Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Last year at New Year’s I said I would blog 2-4 times per week.  It wasn’t a “New Year’s resolution” per se – just a “this feels right, let’s do it” start to a new year.

Then my Dad died very unexpectedly (anaphylactic shock).  The reverberations continue.  And as I posted in Diane 3.0 – Wandering Sage – Where’s the Ceremony I’m at a liminal state of life.  I AM ‘test driving’ “retirement” – my last day in my corporate gig was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  As I mentioned in the earlier post this feels a lot like first grade or adolescence – I don’t know how to do this, where are my playmates, etc.

One of the things I know I want to do is to get back into my exploration of cohousing in Northern Illinois as mentioned in this post.  I’ve been heartened that several of you have responded to my initial posts and have felt regretful that I’ve not ‘sprung into action’ earlier.  Grief is a strange land to walk through and losing someone as important as my dad was to me took a lot out of me.  But it’s time to re-embrace life!

With winters such as we are having now in Chicagoland, I have to say I question my sanity in considering this land of my roots as the land of my elder years – what’s with this -10 today?!  But roots run deep.  And the fact that there is no cohousing in northern Illinois seems to present an opportunity to forge a trail.

So this post is just to say hello again – to thank you for your patience.  My thought right now is that this year’s blogs will focus on two primary themes – this “Life 3.0” stage and cohousing.  Oh, I am peripatetic, so there likely will be all sorts of things to say, but the conversations I seek are around the issues of moving into the next phase of life and of living in community.

Thank you for your patience – and let the conversation begin!

Please chime in with YOUR experiences of moving into a new life phase (doesn’t have to be ‘baby elderhood’) and or your interest in building community (doesn’t have to be cohousing per se).  As always, I really want to know!




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You’ve read about cohousing on this blog (click on the tag on the right and you’ll see all the cohousing posts).  It’s long been an interest of mine.  I’ll be starting a new blog/website on this topic and further posts will be there, but I also want to share it with this broader community.  Read the vision – and if you are interested in more information and will want to be on that blog and/or Facebook page, indicate that in the comments.

Cohousing Vision


Hi.  I’m Diane Scholten.  For many years my friend Sue McGill and I have talked about living more intentionally with others. We first investigated “Intentional Communities” – think of hippie communes grown up – a community with a shared vision, often incorporating work with living (“The Farm” in Tennessee, Findhorn in Scotland).

Then we heard about “Cohousing”.  Born in Denmark, introduced to the US within the last twenty or so years, cohousing seemed a better fit.  Think of ‘an enlightened neighborhood’.  The Cohousing Organization defines cohousing as:  “Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods.  Cohousing residents are consciously committed to living as a community. The physical design encourages both social contact and individual space. Private homes contain all the features of conventional homes, but residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as open space, courtyards, a playground and a common house.” (http://www.cohousing.org/what_is_cohousing).

Sue, our dear friend Bill, and I are planning to live in cohousing as we sail into our wise elder years.  We are now ready to move forward and find others interested in joining us.  While we are moving into elder years, we very much envision a multi-generational community.

Initial Ideas:


  • People who want to live with more meaning, intention.
  • People who care about sustainability and the Earth.
  • People who value connection with others (while also valuing their need for independence).
  • People who value nature.
  • People who value pets.
  • People who value children, adults and elders.
  • People who are active and involved.
  • People who believe in shared decision-making and shared responsibility.
  • People who want to help create community.
  • People who like to have FUN!


We are envisioning creating a cohousing community with 12-30 small or mid-sized houses and a large ‘common house.’  A primary appeal of cohousing is that each household – be it an individual, a couple or a family – can have a smaller space with the common house providing shared space. For instance – the common house would have a large kitchen for opt-in community meals (the community would decide if these would be weekly, nightly, etc.)  The common house could have 2 guest bedrooms – alleviating the need for each household to have space to accommodate guests.  As part of our exploration, those who help create the community will flesh out a vision for the common house and we will post some initial discussion starting ideas soon.

Houses will be arranged to encourage interaction with community members while also maintaining privacy.  We envision a mix of small houses, small houses that could be expanded and mid-sized houses for families.

Open space, gardening areas, play areas for children and pets are all important attributes.


While we have been considering Madison, Wisconsin (Diane’s first choice) and Asheville, NC (Sue’s first choice) we are currently focusing on somewhere around Woodstock, Illinois.  However, this is open to discussion.


As soon as we have enough people to move forward with planning.  We are envisioning spending a year planning/designing and then building.  We’d like to begin the planning process this summer.


Here are some of the reasons why WE are interested in cohousing.  We’d love to hear YOUR whys!

  • Living more lightly on the earth.  Design with sustainability in mind – build ‘green’
  • Sharing resources: Why have 10 Vitamixes when you can have 1?
  • Community!  Sharing LIFE, not just stuff
  • Inter-generational.  We hope to have younger friends, kids as well as we elders  – we all have so much to give one another and so much to learn from one another


  • Form a core group of people who are definitely interested
    • Ready to do this within two or so years
    • Have financial resources to move forward (see How Much)
    • Willing and able to do the ‘roll up  your  shirt sleeves’ planning work
    • Read, take seminars, perhaps engage a cohousing consultant early on
    • Decide on a locale
    • Talk to an architect (Diane has already reached out preliminarily to Design Coalition in Madison, WI who have experience in creating cohousing)
    • Create a budget
    • Create a timeline
    • Find land
    • …. The Initial committee will flesh out a detailed work program


We don’t know yet (obviously) but we are hoping to create a community with various price options.  Bear in mind that in community you are paying for your own house, but also the common house, shared land, etc.

Cohousing can have a wide range of prices.  I am hoping that we can create a community with options – from $175K – $300K.  But this is very much up in the air.

And while I’m initially envisioning a community of small houses, perhaps we’ll have mixed housing – some small houses, some mid-sized houses and a block of condo/townhouses.

One thing we’ll want to know from prospective cohousing neighbors is what YOUR housing budget allows.

 What’s Next?

We’re excited about this new venture – and we hope you’ll consider joining us!


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I’m a pacifist.  My favorite bumpersticker, which  I now proudly sport on my Forester, says “Who Would Jesus Bomb?”.  From my point of view the US has been involved in exactly one war worth entering in the last 75 years – World War II.

Still, I think it is important to honor those who have died in service to their country and community on Memorial Day.  I think we should expand it to honoring fallen police officers, firefighters – anyone who died trying to protect others.

Just because I don’t agree (STRONGLY don’t agree) with the wars of the past 60+ years doesn’t negate that others may not feel the same.  I don’t feel that the soldiers who have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, et al died to save or instill democracy.  From my view they died over oil.

But that doesn’t matter. 

Serving interests outside of oneself is worthy.  Dying in the pursuit of that service – whatever it may be – is the ultimate sacrifice and should be honored.

So I can honor the fallen on Memorial Day and honor our country’s veterans on Veterans Day without agreeing with the political decisions that caused them to go to war.  I can honor the intent that these men and women had.  Honor their brand of patriotism (even when it’s not my brand).  And be thankful that there are brave men and women who are willing to protect our country, when and if it actually needs to be protected.

It took me awhile to separate those viewpoints. 

So this Memorial Day, amidst the motorcycle riding, barbecues and hiking with friends, I WILL pause to pray for those who have lost their lives in service of this country (or their hometown – including police officers and firefighters).  I will pray for their families.  And I will be grateful.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.  Don’t forget what it is actually about!

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Pocket Neighborhoods

Have you heard of ‘pocket neighborhoods’?  Until last week, neither had I.  After stumbling upon an article about them in the AARP newsletter, I did a little research.

Wikipedia says:

“A pocket neighborhood is a grouping of smaller residences, often around a courtyard or common garden, designed to promote a close knit sense of community and neighborliness with an increased level of contact. Considerations involved in planning and zoning pocket neighborhoods include reducing or segregating parking and roadways, the use of shared communal areas that promote social activities, and homes with smaller square footage built in close proximity to one another (high density). Environmental considerations often play a role in the planning of pocket neighborhoods, and those advocating them promote their design as an alternative to the sprawl, isolation, expense, and commuter and automobile focus of many larger homes in suburban developments.”

Ross Chapin, the architect responsible for this concept does speaking engagements on the Cohousing circuit (conferences, et al) and has written a beautiful book:   Neighborhoods:  Creating Small-Scale Community in a Big-Scale World.  The forward of his book, which I just received in the mail, is done by noted “Not So Big House” architect Sarah Susanka.  If you like architecture and home design, you’ll love this book.

My very brief perusal of the article and book intrigue me.  It’s a concept I’ll further explore.

My very limited understanding now is that pocket neighborhoods encourage co-housing like community, but aren’t specifically called out as such.  Ownership would likely be private with no structural common space (albeit a common space outdoor area seems to be built into the design – ownership  thereof is unclear).  It seems that is more ‘subdivision-like’ in that the builder builds it and then people buy in, rather than having a group of people with common ideals forming together to build cohousing.

The other differentiating feature I see initially is scale.  Pocket neighborhoods, by design are small.  Cohousing can be small, but more typically is 20+ households, not 8-12.

I’ll be reading up more on this, including my newly acquired book and will let you know what I find.  If nothing else, this man designs beautiful, functional houses – good grist for the mill as my friends and I broaden our retirement living planning.

Have you heard of pocket neighborhoods?  Visited any?  What’s your take?

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We are collectively waiting.  Corporations wait with huge coffers of cash (Apple, for instance, is sitting on $98 BILLION).  The unemployment rate, officially, around 8.3% in February 2012, doesn’t include the long-term unemployed – we can guess that 10-15% of working-age people are sitting on the sidelines.  Entire industries (construction, finance, and to some degree manufacturing) have a lot of sidelines going on – in terms of workers, production, etc.  11 % of US homes are vacant – and that number seems to be increasing.  Then there is the tsunami of Baby Boomers starting to cascade into retirement – and the sidelines.

So what is “the sidelines”?  In this sense it is “a sphere of little or no participation or activity.”  However, I think there’s a sense of impending and previous participation implicit – so to me it’s more like limbo “an intermediate or transitional place or state.”

I think of the sidelines as a resting place.  The coach has pulled me out of the game – but temporarily.  I am watching the action on the field, maybe drinking some Gatorade, catching my breath – and beginning to plan my next moves.

I believe any sentient being can see that we are on the brink of – and to some degree, amidst – great, sweeping change.  The old order is very rapidly dying away and yet the new one is yet to be born.  It is a gestational, liminal time, to be sure.

What then, shall we do?  I wrote about one such solution in this post – Power to the People! Let’s Turn this Country Around.  I wrote this post right after my beloved friend was diagnosed with what turned out to be terminal liver cancer – so I got distracted.  It may be time to revisit implementing some of these ideas.

I’m also participating in The 99% Spring and plan to be involved in that.

There is so much abundance – time, energy, talents and money – sitting in abeyance while people are hungry, lonely, angry and tired.  Isn’t it time to change that.

Please join me in the 99% Spring.  And if you are interested in beginning dialogue on the ideas I laid out in Power to the People, let’s dialogue about how we can begin.  Margaret Mead was right:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I’m in.  You?


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Have you heard of Community Land Trusts?  I had not – but after my friend Sue alerted me to this innovative housing model, I did a little research at The National Community Land Trust Network site.  The site says that the concept is not totally new – it’s been around for approximately 30 years. However, it seems to me that with the overall economic downturn, combined with the big wave of Baby Boomer retirements beginning, that it’s more timely than ever.

The basic concept (as I understand it) is that a nonprofit organization is formed to own a piece of land – the community land trust.  On that land houses are built.  The people own the houses, but lease the land.

This ownership model could probably be used for any community purpose, but the purpose of CLTs is to provide affordable housing.  To that end, the CLTs I investigated (in Illinois, Wisconsin, and, because I’m thinking of retiring there, North Carolina) all had income thresholds.  The one in Evanston also had an asset threshold.

When I investigated Village Cohousing in Madison, Wisconsin several years ago, the unit I was interested in buying must have been under some form of CLT-ownership (interestingly, not all in the complex were) with income, but not asset requirements.  My income has varied somewhat dramatically over the years and that was in an ebb period – but I still missed qualifying.  I was intrigued, however, by the concept.  Madison (still my dream place to live) is not cheap.  Village Cohousing is located in a desirable neighborhood – right near the University and the Capitol – unaffordable for many.  So this concept made living there realistic for seniors on fixed incomes, young families (like the one selling this unit) or people who work in low-paying professions.  I loved the concept even though it knocked me out of the running to live in the unit that was for sale.

I think we need innovative thinking to get America back on track. If we look at the old model of growth-based unbridled capitalism – it’s simply not working.  I continue to think that combination of so many foreclosed or abandoned homes and so many homeless people seems like a “duh!” – we should be able to resolve this in a way that benefits all people.  The banks that took this economy down and who continue to rob us – I say let them fend for themselves.

What a wonderful way to help individuals and families, to help neighborhoods, to help us all by providing safe, affordable housing to people who otherwise probably would not be able to become homeowners.

What are your thoughts on CLTs?  Had you heard of them?  How do you think they’d benefit society?  What problems do you see with them?  What other innovative ideas do you have to resolve the housing crisis?  I’d really like to know!

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We’ve started a ‘mini-cohousing’ experiment here where I live.  Four households (five, if you include my friend Bill who doesn’t live in the neighborhood but often teams up with us) have joined forces to share more, buy less, and to help one another.

At our initial meeting David & Katja said they have a compost bin behind their garage and that we are all welcome to use it.  I composted all last summer, when my friend Bill had his community-based garden (his town has a plot of land where people who don’t have space to garden where they live can have gardens).  It has really tugged at my conscience to just throw food scraps out since fall.  So I was very excited at David & Katja’s offer.

I’ve seen some fancy composting containers for sale, and if I had a household of more than one person it might make sense for me to get ‘more stuff’ and spend the $20 to get one.  But it’s just me here and Bill came up with a very simple system last summer.  I use 2 different 1-gallon Ziploc bags.

First, I fill bag 1 – putting in my fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds (and I believe I can put eggshells in but I want to make sure David & Katja are okay with that in their compost).  I eat a fair amount of fruits and veggies so I can often fill a gallon bag in 4 days or so.  Put stuff in bag, zip it up, put it in the fridge so it doesn’t smell.  Continue til done.

Once the bag is full I get it to the composter – in the summer that means Bill takes the bag and dumps it directly into his garden, now I walk across the street to David & Katja’s composter and just dump it in.

Then I wash bag #1 and while it is drying (my drying rack is to put it over the top of one of my 2 metal water bottles, near the garden window and let the sun dry it), I use bag #2 as above.

Simple.  Easy.  Cheap.  5 household, 1 composter.  I don’t know how much David & Katja paid for their nice composter, but this site has a variety of options in case you, too, want to start composting.

How about you?  Do you compost?  If so, tell us about it!  If not, tell us why.  Is this something your neighborhood or farmily could do?  Join the conversation – I really want to know!



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