Since coming to Ashland in 2000, I’ve been a renter. I once owned a house that had its foundation sink into the sand. I sold it at a loss. Earlier, I owned a mobile home. Feral cats destroyed the insulation. Now my partner and I rent a cottage in the Ashland Railroad District. It’s simple. We can walk to most everything.
Thinking of housing and basic needs prompted me to check out Ashland’s Cohousing Community off Fordyce Street. Established in 2007 after much planning and resistance, here are 13 townhomes tucked on 1.3 acres. Within walking distance of downtown and schools, it includes a shared space for community meetings and meals with a large well-equipped kitchen, a communal garden and safe outdoor space for children to romp.
According to its website, the Ashland Cohousing Community uses “consensus decision-making, nonviolent communication and other conscious skills under development in our community culture. Principles of cohousing include social sustainability through developed relationships with your immediate neighbors and sharing of resources such as tools, skills and child care.”
I joined my friend Rick, also a guest of the cohousing community, at a communal supper. That evening’s cook served up tasty kosher bean pasta with salad and trimmings. We joined hands to sing “Zippity Do Da” before we sat down family-style, kids and grownups, to visit and dine. “The most amazing grace ever,” Rick observed. After dinner, the kids dashed outside. No electronic devices? An unusual sight. Rather, simple boisterous play. Like a big family.
I wanted to know the group dynamic. Who chooses such a life, and what is expected?
Doug, here since the beginning, likes the comradery and socializing. He cautions, “This is not for everyone. For many people, it is not in their temperament to live in close proximity, work things out together consistently, socialize frequently, be flexible, edit their sentiments, be assertive, talk and interact in groups, compromise, subordinate their own wishes and respect the perspectives of others.”
Jan, originally from Boston, finds co-housing a way to live more lightly on the land. She says “I like the support and connection, watching the children play and grow and develop relationship with one another, the fun, the meals, sharing resources, skills and gifts, our commitment to addressing interpersonal challenges….”
Sheryl’s another old timer here. Asked about the drawbacks, she says, “It can be a lengthy process to move forward with group decisions. Life is also very full for me, and we have time commitments to do work days, meetings and meals here. Sometimes I just don’t feel like it.”
Sarah says that the members’ commitment to work through conflicts or difficult feelings by communicating directly with those involved “can be challenging, but also very rewarding.”
James and Katherine, parents long committed to sustainability, are recent tenants with a two-year lease. Katherine keeps the communal calendar. Jim says he enjoys “getting out of my car and the feeling I get when I walk toward my home and sense that I am living as part of a tribe.”
Me? I thought of what it’s like to live with another person, sometimes a challenge, but living in community? It’s daunting, but it sure makes sense.
Fifteen-year Ashland resident Ann Magill was previously a librarian in Eastern Oregon.