Saturday, May 19, 2012

Oakland, CA–Visiting Laura and Dave And Their Co-Housing Complex

I wanted to share a bit about Laura and Dave’s new cohousing living arrangement. They moved into the Swan’s Market Cohousing complex in September of 2011. We had seen their apartment in July when we had visited but it was before they had moved in. This was the first time that we had really gotten a chance to get to know all about this cohousing arrangement.

The more that I learn about ‘cohousing’, the more I really appreciate the concept. Quoting from this Cohousing website…..” The cohousing idea originated in Denmark, and was promoted in the U.S. by architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett in the early 1980s. 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.”  We were able to see this cohousing concept first hand.


The Swan’s Market complex was developed in an old market building in downtown Oakland. The lower level of this square houses the MOCHA (Museum of Children’s Art) as well as several businesses. The vine covered area in the lower right of this photo is the fence to the courtyard for the cohousing.


Behind the fence, is a garden area. The cohousing units are up the stairs. The room with the large windows that is across from the railing is the ‘common room’.


This is the community garden…..designed and tended to by the residents…with the flowers and produce shared by any who want it.


The 20 cohousing units line either side of this shared patio space. Laura and Dave live in apartment V.


Each unit has their own chairs, table plants or whatever……The wood Adirondack chairs are Laura' and Dave’s.


This common seating area  is shared by all…..This shared space, and having all of the units face the patio walkway  encourages socialization. We enjoyed sitting out and sipping our frappachinos (there is a Starbucks just a couple of blocks away) and visiting with any of the neighbors who passed by. It really does make one feel ‘connected’ to the community.

The majority of the Swan’s Market residents are somewhat older…..the complex could really use several more young couples to balance the mix….but those that we met were delightful and very interesting. There are several retired professors and several anthropologists in the group, and one very spry 80 year old woman who just returned from a SCUBA trip in the Philippines.


Opposite the outdoor seating area is the common room which has a living room……..


And dining room where meals can be shared 3 times a week. You just sign up several days in advance, then show up and share a common dinner, served at 7pm.  The residents do not have to participate in every common dinner, but Laura and Dave have really enjoyed this benefit.  We joined the community at the common dinner several times and I can really see the advantage of not having to cook every night, plus the ‘family’ atmosphere of sharing a meal.


Each resident is required to cook (in pairs) for one meal every 5 weeks. This is not really all that difficult, as there are usually just 18-22 people who attend at any one dinner…..and you get to use this fantastic common kitchen. The cooks try to provide for the various dietary restrictions as best they can, making a vegetarian or vegan option, if they are serving a meat dish. We helped Laura do common dinner on Monday, making Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, and substituting a soy based substitute for the chicken and sausage in one pot of the gumbo.

The cooks try to keep the cost of each dinner to $4/plate. You track your costs of preparation and, at the end of 6 months, the costs are tallied up and reconciled against the number of times that you have eaten common dinner.


The kitchen and dining room are also available to the resident for their own use any time they are free. So, if you were to have a large group over, you can schedule the common room to use for entertaining.


The common room building also has a large playroom for any children in the complex. They also share laundry facilities and several pieces of exercise equipment.

After spending some time visiting this cohousing complex, I can really see why it would be appealing. This living arrangement really creates a ‘community’ in this urban setting where one  might otherwise feel quite isolated.

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