Friday, February 12, 2016

Less is Moore: Can cohousing work in Philly?

On Saturday Moore College of Art & Design will host a conference (sponsored by the Interior Design Graduate Program) where you can learn about this growing trend: Cohousing: Building Sustainable and Intentional Communities will include "discussion and discovery about the history, theories and practice of creating and living in cohousing."

Less is Moore: Can cohousing work in Philly?

From, a snapshot from the Hearthstone Community in North Denver, Colorado.
From, a snapshot from the Hearthstone Community in North Denver, Colorado.

There's a flaw built into most tips on 'living green' that homeowners get: Each improvement would go further if the homeowner were sharing those resources with other homeowners. But how is that possible? A house is a house, right?

Not if you're part of a cohousing community. And on Saturday, Moore College of Art & Design will host a conference (sponsored by the Interior Design Graduate Program) where you can learn about this social and environmental trend: Cohousing: Building Sustainable and Intentional Communities will include "discussion and discovery about the history, theories and practice of creating and living in cohousing."

In essence, cohousing is the practice of planning a neighborhood by its own future residents, involving some shared living areas and shared resources - "a cross between eco-village and custom neighborhood." The layout tends to be clustered, anti-sprawling. Families may share a laundry room, a playground, a kitchen, a rec room or lounge, maybe even a woods. They're likely to have dinners together, and meet regularly to agree on how to move forward. There's no question that it's more sustainable - especially since one of the main goals is to increase walkability - but it's also something of an international social movement.

I talked with keynote speaker Charles Durrett, an architect and urban planner who is probably the biggest cohousing expert in this hemisphere, about his appearance this weekend. He's the author of two books, "CoHousing: A Contemporary Approach To Housing Ourselves," and "Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living."

Though there have been a small number of intentional communities, and a much larger number of pie-in-the-sky plans for same, Durrett notes that the current model really got started in Denmark in the 1970s. "Yes, over the years there have been a lot of different ideas about how to re-invent our typical habitat," he says, "but this is a late-20th-century reconfiguration of that - by folks who say that the regular neighborhood doesn't work for us."

"We want a place," he continues, "where people will live and share together, a place that is child-friendly, walk-friendly, earth-friendly. The whole premise is 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 people get together and say 'what works for us?' and work it out among themselves."

Cohousing is not just for treehuggers, of course - "It's a quality-of-life decision," Durrett says. "Living lighter on the planet just derives naturally from that."

There are around 120 of these communities already in existence around the U.S. But what about big, tightly stocked cities like Philadelphia? Surely there's no room here to completely retrofit a neighborhood along these lines, I suggested. But Durrett explained that there's a lot of leeway in terms of the initial form. "We're working on projects around the country in high-rises... I lived in inner-city cohousing for several years. We bought an old factory and converted it. It doesn't matter how it starts but how you change it. Even if you're planning it from scratch you always wind up changing it."

So is there something like this already up and running here in town, that we haven't noticed? "No," says Durrett. Although there are plenty of good ideas and plans buzzing around "there's really no existing cohousing community in or around Philadelphia  and that's why I'm coming [to Moore]. I'm tired of people talking about it and not being able to pull it off because there hasn't been a critical mass - they get seven or eight eager people but can't push it further. What's needed is to get 20-30 people who are capable of doing so."

If you're intrigued or interested in the possibilities of cohousing around here, head over to Moore's Web site and register. The all-day event is free ("normally something like this would cost $500-600, so I really have to hand it to Moore for pulling this off" notes Durrett), and seating is limited. So come on down - this could be the start of something small!

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Earth to Philly is a weblog focusing on earth-conscious technology, trends and ideas, from a Daily News perspective. We look at the "green" aspects of your home, business, food, transportation, style, policy, gadgets and artwork. If you have a Philly-related story, Click here to let us know about it!

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Look for Jenice Armstrong to supply tips on green living as well as occasional columns on the subject of Green. She also blogs at Hey Jen.

Becky Batcha stays tuned for the here-and-now practical side of conservation, alternative energy, organic foods, etc. - stuff you can do at home now. Plus odds and ends.

Laurie Conrad recycles from her ever-growing e-mailbag to pass along the latest travel deals, fashion statements, household strategies, gadgets, cool local events and other nuggets of interest to those who appreciate a clean, green world.

Vance Lehmkuhl looks at topics like eco-conscious eating, public transportation and fuel-efficient driving from his perspective as a vegetarian, a daily SEPTA bus rider and a hybrid driver, as well as noting the occasional wacky trend or product. Contact Vance with your 'green' news.

Ronnie Polaneczky sees the green movement through the eyes of her 12-year-old daughter, who calls her on every scrap of paper or glass bottle that Ronnie neglects to toss into the house recycling bins. Ronnie will blog about new or unexpected ways to go green. She also blogs at So, What Happened Was...

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Jonathan Takiff will be blogging mainly about consumer electronics - those things that we love to use and that suck too much energy. He'll spotlight green-conscious gizmos made in a responsible fashion, both in terms of materials used and the energy it takes to run them.

Signe Wilkinson draws the comic strip Family Tree, which follows the Tree family as they try to live green in the face of nattering neighbors, plastic-wrapped consumer products, and the primal teenage urge to spend vast quantities of money on hair care products of dubious organic quality.

In addition to these updates from our newsroom bloggers, watch for an occasional feature, Dumpster Diver Dispatches, from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. You'll learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle while you reduce, and about the artists who are making little masterpieces from what others throw out.

  • Dispatch #1: Margaret Giancola's rugs from plastic bags
  • Dispatch #2: Dumpster Divers in City Hall (Art in City Hall series)
  • Dispatch #3: Wild wood, New Jersey
  • Dispatch #4: Dumpster Divers award winners announced
  • Dispatch #5: From sweaters to colorful cuddling
  • Dispatch #6: Green artists retake South Street Sunday
  • Dispatch #7: Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man

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