Here's a video view of the seven homes currently under construction on the site:
I also encountered Colin and Meagan's house being set!
Here are some photos:
More homes are under construction in the factory.
These expensive but important requirements for residential developers unfortunately don't seem required for the natural gas pipeline construction here in Virginia. Here's an article of a mudslide caused by the Mountain Valley Pipeline construction. This wouldn't have happened if they were also required to build in such elaborate stormwater mitigation.
The above picture is Mia and Ava in front of Unit 4 during a break in the rain.
Yesterday, at our condo association's monthly plenary meeting, we presented and decided on probably the most challenging policy for a neighborhood to agree on: our pet policy. And we did this not via a traditional vote, but via consensus.
What is consensus? It's what it sounds like: everyone agrees. Any individual can block the proposal.
And why would a homeowners association or condo association want to do this when a vote would be much simpler and quicker? The reason: we value Relationships over Winning.
So much of our society is about winning. This is sometimes at the expense of the relationship between people. In a regular vote, someone wins and someone loses. In a consensus decision, all sides have a chance to be heard.
By listening to everyone's positions and needs, consensus decision-making usually results in better decisions. Maybe a third way is discovered, not considered at first, that at least satisfies everyone. In the very least, those that don't get their way had a chance to be heard.
At Emerson Commons, like at its mentor community Shadowlake Village, there is admittedly an 85% vote fallback. But the consensus process works so well that this is very rarely used. In the past 15 years at Shadowlake, it has maybe been exercised maybe twice.
I'm so proud of Emerson Commons for being able to pass this difficult proposal and without tears. We passed the consensus litmus test.
The location, once known as Seven Persimmons Farm, adjoins Crozet Veterinary Clinic and recently attracted public notice when a line of cedar trees on Parkview Road were removed to allow road widening to the project.
The project is named for American Trancendentalist author Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lazar said, because “his writings about community and a simple life fit the project’s philosophy,” and the community finds them inspirational... [click here to read the full article in the Crozet Gazette]
So I think it’s not a stretch to say homes in Charlottesville and Albemarle are happier per square foot. And Emerson Commons’ cohousing lifestyle has a lot going for it in proving meaning, purpose and happiness.
This was not the first top “best place” ranking for Charlottesville. The area is consistently measured favorably across many categories. And surely in Virginia it is tops per capita for great restaurants, arts and entertainment and outdoor adventure. Not surprisingly, Charlottesville was recently ranked as one of the most charming cities in the US. Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County are also highly ranked in Virginia for job growth per capita and renowned for excellent schools.
So if you are considering cohousing in general but flexible on where to live: check out the Forbes article. Come visit the area and visit Emerson Commons!
I thought you might enjoy this article by Samantha Baars published January 27 in the C-Ville Magazine:
How many cohousers can fit in an igloo?
When the snow falls in an intentional community like Peter Lazar’s, the whole neighborhood suits up in their warmest wardrobe and heads outside. It was last winter when the residents of Shadowlake Village in Blacksburg built a mammoth igloo and challenged themselves to see how many neighbors they could stuff inside.
“Spoiler alert,” says Lazar, a 12.5-year resident of the cohousing development about 150 miles outside of Charlottesville. “The answer is 30.” ...
Click here for more...
Before turning a shovel of dirt, it took years to get Emerson Commons through all of the pre-construction hurdles. But now construction is underway big-time!
Here’s a panoramic view of it.
And some more photos of the site work.
Other than construction, we’ve had lots of activity in the past couple months:
New member families!
You can see our growing list of biographies. Two of these families, who joined just in the past two weeks, still need to post bios as of this blog entry, but they will be up soon. Another joined in October. All three are from out of town (Boston, Fredericksburg VA, and the DC area). We have had quite a few member families who got involved from out of town. Video conferencing and meetings by phone have helped them become a part of the community from a distance. With this new influx, we are down to five homes not yet reserved or purchased.
Contract Signing Party
As per Matt’s wonderful earlier post, you can see we had a fun contract signing party.
The group ventured out to the construction site on a cold December day to kick off this next phase of Emerson Commons. Community members took turns to dig a shovel-full and say a few words. We all enjoyed hot apple cider on the cold day. Here are some pictures from the event.
I hope to keep you all more updated via the blog as we climb out of these busy times. We'll still be busy, but also having more fun as we begin to physically live in the same community in just a few months.
Happy New Year!
By Matt Smith
A couple of weeks ago we gathered for a fairly mundane reason: to sign some paperwork. Of course, those guys in the wigs were doing the same thing, only with considerably less distraction from their children, judging from the picture. And while our own putting of pen to paper may not have been quite as heroic, it did feel revolutionary, in its own small way (as well as very clearly occasioning bigger smiles and more adult beverages).
Why? Because these house contracts were more than house contracts. To me, at least, they felt like the culmination of a radical commitment: a signing-off on reimagining our values and priorities, a stand against the forces that drive us apart, and a leap of faith in one another. Maybe a "Declaration of Dependence" would be putting it too strongly; here in the land of liberty, dependence is something of a naughty word. And yet there's something most definitely liberating in the recognition that we are stronger, wiser, and more complete in community. In any case -- now that we're here -- I can tell you that loving these people, and looking forward to our journey together, does not feel radical in the slightest. Cheers.
By Steve Bates, Laura Bates, Anna Stockdale, Scott Guggenheimer
Many of us at Emerson Commons chose to launch our cohousing project in the Charlottesville area because the broader community shares some of our fundamental values, namely an appreciation for diversity, inclusivity, and mindfulness of the individual’s role in a democratic experiment. Like the rest of the country, we are disgusted by the hatred and bigotry on display earlier this month in Charlottesville, and we are outraged by the white nationalists and neo Nazis who stormed our city. We denounce them in no uncertain terms, and we reject all forms of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry.
For prospective members of this still-forming community, joining Emerson Commons may mean moving to the Charlottesville area, and we realize that the image of swastikas, confederate battle flags, and heavily-armed white nationalists may give pause to folks who are considering picking up and moving. It is worth repeating what has already been said by public officials and locally-owned businesses: by and large, these racists were not from Charlottesville and do not reflect the values of this community.
This, we realize, is where we could comfortably stop thinking about the events from earlier this month. We reject racism. That wasn’t Charlottesville. Let’s get back to building our houses.
We are writing because we think this moment presents an opportunity for us to do more. Because while a torch-bearing group of white men shouting racist and homophobic slurs is an undeniable manifestation of hatred, there are other more insidious forms of white supremacy that exist everywhere in the country. Charlottesville is not immune to the white supremacy of income disparity, mass incarceration, and denied access to health care, education, and housing.
The monuments that inspired the KKK to visit Charlottesville are not relics of the civil war, but rather 20th century tools of oppression and intimidation, designed to endorse Jim Crow segregation. They signaled public support for a mindset that produced massive resistance, redlining, and other state-sanctioned efforts to maintain the white supremacy on which this country was built. While the white supremacists have returned to their homes, we in the Charlottesville area are left to figure out what we might do differently or better so that there is no longer ambiguity about the extent to which the country and this community are prepared to live the still-unrealized principle that all of us are created equal.
Issues of race and housing are complex. Our country’s history is marked by ongoing efforts to deny housing based on race, religion, or nationality. There are houses in Charlottesville that still have racially restrictive covenants on them. As we get ready to break ground, it is imperative that we are, at least, mindful of this history.
The complexity of housing and race extends to the cohousing movement. As a group, members of Emerson Commons have already talked about the challenge of building a truly diverse cohousing community. To a person, members of Emerson Commons are dedicated to building on the diversity that our small group already exhibits and to making sure that our community champions diversity in word and deed.
There are things we can do (and are doing!) individually. Some of us participated in the counter-protest, marching from the Jefferson School to McGuffey Park. Others have donated to African American Teaching Fellows, and we have engaged in small ways to make sure we recognize our own bias. At our most recent plenary meeting, we discussed the power of individual action in affecting change and the realization that relationships are forged two people at a time.
But there are also things we can do collectively. Yesterday’s meeting opened with a brainstorming session for actions we can take, and Emerson Commons members are excited about everything from a more intentional outreach to communities that are underrepresented in cohousing to a chance to revisit our community values. Is embracing diversity enough? Perhaps we need to have a statement that directly rejects white nationalism and racism. And to what extent do our community values demand collective action when local events threaten what we care about?
We don’t yet have answers to these questions, but we recognize the urgency of addressing them. Because the reality is this: we are building a cohousing community in a predominantly white part of the country that recently witnessed neo Nazis marching in support of white supremacy. Dr. Beverly Tatum describes racism as a moving walkway. If you are just standing there, not doing anything, you are still moving in the wrong direction. White supremacy in this country is the same way. To simply build our homes, deny the history of housing discrimination and cohousing homogeneity, and assume that we don’t have to think about race, is to perpetuate white supremacy.
So yes, we reject racism. Moreover, the Charlottesville community has made it clear that voices of hatred don’t speak for us. But acknowledging these two things seems like only a first step. As we move forward with our plans, we will continue to engage in community efforts to dismantle racism (and its monuments) and consider how we might expand the national cohousing movement to reflect the diversity of the country. We hope you will join us.
By Scott Guggenheimer
One of the things that has amazed us about the Emerson Commons property is the endless blooming of new buds. Just when the incredible pink trees have gone back to green, a purple bush emerges by the pool. Or this flower, which we just noticed today.
We look at the site plans pretty often to imagine where our homes will be, but it's almost as exciting to see "contractor shall protect existing garden vegetation" in various spots, and to know that Emerson Commons will retain some of the wild beauty of the current property.
By Peter Lazar
But if you consider the lifestyle cost savings of cohousing, you save a lot of money over your life. I estimate that my family will save at least $1.3 million dollars by living in cohousing.
This is based on my family’s experience after living in cohousing over the past 12 years. If you want to see how I calculated this, check out the below spreadsheet.
To change the numbers for yourself, click here and then click on the down arrow at the top right of the page to download the Excel spreadsheet.
By Anna Stockdale
At the last plenary meeting, Emerson Commons members joked about potential community mascots. One member put forth the idea of a turtle, and this morning who should appear in our yard but this scared little guy?
Is it a sign? Should we adopt the turtle as our official mascot? Or are all of the mascots we mentioned going to descend on the property? If so, be on the lookout for pictures of humming birds, honey bees, monkeys, vegetables, poison ivy (what?), foxes, and dogs.
By Laura Bates
This is the story of the time when three chickens outsmarted three full-grown humans, three partially-formed humans, and three dogs.
Daisy, Gaga, and Paloma were introduced to their new home at Emerson Commons on May 14th. They are the proud inhabitants of a former peacock villa, complete with bay windows, a 24-7 in house gourmet food distributor, and an extensive backyard. In the morning, fresh fruit from the mulberry tree gently sprinkles their yard. And when it's time to clean the villa, they just wait patiently in the fenced-in pool area.
Until they escape!
We found this out the hard way last weekend, and captured a few pictures along the way:
If we have time, those of us who were present for the commotion will share a more comprehensive report of how to spend an entire morning not catching chickens. Tip from an amateur: moving like a chicken is not necessarily helpful.
By Scott Guggenheimer
I remember the first time I visited Emerson Commons.
I remember thinking, "Yes! We found our home!" Since 2014, my wife (Anna), our daughter (Ezra), and I had been renting an apartment in Takoma Village Cohousing in Washington, DC, searching for a cohousing community in which to buy our first home.
As a certified city-dweller, I also remember thinking "I can't believe how amazing this property is! A creek and a pool and a view of the mountain!"
I'm sure I had a bunch of other exclamation-filled thoughts on that first day, too.
But there's one thing I'm pretty sure I did not think. I did not think, "You know what? Two families, each with kids, each with pets, could totally live in the common house together while these houses get built. That's so obvious. We should find other city-dwellers to live with us, people who won't be put off by our total ignorance of home construction, land use, and basic table manners, in large part because they, too, seem to be totally oblivious to these types of things. That would make a ton of sense and be really easy."
And yet, here we are.
In between that first visit and today, Peter floated the idea that our cohousing experience and immediate need for housing might present a great opportunity for Emerson Commons. Would we be interested in living in the common house? We were thrilled to have our daughter start going to Crozet Elementary right away, and jumped at the chance. (If I'm still allowed to blog after this post, I'll share more about how much we love that school.) The more we thought about moving into the common house, though, the more we wanted it to feel like part of building the larger community. Couldn't the common house be home to other Emerson Commons members? We reached out to Laura and Steve, and their sons Heath and Sullivan. I think our first conversation went something like this:
"Shouldn't we all live in the common house together?"
"You're saying 'shouldn't' like 'we shouldn't,' right? Like we should not. Should not we live in the common house."
"Yeah, no, I know! It was a joke! Total joke. No way would we do that."
"Dad, can we watch a movie tonight?"
"THIS IS A SERIOUS CONVERSATION THIS IS NOT ABOUT WATCHING MOVIES!"
[Babies crying, mild commotion, slow return to calm]
"What were we talking about?
"Living in the common house together."
"Oh. Totally. We're in. Seven people? Seven beds. Duh. No need to even visit again and think about how we would do it. No brainer. Let's just e-mail each other until we stop thinking about it."
By the end of April, we were all moved in, and we love it. We think.
At some point last week, once we stopped being so awkward, we decided that we should share some of our experiences on the Emerson Commons blog. Our hope is that in addition to Peter's musings on cohousing and Emerson Commons' members' posts about their own paths to Crozet, we can provide a semi-frequent dispatch from the common house, as we navigate the move from the big city, watch our homes get built, and try to figure out which dining room to use for which meal. And keep a few chickens. And make sure the frog in that picture has been set free.
By Peter Lazar
When people are asked what’s most important in life, they will respond with words like “Happiness,” “Relationships,” “Health,” and “Purpose.”
But when people make the most important purchase of their life, which is their home, why do they apply different values?
We shouldn’t be measuring “Cost per square foot” but rather “Happiness per square foot.”
Try this Home Happiness Calculator to see how your home and immediate neighborhood contribute to your happiness:
By Peter Lazar
This Thanksgiving break, I’ve been especially grateful for my cohousing bubble. When I drive home in the dark at 6pm after a long business trip, I look up the hill and appreciate seeing the lights on in the common house. My worries and concerns of the external world stay outside the door as I join the impending common meal.
Like catching a cold, I think I’ve caught a bad case of negative worldview from the news and media that I have consumed. It’s gotten so bad that I’m sometimes up at night. I think the cure might be a delicious hot bowl of my neighbor Stephanie’s soup and some good conversation.
I’ll venture to say that my neighbors, and perhaps most cohousers, generally share a positive view of humanity. Our approach to living is predicated on it. Otherwise, how could we trust a decision-making model where anyone can “block” a decision? But it all works because we trust each other to place “relationships” over the quickest route to “winning”.
We are not only tolerant of but have a true interest in other peoples’ viewpoints because they make for a better, more inclusive decision. In our meetings, we explicitly agree to treat each other with respect. This carries over to daily interactions with each other.
Rather than building walls, we both literally and figuratively tear down fences. Our homes foster privacy, but their closeness and orientation towards each other and common spaces creates community. We welcome diversity.
Cohousers are fundamentally environmentally conscious. Our buildings are green. We cluster our homes. We drive less. We have organic community gardens.
We are typically not ostentatious and status conscious. We believe in living simply. We have smaller homes, share common spaces and share tools, to name a few things. In cohousing, there is no need to covet thy neighbor’s lawnmower because you can always borrow it.
I am so grateful that my fellow cohousers don’t share the dark and scary worldview that I see on the screen. If the news is getting you down, turn it off, go outside and appreciate the wonderful like-minded people living around you.
Welcome to our woods! I left you some flowers as a welcome gift but you look like you might be away. I hope they are still alive when you return home. Your sweet and welcoming village made me smile. I will stop by again soon!
- Your neighbor in the woods
After reading it through a few times, I ran back to the people-sized village to find Ally. We brought the note to the kid’s room in the Common House and began our response. I folded an origami envelope while Ally wrote the letter (her handwriting is only about a billion times neater than mine) responding to the mysterious “neighbor in the woods”. We wrote about how our village wasn’t quite done yet and how we were excited to see other people appreciate our work. We left out a few details, like the not-so-important fact that we are indeed human, and our names. It’s funner not to reveal your identity, right? Ally and I posted the note on the tree, and made a little ladder leading up to it to indicate fairies. Then we waited.
A few days letter, we got a response and another gift. The gift was a hand-made wooden fairy swing that I set up by the Redwood Village playground. The orange note included a poem, and revealed the person’s name as Fiona. We assumed it was a pseudonym, because there’s no Fiona living in our neighborhood. Ally and I hand-felted some mushrooms to give to our amazing note-giver, along with another letter.
The correspondence has continued since then, and this is one of those times that I feel like the luckiest person on earth because I live in cohousing. I can’t imagine anything this magical happening without the awesome friendly neighbors I have. Ally and I await our next response!
By Peter Lazar
Cohousing neighborhoods in the U.S. feature consensus for making decisions. You might think:
Example cohouser projects achieved by consensus include big things like deluxe game rooms, exercise rooms, workshops, and greenhouses. My neighbors successfully approving a pool is a great example:
The biggest problem with building a pool in an existing neighborhood is the cost. People happily bought their houses without a community pool. Some of them have no interest in a pool. Asking them to spend thousands of dollars for something they will never use seems hopeless.
I doubt that a regular 33 home neighborhood would attempt building a community pool. There probably wouldn’t be the social cohesion to embark on such a costly project for so few homes. But let's consider if such a neighborhood does try, and holds a regular majority-rules vote. Say it passes by majority but not unanimous approval. Without buy-in by all, this could lead to a disaster. There would be at least a few extremely unhappy homeowners angry at the other neighbors for being forced to pay a large assessment. That neighborhood might fracture and lose these people from community life.
But cohousers are a special breed. They are willing to take on big projects and invest the effort to make sure everyone is happy. Consensus helps get things done.
At Shadowlake, the people who wanted a pool started by hosting a series of “salons” on the topic. These are meetings, open to all, where neighbors discuss their ideas and thoughts on a topic. The point of a salon is for each person to be heard. For this reason, each person can freely speak their mind without rebuttal or argument. No one speaks twice until everyone has spoken. Salons are not a time for decision making - they're a time for hearing each others' perspectives. The pool proponents also sent out surveys.
Via surveys and salons, the Shadowlake pool proponents learned the details of why some opposed the pool. The anti-pool neighbors learned why others thought having a pool was so exciting and important.
The consensus process involves foundational upfront work absent from regular democratic processes. Counterintuitively, the desired or even typical outcome is not compromise. Rather, the upfront sharing of opinions and ideas helps people craft a better “third way”.
The “third way” for the Shadowlake proposal is a solution where everyone can use the pool, but not everyone has to pay for construction. Impressively, voluntary pledges covered the pool costs. But management of the pool would be via the regular governance structure.
Deeper understandings gained from the consensus process also build connections. We better understand our adversaries. Consequently, we are more willing to incorporate their viewpoints into a solution that satisfies everyone. In Shadowlake's pool example, the pool proponents and detractors all came out happier than where they started.
Now, do you still wonder how consensus doesn't continually end in stalemate? In the 11 years I have lived in Shadowlake Village, I have heard of only two cases where someone blocked a proposal and the community resorted to majority vote fallback. The upfront work prevented such situations. People don't usually go forward voting for items that would damage relations with their neighbors. Usually, they find ways to morph a proposal into something more acceptable and better.
How do you compare the results of Shadowlake's governance by consensus with the results of the US Congress? If we could all be forced to better understand each other, perhaps we could find better ways to get things done for the greater good.
By Peter Lazar
"Free-range Parenting" is a recent term for a style of parenting that was long the norm. In his 1946 bestseller, Dr. Benjamin Spock advocated allowing children levels of independence in accordance of their age of development. Parents still know that kids are happier and develop better when they are given freedom to explore and learn from their own mistakes. But sometime after the 1980s, fearfulness and helicopter parenting became normal in the US. We know that letting kids have the run of the neighborhood is good for them, but there's still this parental fear. Why's this?
Crime rates in this country have actually declined by 50% or more since 1993. Many of us with children live in safer neighborhoods with better neighbors than even we did as children. Truly the Internet is part of the problem as we hear dreadful news from around the world. But we saw such news in the 1970s and 80s on TV as well.
The problem is more immediate to our surroundings: many of us don't know our neighbors! We logically know that the folks five doors down are fine upstanding people. But because we both work and they both work and we enter our homes via our garages, we've really not had a chance to get to know each other. But viscerally, we worry about letting kids loose. Why's that?
I think an intuitive worry is justified in a disconnected neighborhood with upstanding citizens who don't know each other. We think the problem is child abduction but it is more complex and realistic.
Molly and I experienced a small example in our cohousing neighborhood last week: An adult neighbor mentioned to Molly that he saw one of our daughters jumping over the nets that block out the traffic (kind of like a tennis court net). This could be slightly dangerous behavior to the kid. I feel that if the neighbor didn't know us well, then he wouldn't have mentioned anything because this is not serious and doesn't harm anyone. But he was comfortable with us and easily expressed his concerned about her welfare. We appreciative he spoke out. This is just one of many unplanned and unexpected interactions that help promote safety. We know each other and look out for one another above and beyond the call of duty. Being pedestrian oriented, there are also a lot more people, including adults, about at any given time.
For those of us who grew up as free range children, perhaps in the 1970s and 80s, I think our parents justifiably didn't have the fear parents do today. Perhaps due to single family incomes, there were enough people knowing each other about to provide an extra safety net.
Living in cohousing, one thing I don't worry about is what my kids are up to in the neighborhood for hours at a time without me. They have been running in packs together since the age of four or five. My wonderful well-known neighbors are like a protective blanket providing comfort with their collective watchful eyes and participation.
This time I was determined to win the swing-jumping contest. I swung so high that I was horizontal with the support bar. Then, I jumped. The jump must have looked spectacular; it was what we called a “moon jump”. I guess the jump was spectacular, except for the landing part. I had never really believed that people could feel things in slow motion, but I captured all of the moment mid-jump: the smell of cherry blossoms, the taste of air, the feeling of flight, the sound of Kaden screaming, and the sight of the ground. I landed on wood and (surprise) broke my arm. I began crying and ran back to my house. Three different adults came running and asked if I was okay, but I kept running with one destination. Once at my house, I tried not to cry. I didn’t want to tell my mother what had happened. All I wanted was for someone to read me a story.
It turned out I had broken my humerus, right at the elbow. I needed surgery and three pins. What would follow was the most painful month of my life. Yet the month that followed connected me more to people, and helped me think about the goodness of the people around me.
Once my mom realized (despite my attempts otherwise) that I had broken my arm, she took me to an emergency care center. Since my sister Mia was old enough to be home alone but needed to be comforted, our neighbor Michael took care of her while I was gone. The people at the place jerked around my arm with such carelessness that I was afraid it would fall off. Finally we went home and I eventually got some sleep.
The next day, the cards from my neighbors began arriving. First a card from Michael came and I was delighted. This particular card featured a cat (my favorite animal) and told me to get well soon. I was so happy that Michael had taken care to write to me that I took out my own pencil and stationary. I wrote a card back to him saying how the card helped me so much. That day I stayed home from school and the cards kept coming in from all of my neighbors. I wrote a thank-you card back to every single one of my neighbors, along with little drawings of cats and flowers. Every ten minutes I would get up and run to our mailbox to check for new mail; it was the only thing that kept me distracted from the pain of my arm. The day after my injury I got more than 10 cards! More than half of those cards were yellow (my favorite color) or included cats. I was thrilled.
The day after that I had surgery. The pain was almost unbearable, and what kept me from being absolutely miserable was the consideration and kindness of my neighbors. A few of them carried out whole letter-conversations with me. One nice neighbor even wrote a card to Mia complimenting her on how good a sister she was to me, since he knew I was getting all of the attention. By the time of my recovery, I had a whole wall covered with cards. Some important parts of cohousing are the architecture, the car-free zone, and the common house, but it’s the people that really make it a magical experience.
Peter is currently the President of the Cohousing Association of the United States. He lives at Shadowlake Village Cohousing in Blacksburg, Virginia and is working with others to make Emerson Commons a reality near his alma-mater hometown of Charlottesville.