Crozet Cohousing Community Approved

Molly Lazard, of Blue Ridge Cohousing, writes:

Blue Ridge Cohousing, a group of residents forming a community in Crozet, was approved for rezoning yesterday on a property off Parkview.

Cohousing neighborhoods attempt to be both green and social, creating a community where neighbors know and care for one another. To that end, cars are relegated to the periphery and only pedestrian paths lead to clustered homes. The homes are all privately owned, but there is extensive common land and a shared community building with extensive resources.

Blue Ridge Cohousing is partnered with a nonprofit developer, Community Housing Partners, and will be building 26 homes, 4 of which will be designated affordable housing.

I ignore press releases (my mail client auto-erases any e-mail that contains the words “for immediate release), but this is too interesting to pass up. We learned about cohousing in my urban planning class some years ago and, while it’s not for me, I think it’s a brilliant idea. I’ll be interested to see how things work out with this project.

23 Responses to “Crozet Cohousing Community Approved”


  • “green…social…care…common…shared…community…partnered…affordable.” Well, good luck with that.

  • I was at the meeting, I’ll have a summary up on Charlottesville Tomorrow later today.

  • Falstaff said,
    “ ‘green…social…care…common…shared…community…partnered…affordable. ‘ Well, good luck with that.”

    What, you mean the affordable part? I think something like 4-6 of the homes out of 25 or 30 total homes are to be designated affordable. The idea is there should be a mix of incomes. Why so cynical? There are successful cohousing communities all over the country. I love the idea, myself, but my husband isn’t crazy about the idea of any kind of community living. We live on a country road, not a subdivision or neighborhood, for that reason. But left to my own devices, I’d be living on Early Street or helping to build this Cohousing community… I’m jealous. I think they’ve got a great thing going. It’s about time that Cville had a cohousing community. Two (or maybe three?) groups have tried to get it off the ground in years/decades past, but for different reasons they didn’t see it through. This time it’s really going to happen and I think it will be a terrific option.

  • Me, cynical? Guilty as charged. But no more so, I think, than the author of that press release who managed to pack all those buzzwords into a couple paragraphs.

  • Falstaff, far from cynical– we are a bunch of pie-in-the-sky idealists. We are future homeowners that have been volunteering our time and risking our finances for the last 3 years to try to form a community that will live up to the “buzzwords.” We’re not part of the real estate industry. We’re not getting paid for it– there is nothing in it for us but living in a community that, as much as possible, achieves our goals.

    I suggest you look into cohousing a little bit more– or in fact, visit a community. Look at the biography pages of some cohousing neighborhoods and tell me they are a bunch of cynics. You can call us other things, perhaps, but cynicism doesn’t stick.

  • Actually, I take it back about the “pie-in-the sky” part– we have made a concerted effort to be practical in every step of this endeavor. However, we are working towards a community of the “buzzwords,” just like the 100 existing cohousing neighborhoods in the US, and over 400 in Denmark.

  • Molly,

    It is my belief that Americans are quite different from, and, accordingly, wish for other things in their neighborhoods than Danes. Perhaps I am wrong.

    Good luck with your project.

  • Falstaff, I agree that cohousing isn’t for everyone (for instance, Waldo said that he’s decided it’s not for him, but he still thinks it’s a brilliant idea) — but it seems to me that the hundred or so existing cohousing communities in the U.S. must be made up of people who are looking for precisely this kind of neighborhood. So, um, I guess not all Americans are exactly alike, right? ; ) Seriously, once you look into cohousing, you just might come to the conclusion that it’s quite simple and nice. Sort of old-fashioned, in a way. Sidewalks, people gathering for meals (or not, the meals are optional, I hear), kids playing in a grassy lawn away from streets, and in a big connected backyard area. Sigh! Sounds like just what I’d love in a living situation.

    Waldo, what do you like about the cohousing idea? What did you learn about it from your urban planning class? I’m curious. Thanks!

    Christine

  • Hey, does anyone know what the main objections were that the BOS had about the Cohousing project? I’m especially curious as to what Sally Thomas had to say. I would have thought that they’d be jumping to approve it. After all, isn’t it the very definition of the “neighborhood model”?

  • Waldo, what do you like about the cohousing idea? What did you learn about it from your urban planning class?

    I like that cohousing can bring about the promise of suburbia, by which I mean it’s suburban living that has much greater potential to result in community than actual suburbia. Actual suburbia is antithetical to community. Cohousing is a community designed for people, not cars. It’s structured with the assumption that you like and value time with other people.

    The two points that really stick in my mind from class (or, rather, the text we read in class that described cohousing) is that standard zoning makes cohousing quite difficult and that an application process is necessary, because each household really has to get along with others in a way more fundamental than one normally must get along with one’s neighbors.

    Cohousing clearly isn’t for everybody. In fact, I’ll bet that fewer than one in ten would, when fully informed about it, be interested. But I think we’d all be a whole lot better if 10% of us lived in such communities.

  • Suburbia is designed for cars? That’s very interesting! Where’s the house with room for a car in the kitchen? Why would someone build a swimming pool in their backyard for a car?

    Suburbia is designed for people. People who drive cars. Many of those people are quite community oriented and use their cars to enable them to participate in their communities. In fact participation in community activites has been enhanced considerably by the availability of convenient and accessible transportation…by cars.

  • Suburbia is designed for cars? That’s very interesting! Where’s the house with room for a car in the kitchen? Why would someone build a swimming pool in their backyard for a car?
    Suburbia is designed for people. People who drive cars.

    Ignoring that embarrassing faux-confused riff, here’s the very first house that came up on CAAR’s site. Look at the picture of the front of it. What is this house designed for: people, or cars? Here’s another one and another one and another one. Aliens land, they look at any of these houses, and they think…what? People live there? Or cars do?

    Many of those people are quite community oriented and use their cars to enable them to participate in their communities. In fact participation in community activites has been enhanced considerably by the availability of convenient and accessible transportation…by cars.

    That’s 180° the opposite of the truth. I suggest you read Bowling Alone. While you’re at it, Suburban Nation and basically anything by Jim Kunstler. You’ll love Kunstler. He’s very cranky. Hates people, all about pedestrian rights. The two of you would totally hit it off.

  • Houses in suburbs are deigned for people with cars. Cars that are parked in garages conveniently located close to the living quarters of the people. Locating the garage closer to the home also reduces the amount of expensive pavement.

    I would imagine that many of the residents of the cohousing development will use their cars to travel to various meeting and gatherings of people that are part of their life and community. The cohousing development will have some sort of parking lot. If it does, how close will parking be to the homes?

    People who live in suburbs are quite active in their communities. Their communities may not include the people next door but they still are active in them. Their community may center on their church, school, social club, sports organization, political party or some other group with a physical center that is miles from their home. Or their community may not extend much further than their family. It’s up to them. Easy access to transportation through their cars enables them to quickly get to their soccer games, Democratic breakfasts, church service, Sierra Club meeting or whatever other group of like minded people they associate with.

    By the way, I may not care much for your views and I may not be one of your favorite people but I don’t hate people. Your suggestion that I hate people is offensive. Perhaps you don’t realize that you don’t really know me wery well?

  • People who live in suburbs are quite active in their communities. Their communities may not include the people next door but they still are active in them. Their community may center on their church, school, social club, sports organization, political party or some other group with a physical center that is miles from their home.

    Again, this is 180° the opposite of the truth.

    J. Eric Oliver study on the stunning lack of community membership — in any communities — among suburban residents in his January 1999 paper in the American Journal of Political Science, “The Effects of Metropolitical Economic Segregation on Local Civic Participation.” He found that suburbanization correlates strongly with social homogeneity (income, social strata, race, political views, etc.) which, in turn correlates strongly with abnormally low levels of civic engagement.

    And in the eighth 1997 of issue Housing Policy Debate, Robert Lang and Karen Danielsen found (in “Gated Communities in America: Walling out the World?”) that suburbanization correlates closely with greatly decreased social connections, citing the example of the community association; while once neighbors would “use gentle nudges to prod neighbors to act responsibly” (cut their grass, paint their fence, etc.), now the CA sends somebody by to measure the grass with a ruler and issue a citation for non-compliance.

    Then there’s Kenneth Jackson, the leading expert on American suburbs, who wrote in “Crabgrass Frontier”:

    [A] major casualty of America’s drive-in culture is the weakened “sense of community” which prevails in most metropolitan areas. I refer to a tendency for social life to become “privatized,” and to a reduced feel of concern and responsibility among families for their neighbors and among suburbanites in general for residents of the inner city…. The real shift, however, is the way in which our lives are now centered inside the house, rather than on the neighborhood or the community. With increased use of automobiles, the life of the sidewalk and the front yard has largely disappeared, and the social intercourse that used to be the main characteristic of urban life has vanished…. There are few places as desolate and lonely as a suburban street on a hot afternoon.”

    The physical structure of the suburbs (generally lacking sidewalks, requiring people to walk in the street) is utterly dependent on the car. Frequently there is no walkway from the street to the house, because its residents all enter through their garages. Candidates hate campaigning in the suburbs — and often won’t bother — because it’s so impractical to get around on foot. The rise of the suburbs has caused the 1973-1996 doubling of Americans who describe a second household car as “a necessity” rather than “a luxury.” The average American adult spends 72 minutes driving each day, more than twice as much time as the average parent spends with their kids each day. That’s because the suburbs move people farther and farther from their places of work and shopping, leaving no other option than driving. And, for that matter, little time for community involvement.

    In fact, there’s a direct correlation. Each additional ten minutes spent community each day cuts time involved in community matters by 10%. This effect is across the board: political volunteerism, church membership, membership organizations, etc. About 10% of all social disengagement can be accounted for by the effects of suburbanism.

    Political involvement has collapsed since 1972. Communal involvement has plummeted since 1973. Memberships in major chapter-based associations started its nosedive in 1970. PTA membership started its nearly vertical decline in 1965. Church membership steadily down since 1965. Neighborhood organization membership began its long, slow decline in 1974.

    There can be no question that living in the suburbs correlates closely with decreased social and community involvement on all levels, in all spheres of life.

  • Have you noticed the abundance of churches, scout troops, soccer teams, softball teams, volleyball leagues, fitness classes and a host of other activities like the Sierra Club, the Moose Lodge, and the VFW to name just a few? Where do the people taking part in those activities live? Most of them live in the suburbs or if they do live in the city it’s often in a detached home with an attached garage. Oh, and they get to their activities by driving their cars.I don’t care though, where they live. They should and do have the freedom to associate with whomever they choose to be with or not be with. You’re not going to change peoples interests and behavior by forcing them to build houses with front porches and sidewalks or other mandated design requirements.

    People may not feel the need or have the interest to pay a whit of attention to local government but they are not hermits either. They’re happy to live in the suburbs and they have full, active and productive lives. What’s the problem? Quick, grab another study that denies reality and throw it at me!

  • The trouble with citing numbers and causes is the relationships between them may be speculative.

    Another possible reason for the lower community group membership rates that Waldo cites are the prevalence of two income families who have less time for volunteering. Waldo, you’ll see when you have a couple of middle school age kids just how much free time you have. ;-)

  • Kevin Cox wrote:

    Have you noticed the abundance of churches, scout troops, soccer teams, softball teams, volleyball leagues, fitness classes and a host of other activities like the Sierra Club, the Moose Lodge, and the VFW to name just a few? Where do the people taking part in those activities live? Most of them live in the suburbs or if they do live in the city it’s often in a detached home with an attached garage.

    So what you’re saying is that, while I have all of the evidence on my side, and you cannot cite any evidence to the contrary, you’ve got your mind made up, and can’t be bothered with the facts.

    All right. Good talk.

    jmcnamera wrote:

    Another possible reason for the lower community group membership rates that Waldo cites are the prevalence of two income families who have less time for volunteering.

    Actually, the opposite is true. Working outside of the home does reduce the time available for community involvement, but it also dramatically increases opportunity for it. As Putnam explains:

    The role of housewife is often socially isolating. Homemakers belong to different types of groups from those working women belong to (more PTAs, for example, and fewer professional associations), but in the aggregate working women belong to slightly more voluntary associations. […][T]he movement of women into the paid labor force certainly did not contribute to the national decline of social capital and civic engagement and may actually have muted that decline.

    Interestingly, this effect is even more pronounced among single mothers:

    In one specific and expanding category–single moms–the evidence is quite strong that work outside the home has a positive effect on virtually all forms of civic engagement, from club membership to political interest.

    Incidentally, the source of these data are Ithiel de Sola Poll and Manfred Kocken’s “Contact and Influence” (Social Networks, 1978), Patricia Klobus Edwards et al’s “Women Work, and Social Participation” (Journal of Voluntary Action Research, January 1984), and Putnam’s analysis of Roper Social and Political Trends and GSS archives (holding standard demographic factors constant between women).

  • I don’t buy their statements regarding woman working outside the home having a positive effect on civic engagement. Just looking at the mom’s who run PTA organizations, Cub Scout dens etc, its the mothers who do not have outside jobs.

    The studies you quote sound more like they are reporting what the authors want to report. Do you have a weblink for them so we can read them?

  • The studies you quote sound more like they are reporting what the authors want to report.

    Unless you know what it is that the authors want to report, I can’t understand how you would draw that conclusion.

    Do you have a weblink for them so we can read them?

    Like so many academic studies, reading the full text requires membership to Sage or related databases. If you do have such access (like if you’re affiliated with the university), you can read it at this location. Also, you can read a list of all studies that cite this study at Google Scholar.

    I must make clear that the viewpoints that I’ve been describing are neither radical nor unusual. They represent the consensus of sociologists.

  • Hey, sorry I showed up late.

    Great discussion of suburban isolation. An explanation for it that I use (having lived in a variety of urban and suburban neighborhoods) for thinking about this is the cost of involvement. When I live near my friends, my job, and fun places to go (walking distance is best), social engagement is effortless and casual, requiring no planning. “Hey, I’m going to a meeting down the street, want to come?” “Sure, I’m free. What’s it about?”
    When I live far from those things, however, I need to plan ahead. Those casual encounters that New Urbanists talk about don’t happen as easily. And those casual encounters are gold. People will mention things to you when they run into you, which could turn into job or business opportunies, friendships, relationships, who knows? They open doors, and living in the suburbs makes a lot of those doors inaccessible.
    You can live far from where things are happening and still do things, but not as easily or often, because the costs are higher and the opportunities fewer. I agree with you Kevin that people should be free to live where they choose, but I believe that market conditions are biased strongly towards suburban development, limiting freedom. I think that requiring some New Urbanist styles of construction, as the county is trying to do with its Neighborhood Model, is an attempt to balance the scales. Whether it succeeds is another matter.

  • We need cohousing where you grow weed in the gardens and sell it to pay the bills and help people in need.

  • My summary on the rezoning is finally posted at Charlottesville Tomorrow.

    We took a different approach with this podcast, and we’d be interested to hear what people think. Instead of doing gavel to gavel, I produced a long radio piece.

Comments are currently closed.

Sideblog