Profiles in Green: Cohousing from an Author’s Newbie Perspective

Ann Wilde

Ann Wilde

A Midwestern Youth

For those of us who remember growing up in the Midwest decades ago, the concept of cohousing isn’t far off from what we experienced in our typical neighborhoods.

As for me, I grew up in the 60’s and the 70’s with hundreds (it seemed) of other kids running amok around a two-block square, and we needed “special permission” to cross streets into “other” neighborhoods. All the parents knew us and knew our parents and it wasn’t uncommon to be corrected by just about any adult who happened to be around to witness what we were up to.

Our parents would get together in their backyards for drinks and barbeques. We invited neighbors over for dinner and there was always someone around to help move furniture, babysit kids or just to shoot the breeze with. Everyone knew the elderly neighbor and pitched in to shovel a sidewalk or run an errand. Even in the dead of winter, we found reasons and ways to get out of the house and congregate. Although we moved away when I was in grade school, I was raised in part of that micro-community… and I can still remember the inside of every single one of the houses on those two blocks.

Living in Northern California

As an adult, I lived for a few years in northern California. (First a disclaimer: northern California is a beauuuutiful place with many wonderful people and you cannot beat the perfect weather.) For a couple years my husband and I lived in a newer suburban area in San Jose. The houses were built with yards all enclosed by 8-foot wood fences. Each had an attached garage extending from the front of the house, with the front door of the house recessed and hidden just to the side of the garage.

On the day we moved in, during the process of unloading our belongings, a neighbor crossed the street to inform us of the places we could, and could not, park on the street. An interesting way to welcome us to the neighborhood, I thought. But as we discovered over the next two years, this was about as much interaction as most people would have on the street. Cars pulled in garages, people went inside and that was that. I had my first child while living in that neighborhood. No one there acknowledged this event or even seemed to notice, despite that we regularly greeted neighbors while walking our colicky infant up and down the street every night.

These were not bad, unkind people. This is just “the way things are” in a hectic, more cautious and transient world. But both my husband and I began experiencing a deep sense of isolation and total lack of community just as we were starting our family.

In the Midwest once Again

For me, the beginning of my move toward a more caring and community-minded life began with us picking up and moving back to Iowa (sans jobs) where we both grew up. Although Des Moines was still three hours from “home” and family, it was better than thousands of miles. And I had hoped that we would find more of a sense of community in a Midwest culture. And indeed, on the day we moved in, at least five of our new neighbors stopped by with cookies and houseplants and other offerings to welcome us.

However, I am still searching. As great as my neighborhood is (I LOVE you guys — to all my West Des Moines neighbors reading this!), I still believe that there is a way for people to live more efficiently and caringly together. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I have very independent natures, and we truly need our own space. But yet as I plan “play dates” for my youngest, as I struggle to balance work and managing a large house and yard, and as I berate myself for not taking the time to make and nurture some of my own friendship, I wonder why has it changed so much from that neighborhood I grew up in? And is there a way back to that kind of quality of life – for my kids, for my husband, for me?  I don’t know if cohousing is for us.

I admit I took on Part I of this article without having any idea what cohousing was. However, since then I’ve read two books, spent a number of hours on and other cohousing sites, attended a presentation by Charles Durrett and took my girls out to visit Turtle Farm. Right now I’m thinking: there really may be something to this.


– Ann Wilde is a Des Moines marketing strategist and writer who also has a special interest in preserving and creating sustainable communities. She likes to make weekly spreadsheets then recycle them.


Speak Your Mind