Monday, July 27, 2009

Middle Road Community, Nelson

The Middle Road Community is the second cohousing project I've visited on my travels. Located about 10 kilometres from Nelson, British Columbia, on a lush hillside on 52 acres, it is home to 11 households (20 children and 20 adults ranging in age from 2 to 63) scattered over the sloping site. 50% of the land is shared for any use that the residents may wish (with community approval). Much of this is left natural with just the area around the Common House actively used.
In the lower part of the site sits the Common House, a spacious converted barn, which houses a large kitchen, toilet, boot and coat room (and airlock), utility room, meeting space, study/film room and upstairs - 2 guest rooms, a pingpong room, a weights room (to reduce the car trips to town to the gym) and a shower/bathroom. Resident, Stuart McKinnon, said that initially he thought it was too large a space for so few but that it has been a blessing, enabling broader community events to be held there. Beside the common house is the chicken run and orchard and the most floral vegie garden I've ever seen.

Residents own their share through a strata-title structure and there is a gradual joining process (see below). Wednesday nights, each household takes it in turns to cook a communal dinner and Saturday nights is a potluck (bring-a-plate) evening for all those at home. Some nearby residents have joined in on the Wednesday night roster, extending the community beyond its site boundaries.

Individual houses are each unique and there doesn't appear to be a building covenant, giving freedom of design but not enforcing high levels of sustainability or efficiency of building size.

Water is collected from a nearby creek and power is from the grid (hydro-electric).
The Common House:
Working with a local building designer, David Dobie, the group developed a design within an existing timber barn on the property. The total area of the common house including the upper floor is 370 square metres (4000 square feet). The design of this building and its surrounding homes were not driven by strong sustainable design principles.

  • Two very large double sinks. There was an intention to add a dishwasher but dishwashing has been a pleasurable highlight of using the space - a chance for one-to-one interaction.
  • Two commercial-grade gas stoves
  • Open shelves (no cupboard doors) and well-labelled drawers for easy access, finding and stowing
  • Standard fridge - by keeping minimum in shared kitchen, less food goes off. People all have their own fridges and when they cook they bring down the ingredients. Eggs from the chicken house are stored in the fridge so residents can pick them up when needed.
It was decided that TV is not conducive to social activity in the Common House. However, there is a TV (without cable connection), used for shared screenings of DVD's and is enjoyed by many residents as another source interaction.

Spacious rooms used by visiting family and friends.

  • Common house - meals, meetings, pingpong and weight room
  • Shared meals
  • Plots within shared garden
Joining the community:
This is a multi-step process to ensure that both the community and the buyer are happy and compatible - a type of informed self-selection. It rests on an agreement that the seller can only accept an offer from a buyer who has completed the process.
  1. In the initial meeting with the potential buyer, the seller provides an information summary prepared by the community along with information about the private home.
  2. Buyer expresses interest in the community to any of four designated community representatives. Two of the community reps then meet with the potential buyer to share information about the community and explore the potential buyer’s interests in community living.
  3. If the potential buyer wishes to proceed further, more detailed information is provided and the community reps (all of them now) meet with the potential buyer for exploration in greater depth toward ensuring clarity and understanding of the community and to learn more about the potential buyer's hopes and dreams for community living. Contact details are exchanged. The potential buyer is invited to community meals / potlucks. Community members are encouraged to initiate opportunities for interaction such as household dinners or cups of tea, walks around the common land, etc. There is a focus on idenitfying and exploring any issues or concerns that may arise for either party.
  4. Community, including the seller, meets to discuss their feelings about how things are proceeding and decide whether to continue through to conclusion.
  5. Full community meeting with the potential buyer and seller to discuss what draws everyone to the community to ensure that the buyer is on the same wavelength.
For more information, visit The Middle Road Community website

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