Trying to explain who we are via written word is really impossible, but we'll try to give you a taste. The initial members of Cambridge Cohousing were mostly veterans of other local cohousing groups that hadn't gotten off the ground and/or members of the Cambridge Friends Meeting House. Because of our prior experience and established community connections (or maybe it's just our urban lifestyle), we developed quickly into a hard-working, goal-oriented group, determined to find and buy land and move into our community as soon as possible. Now that we have moved into our homes, our membership continues to grow and change, enriching and strengthening our community with diverse backgrounds, careers, and interests.
Recently, two community members, Molly and Dan Lynn Watt, sent out a holiday note that describes their lives at Cambridge Cohousing. Thank you Dan and Molly for sharing your letter with us!
Holiday Season 2008-9
"I had three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society."
Henry David Thoreau
Dear Family and Friends,
Henry David, with his love of independence and survival in solitude, might not want to live in a cohousing community. Yet our home in Cambridge Cohousing bears some resemblance to his chairs. We have a cozy apartment for solitude, common space for friendship, and life in Cambridge (including teaching, learning, writing, ushering, campaigning, consulting, dancing and singing, etc.) connecting us to the larger society. Many ask, “How’s it going?” You may remember the 7-hour meetings, working out ice skating and 16-square feet of storage. We’ve lived here for almost eleven years, here’s our update on life in “coho.” In a nutshell, it’s good!
In 1996 we joined some pragmatic idealists meeting at Cambridge Friends Meeting to plan a cohousing community—making all decisions by consensus. We were planning a village within Cambridge where we would put as many values as possible into practice. In 2008, our inter-generational community still holds a strong social and environmental commitment to economic and ethnic diversity, green architecture and a sustainable life style. We keep working to get more of it figured out!
In the spring of 1998, 90 of us moved into our new yellow complex of 41 units along the commuter rail, 3 blocks from the Porter Square Redline T stop. Our ages ran the gamut from newborn to 80, one third were single people, one third were groups of two or more (our category), one third were families with young children (27 kids under 15). Individual homes, or units, as we have learned from the architects to say, are different styles and sizes, 1-room efficiencies to 4-bedroom townhouses. (We are comfortably ensconced in our own fully equipped 1,083 square foot apartment, never imagining we’d be able to write “comfortably.” We kept a spare house for the first 8 years!)
We enjoy using the many community spaces: a large living room with fireplace, kitchen and dining room with 2 children’s playrooms adjoining, plus a library, workshop, and rooms for exercise, recreation, laundry, music, bike storage, and 2 guest rooms. Underground parking, allows us enough open land on our 1-3/4acre lot for a large “pretty good lawn,” a few smaller lawns, a shade garden, an open area we call “the glade,” several compost piles and a large organic garden. We have planted many trees, shrubs and flowers and share the usual tasks. Unlike living in a single-family house, we can choose to specialize. Our responsibility— the shade garden, others shoveled the snow! The blessing of interdependence!
We hold an annual meeting to assess how we are doing on our sustainable living vision and how to do better as individuals and as a community. We use ground source heating and cooling, and changed all community lights and most household lights to fluorescents. We’ve decreased dependence on cars —7 hybrids, some car sharing, nearby Zip cars, plus the usual cars, but less of them (we own one car, a hybrid)—increased commuting by bike, foot and public transportation. We continue to ramp up recycling (learned how to recycle pizza boxes), composting, cut down on trash, reduce water and electricity use. This year we installed clotheslines and are looking into the feasibility of building a green roof deck and clothesline on the common house roof.
Our community has aged, we are almost 11 years older. More of our 83 residents are retired, three founding members died, several youngsters grew up and moved away, six are at college. We now have only 17 residents under 17 years. (We were just turning into our 60s when we joined and now we are turning into our 70s.) Eight members are octagenerians. Ten of our founding households have moved on, new committed residents have moved in.
We’re eating more locally —from the coho garden, farmers markets, and a weekly box from a community-supported farm in western Massachusetts. We are a drop-off point for 67 farm shares. Three times a week we may sign up for community meals (costs based on the shopping receipts range from $2.50 to $5.00 per person, kids —half price.) Volunteer cooks prepare delicious, nutritional and environmentally-conscious meals. (We sign up for one or two each week, bringing our own basket of dishes and taking them home to wash up, just as people did at church suppers when Molly was a girl.) Our dining room continues to be noisy for comfortable conversation—even after putting green tennis balls on all the chair legs—so we keep working on noise abatement!
Coho supports the wider community and world in other ways. The Fireside Reading series, curated by Molly, is now in its tenth year of readings. We host concerts of classical, folk and doo-wop; fundraisers for social justice organizations; support the Hospitality Program for Children’s Hospital; and we helped get a block party going on Richdale Avenue! We opened our doors for a 4-day phone bank to get out the vote for Obama calling Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire.
We’ve gotten used to an aesthetic of small, densely organized living spaces. We know all our neighbors, and love participating with them to solve problems and get work done. Henry David Thoreau, might not have liked so many meetings— they do require concentration, listening, and skill in communicating to build consensus month after month. But we believe this is the best way we know to work together, using everyone’s input to move forward. It could make for a very good world!
We are quietly content, wouldn’t want to live any other way, and never expect to move! We will join our community’s Carol sing, Hanukah party, Christmas tree trimming, solstice celebration and New Year’s Eve gathering in front of the fire, happy to be in a community able to enjoy as many celebrations as people will step up to lead! We are saddened by the recent tragedies in Mumbai, and gladdened by the US election. We like sharing our home and community, we look forward to your visit as we start our 40th year together!
With love and best hope for the New Year!
Molly and Dan Lynn Watt