by Peter L.
Medical researchers and psychologists have found that a purposeful life helping others can lead to greater happiness and longevity.
They typically focus on “how” to live a more purposeful life. But they often overlook “where” to live a more purposeful life. The “where” can also provide meaning in our lives.
An excellent recent article that focuses on the “where” is by David Brooks in the Atlantic, called The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake. Brooks describes how subdivisions and housing in the U.S. have caused us to become too separated from one another. We no longer have easy access to friends, family, or a support structure as was the case 100 years ago or currently in other parts of the world. This separation and isolation have, of course, intensified in these COVID times.
Brooks mentions cohousing as an alternative to isolated nuclear families. In cohousing, everyone owns their private homes but intentionally plan to interact as a community.
Emerson Commons in Crozet, Virginia (near Charlottesville) is an example of such a community.
As an ecovillage, it will be the first all-solar community in Virginia. But what really sets this community apart are the many characteristics that encourage community and neighborliness, and therefore life purpose.
At Emerson Commons in Crozet, we have designed a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood where we cross paths with each other often. Friendships span across the generations from age 1 to 81.
Deep front porches allow easily taking the time to stop and chat.
A beautiful club house allows us to have potlucks and neighborhood events together
Neighbors co-manage the community and meet each other that way. For example, people can attend landscaping workdays. Working together with your neighbors rather than hiring a management company both saves money and builds connections.
As one eight year old in this photo said, "We work together, which makes everything easier. And we play together, which makes everything more fun!"
Below is a picture of a socially-distanced HOA meeting at Emerson Commons.
A beautiful pool, walking trails by a creek, orchard, raised bed gardens, and multiple play grounds give us further excuses to connect with our neighbors.
We all have our own private energy-efficient homes with solar panels, private backyards and private spaces. But our homes also have a high Happiness per square foot due to the functioning community.
One of the major points of cohousing is a balance between privacy and community. All homes have private backyards with forests, creek and/or mountain views.
Emerson Common still has houses for sale and rent so please check out our website, including bios of neighbors at www.emersoncommons.org
At yesterday’s common meal the cook had a story to tell. He just moved into his home and when he went to start up his oven for the first time, flames came out of it. What I found fascinating about his story was the first thing he thought about was his duplex neighbor. Before he realized that simply turning off the oven would stop the fire, he worried that his kitchen fire might disturb her meditation. How cohousing is that? Usually we first think of getting our families out, or of our house burning down, but now the first thought is the neighbor. Luckily, no one was hurt, not even the green beans he wanted to bake. A neighbor baked up the veggies and we had a great meal.
After dinner we started a new tradition - the polar plunge to celebrate closing the pool for the cold months. It was our coldest night so far. I figure the pool was colder than cold, but a few adults and even two children jumped in. Then, quickly swam out.
Afterward, all of us enjoyed hot cocoa, a warm fire in the fire pit, and kid-friendly ghost stories. I stayed until the fire went down and my son came to join me. I love our new tradition. Maybe I'll jump in next year.
I’m one of the new blog writers as of this month (we just had a workshare party where we chose our jobs for the year). I’ve been involved with Emerson Commons since the minute I heard about it in December 2017. I called Peter, the developer, and signed up and started going to common meals and plenary meetings. So, unlike all the other moves I’ve made in my life - this one I knew all my neighbors ahead of time.
It is different to have a community around. I’ve lived in my house over the mountain for 13 years and I hadn’t realized how set I was in my ways: go home, make dinner, help the kids with homework, watch TV. I found a book in the common house and it said if you move into an intentional community you will learn a lot more about yourself. I laughed - it’s very true. The book is called Finding Community by Diana Leaf Christian (Patch Adams wrote the forward) and it is one of the best books I’ve read on the topic.
Living here now, I see neighbors out on the porch and want to be social, while balancing unpacking boxes and helping the kids with the new school’s homework, and, honestly, dinner has suffered. We haven’t gotten into a grove with that yet, but I hope to be using the stove instead of the microwave soon (Thank you Cohousing Gods for Common Meal!).
I enjoy not having to cook and sitting down with everyone at the Common Meal twice a week. I did cook one common meal so far, but I quickly realized that I am not a short order cook and can’t balance a ton of pots and stove at once. I think I’ll make a stew next time.
When I get home from work I find my son on the porch watching the preschool age kids run around. Sometimes he’ll join them and basks in their glory since they think a fourth grader is the coolest. Next my teenager comes home and walks the dog. He’s on the autism spectrum and some neighbors already asked what is the best way to get to know him. He loves it here - enjoys the smaller school with a private school feel and already feels comfortable talking to some of the neighbors - especially the ones with pets. He loves animals.
What's your favorite part of cohousing?
What's your favorite spot at Emerson Commons?
What are you looking forward to in the future of the neighborhood?
Any advice to someone interested in cohousing?
I felt like today was an advertisement for Cohouisng. In the morning we all worked together to build a sandbox while our kids were lovingly cared for by neighbors. In the afternoon we all sat on our porches hanging out while the kids played together.... And then we ended up with a tub full of toddlers.
Are you curious about how cohousing has been working out for the members who've moved in? Well, it’s been a week now since my family became homeowners at Emerson Commons Cohousing, so let me just share a few anecdotes.
Moving day: Matt’s hand still injured and me possessing nowhere near the brute strength required to move heavy furniture, our neighbor Colin willingly gave up the bulk of his Saturday to come and help us with just about zero notice, driving 20 minutes each way.
Sunday: we woke up, Starr had a fever and the U-Haul was due back at 10 AM. We tried unsuccessfully to move him from his bed for the return trip, and were despairing. I picked up my phone and a text from my neighbor Rebecca (who isn’t living on site just yet) was right there on my screen that said “Let me know if you’d like some help today.” I quickly filled her in on the situation and she agreed to get herself and her kid dressed and out the door to meet Matt in Charlottesville and give him a ride back to Crozet.
Meanwhile, I was at home with a sick kid and a crying, overtired baby. Icing on that cake was no coffee supplies in the house, so I was not caffeinated. I texted my neighbor Laura an SOS and she came right over to sit in our living room so I could take Myri in the car for a nap and to grab myself some coffee.
Crisis morning over.
Monday: I went back to the apartment to continue packing and cleaning work, with Rebecca’s help all afternoon (and her son to play with Starr while we worked). I came home with a van load and backed up to my front porch, and within seconds my neighbor Steve was bounding over to say “I see you’re backed up close to the house, need help carrying heavy stuff in?” Then as I was making dinner I realized I’d left my lime for that recipe in my apartment fridge. Asked my neighbors and quickly procured the required lime juice from my neighbor Mary.
Wednesday: I helped Rebecca with the common meal tacos and got a late start, so Matt stayed in the house an extra 20 minutes finishing the Spanish rice so that I could hang out with our people (resident and still-waiting members all) and help serve the rest of the food. When he was done he just walked across the green from our house to the common house.
Yesterday: (Matt’s words, as I was the one staying home cooking dinner this time—) “And best of all, when we got home around 6 there was a cluster of our new neighbors wandering around in the golden April evening, and Starr scampered right off to assess the dirt pile with Heath and Sully, and Myriam who’d been screaming all the way through rush-hour traffic brightened right up and held hands with little Farrah, and we grownups stood around laughing about basketball and moving woes and toddler tantrums, and eventually Brian struck up his guitar on his porch and we all filtered out of the woods to listen and lay plans for a regular front porch community music hour.”
So I’d say so far, so good. SO good.
Excited Emersonians have started closing on their brand new homes and moving in! Families are moving into Units 1, 4, and 5, and Units 8A and 8B are close behind. These lucky early families *do* have to go home, and they *can* stay here!
(bonus points if you got the 'Closing Time' song reference)
by Peter L.
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. It blocked a road and damaged crops. 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.
by Peter L.
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!
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, Laura, Anna, Scott
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.
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.
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.
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.