In a St. Philip’s living room, a brainstorming session is underway to build Eastern Canada’s first co-housing community.
A dozen people buzz about, kids squeal from the basement, and pots of curry simmer on the stove. Post-it-notes fill windows with words like “affordable,” “community,” and “energy efficient.” These words reflect the kind of neighbourhood this group is hoping to build.
The term “co-housing” may call to mind bare-footed hippies in a 70’s commune, but these are simply like-minded people looking for a new way of living, together.
Wendy Reid Fairhurst has been the driving force behind this co-housing project for the past two years. She’s studied environmental design, and is a busy mom of two.
“Today’s neighbourhoods are designed for isolation,” says Reid Fairhurst. “We drive up our driveways to the back, and go into our houses. We don’t know our neighbours.” This group is looking for something different.
The idea is to build 20 privately owned homes on a shared piece of property in the Portugal Cove/St. Phillip’s area. The land will be large enough to farm, and will include one common house to supplement individual residences. The group will share things like community gardens, a playground for kids, and a workshop, as well as weekly meals together to create strong social connections.
Units will be affordable (approximately 250K), and environmentally sustainable. The hope is to make the development “off the grid,” by using alternative energy sources such as solar or geothermal.
About a dozen co-housing communities exist in Canada today, with a dozen more under construction. If successful, this project will be the first of its kind east of Quebec City. This group wants to build an inter-generational community. Singles, couples, families, and seniors are all welcome.
In co-housing, decisions are made by consensus. Right from the start, residents will participate in the planning and building process. No mega-developers here.
“The built environment affects community,” explains Reid Fairhurst. “As we design this community, we’ll be conscious of things like where we place buildings, so that every home has a view of the activity areas and the common house.”
Through intentional design, the group hopes to create an environment that fosters social connections. “You’ll be able to see if someone’s having a party in the common house, or if there’s someone playing guitar at the shared fire pit,” says Reid Fairhurst. “Studies show that friendships are formed based on spontaneous encounters. If you’ve got architecture that forces you to pass by people…that’s the basis for building friendships.”
With seed money from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Reid Fairhurst is writing a co-housing business plan. She’s had an encouraging meeting with officials from the town of Portugal Cove/St. Phillip’s, and the next step is to secure land and construction financing. And, of course, residents.
The hope is to get some sort of financial commitment from strongly interested residents this summer. There is still room for more individuals and families to join.
As the brainstorming session wraps up, the pot-luck begins, and the talkative group settles at one long table to eat together. On the post-it-note windows, dozens of yellow squares share ideas about how this community might look and feel and (hopefully) work. But the sticky awarded the most stars by the group simply says “village.” And ultimately, that’s what these folks are looking for. A village.
For more information contact Wendy Reid Fairhurst at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join the Co-housing Newfoundland and Labrador group on Facebook.