Musings on how I want to live
I find myself pulled in two mutually exclusive (almost) directions when I try to answer the following:
You say you don’t want to stay out there in Richmond in that 1200 sqft condo with lousy transit service. What DO you want to do?
Let me apologize in advance for the length of this post. It will pull in a fair amount of my personal history and a number of threads to my thoughts.
My first thought, and one still big in my thoughts, is to move into a much smaller space, 400-600 sqft, that is located such that it would be easy to choose to live car free. I’d still live alone, and seek social interaction outside my home.
But I’ve got a few problems with that. First, I don’t want to live alone! (More on this later) and: Second, Small apartments/condos usually mean small KITCHENS – and I really want to continue my re-found love of cooking. (More on THAT later too!) Third: I’m getting older and need to consider how my needs will likely change if/when I start mind/body deterioration. From an evolutionary standpoint, humans aren’t designed to live to my age, much less the ages that modern medicine/public health/nutrition allows in Western societies. Fourth, I like to cook, but I hate cooking for just myself! (Wait. Wasn’t that #2? Yes, it was, but it’s worth saying two different ways!)
Aside from my sister, I’ve never been particularly close to any of my remaining family (although one cousin is growing on me – you know who you are!). This does NOT apply to my niece! I’m referring to people who’ve been in my family through most of my life, not (relatively) recent additions! During two periods in my life, I’ve enjoyed created communities.
The first was in college. While I didn’t “Click” with the “Residential Unit” to which I was assigned in my Freshman year, I DID click with the people in an adjacent unit – and roomed and socialized with them in some form for my remaining college years. They were, for all intents and purposes, my family.
The second ran from January, 1986 through June of 1996. All of it was in a single house. When I first moved in, it was owned (and occupied) by my father. On his death in 1992, it passed to my sister and me, and my sister wasn’t a resident. But from long before my father’s occupancy, it was part of my life. It was the house purchased by my father’s parents just after WWII. And on the death of my grandfather, my grandmother didn’t want to live alone, so she took in boarders. The first few years, it was just a full house. But as the residents came to know, respect and enjoy each other’s company, it became a family. When Dad moved in, the family continued – with occasional departure of some people followed by the additions of new family members. It continued in this vein through (initially) my occupancy, my ownership and my sister’s occupancy until its sale in June of 1996. Why did we sell? Ah! That’s another story, for another time.
What I learned from both of these is that it is possible to CREATE a family. And I sense the possible beginning of one in recent Twitter conversations, where a number of us have been – mostly jokingly – talking about all moving together and establishing a Leftie commune. Well, I’m not joking any more. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea!
A digression: Once my sister went to college, a couple of years after my parent’s divorce, my mother was sick and tired of caring for the North Berkeley Hills 3 bedroom house I grew up in. She wanted something smaller, and something where she didn’t have to personally worry about the maintenance. While she ended up in a condominium apartment, she took her time deciding, and got quite serious about two cohousing groups. When she introduced me to the concept, I was intrigued. I participated in various phases of cohousing group formation with 4 different groups. It’s a long and arduous process (if done in the “normal” manner – more later) which, if successful, results in building a new space or renovating an existing space, in concert with 3-15 smaller units (typically singles and small families with no more than 2 adults and 2 children) who together create how they want to live together. Yet co-housing as I’ve seen it doesn’t get to quite where I want to go. It still emphasizes the individual unit, with (usually) a moderate to minimal commitment to shared living.
There are two significant problems that I see with the “normal” process of forming a cohousing group. The biggest one is the insistence on consensus in general and the smaller one is – within the process of consensus – arriving at a statement of intention. While I love the idea of consensus, and fully understand it, it take a long time when used for something as big and detailed as cohousing. Further, the very length of the process results in fairly high turnover in the group that is trying to form, further delaying decisions as new arrivals are brought up to speed so they can consent to decisions already made! And I only term arriving at the statement of intention as “smaller” in the context of the overall formation – and execution – of a cohousing project. All by itself it isn’t “small”.
So I want to start with a statement of intention. MY statement of intention. It isn’t fixed in stone, but parts of it are, for me, inviolable. By starting all by myself and attracting like minded people, I’m hoping to avoid at least some of the innumerable delays of the “normal” process.
Another aside: Form of ownership isn’t very important to me. It could be formed as a co-op type corporation or a more traditional multi-family development in one of two ways: Developer style with individual ownership of living units and common ownership of common spaces, governed by CC&R’s and a homeowner’s association, or with a small group of “owners” with the individual units being rented (including to the owners!). And I’m open to ANY form of ownership that we can sneak by the necessary officials!
I want to create a “family of families”. Each family would (likely) consist of no more than 4 people, and would include singles. Each family would have their private space where they sleep, bathe, prepare and eat some meals, and could well include work for people whose occupation allows it. But other activities will be mostly communal. I envision a large, well equipped communal kitchen and dining area. A living area where most of us gather each day, centered around a communal dinner and extending into the evening. A hot tub – enclosable if the site gets below freezing in winter. Units would face inward on a common outdoor space, which could include lawn, playground, or whatever else we come up with!
I’m hoping that the people I attract are as interested in growing some of their own food as I am – and that one or two have Green Thumbs so they can teach the rest of us!
My wet dream would be that we all have an “aha” moment that pushes us into working together as well! (this is certainly NOT one of my essential points). Can you say “Artisan Butchers”? From slaughter to sale – perhaps with a travelling slaughterhouse on a truck to help small meat producers avoid big Ag? Or perhaps a print shop that specializes in quick turnaround custom work – and printing not limited to paper. T-Shirts, Mugs, other merchandise. WHAT we do together is far less important than simply doing it together!
In this day and age, VERY high speed internet would be included, as a group can get ridiculous bandwidth far cheaper than if everyone goes it alone! With superb WiFi in all units, indoor common spaces, and the common courtyard.
I don’t envision many (or perhaps ANY) private cars. The settlement would likey own (or have easy access to) a pickup truck, panel truck, and 10-12 passenger van. As well as have a couple of small cars that are shared for errands. The farther it is from frequent public transportation to shopping/work centers, the more vehicles we’d need to keep. And if we’re lucky enough to be in an area with established car sharing, the small cars might not be there at all! Instead, we’d negotiate to have 2-3 designated parking spaces for the local car share business.
I fervently hope that this community/family would be multi generational. I miss the wisdom of elders and the wonder of children. We WILL be accepting/welcoming of all sexes/sexual orientations/sexual identities. I doubt that we would worship together – my own Atheism means that we’re likely to attract mostly Atheists, Agnostic, Secularists, Skeptics and Humanists. But we’d also welcome people of faith PROVIDED that proselytization is NOT a tenet of your faith! If you hold a personal faith that has a “Live and Let Live” attitude towards those not of your faith, you’ll be welcome.
See? I told you this would be long and rambling. But as I write this, I’m getting hungry, so I’m going to do a quick proofread, then post this and eat! Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue the discussion in the comments.