn’t know most of his Texas neighbors who, like him, came home from work, drove into their garages and turned on their televisions.”I didn’t want my kids growing up like that,” he said.
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