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- Photo by Alex Boerner
- Residents of DCPC gather for happy hour on the balcony of their building.
Just past the covered front porch of the shiny four-floor complex of Durham Central Park Cohousing lies the mailroom. It's right by the door, with a view of the street from a large window. Each black metal mailbox has a lock, but many aren't secured. Keys sit in about 80 percent of them, allowing other members to access the mail, ideally to help retrieve it for someone going out of town. Still, there's a certain amount of trust that goes into such an arrangement.
"Who's going to take our mail? Nobody that lives here," says Tim Hunter, a sixty-four-year-old resident with glasses and a thick gray moustache. He's been living in the building since it opened in 2014.
Every afternoon at five thirty is happy hour, a community get-together open to whoever wants to come. Hunter is almost always there. Sometimes, three residents show up, other times thirty. But for whoever is there, it's a time to talk about life—"The same thing that you might do with all your buds," Hunter says.
Sitting just across from Hunter is Richard Jamison, also sixty-four, dressed in a suit and tie. If the two hadn't joined the DCPC, they likely wouldn't have met. But now that they've helped design a building they both live in, it's impossible for them not to be close.
"It's like I say, we ought to be calling each other cousins, because really it's like a family," Hunter says.
Not everyone is into this kind of community, of course. "A friend I had lunch with yesterday, he just can't even stand the idea," Hunter says. "He wants to live out in Garner, in the middle of his big four-acre property, you know, and the notion of living in this place just makes him feel sort of creepy."
Two people who tried to found a cohousing community called Raleigh Cohousing—a project abandoned last week—say they admire how tight-knit DCPC is. But that kind of community doesn't just happen; it takes work. For Reverend Kayelily Middleton and Dona McNeill, who are seventy-three and sixty-six years old, respectively, replicating it was a welcome challenge, because they see cohousing as their only viable option as they continue to age.
"I think our particular generation, the Boomers, and those who are just on the edge, we really like to control things and to control our lives. And a lot of us have been taking care of our parents and dealing with the old system of assisted living and nursing care, and we don't find it very appealing," McNeill says. "So if we can create a community where each of us are looking out for each other, and if we need some nursing services, we can do a contract so we can have someone working in our community, we'll do the things that we can to keep people in their community and to keep them healthy. Healthy until you check out."
Despite years of work, Raleigh Cohousing broke apart over disagreements over what kind of property to build on.
When cohousing groups form, they often don't reach their end goal, McNeill says. She was more saddened that people she had grown close to won't be living in her community. "We got down to four families, and I was part of one of the four families, and at that point some of the [ten] families that had left had been very dear to me, and so it sort of took my heart out of the project."
McNeill will be joining Village Hearth Cohousing in Durham, which is further along in the process of forming than Raleigh Cohousing was and has already selected a property and gotten approval from the city council. Middleton and her husband are still deciding whether they will do so as well.