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- Photo by Alex Boerner
- Architect Charles Durrett talks with attendees at a presentation on cohousing.
At Arcadia Cohousing, there's a bulletin board in the common house. It's covered in fliers and pamphlets, including a folder with projections of financial returns on the monthly dues members pay.
The community tries to be open with its financial records, which are available at any time to residents. Those funds go to things like keeping the paths and walkways in good shape and meet-and-greets to welcome new members.
The common house sits at the end of several walking paths that span the property and hosts shared weekly meals. Initially, explains founding resident Becky Laskody, the community shared meals three times a week. Back then, almost all residents always came; now, not so much. Regardless, a minimum level of involvement is expected. And with that expectation comes trust.
That basic value is why Laskody was so keen on raising her son in the community—to have people around him she could trust.
Two decades later, her son, Elijah Laskody, lives in Arcadia—at least for now. He graduated from UNC in May and recently interviewed for an advertising job in Seattle. Dressed in a flannel shirt, navy shorts, and Adidas slides, he looks like an advertising major. He has a hint of scruff on his face and a streak of wild, yet somehow tame, brown hair. As he stands outside on one of the many paths leading out from the common house, birds chirp. They don't stop for the rest of the morning.
Lined with trees and filled with gardens spread among the thirty-three residential houses, Arcadia is distinct from the subdivisions on either side. There's only one road that residents park on, and the houses face one another, not the road. At the entrance, squirrels run happily, and two deer timidly cross the street.
"That's pretty standard," says Elijah, who moved into Arcadia at the age of one. He didn't have much of a say in the matter, but now he looks back fondly on his time in cohousing.
"When I grew up here, I knew all my neighbors on a first-name basis," Elijah says. "This was very odd for people outside the community, who didn't grow up with this and were used to it being trespassing if you were on someone else's property or something like that."
That freedom to roam, Elijah says, epitomizes the benefits of cohousing. For a college application essay, he wrote about how he was able to ride his scooter up and down walking paths in the neighborhood without fear of being hit by a car. But much of Arcadia's distinctiveness was lost on him until he visited other neighborhoods. One of the biggest differences he saw was the environmental footprint.
While typical neighborhoods have two garbage bins per house, Arcadia has only eight garbage bins for all thirty-three houses. As a shared value, the community takes every opportunity to recycle and compost.
But while Elijah values the environmental aspect, the most important thing to him is the group's sharing nature.
"I think it's kind of like the pie is getting bigger for everyone," he says. "It's not like this zero sum thing, where if you take from me then I have less; it's like we're sharing and the pie is getting bigger."
While attending UNC, he studied abroad in Italy for seven months and plans to move to a big city in the near future—hopefully Seattle. That may seem like a stark contrast to the semi-isolated, tree-laden neighborhood he's grown up in, but he sees it as an opportunity—and his time in cohousing as preparation.
"In a way, I had some training experience in kind of a separate world from the broader workings of society," he says, "but ended up integrating that public school education in a way that parallels my experience with the fact that the people who live here are integrated with society and do understand how things work, and are using that knowledge to try to make the world better in the ways that they can."
Explaining cohousing is difficult, since it varies so much from community to community, Elijah says. "If I was going to sum it all up in one word, I'd say understanding."
A mutual understanding of ideals and purpose—and a place where people really know one another. But to live in cohousing, one has to relinquish the normal way of American life, with all its individuality and comforts.
And that's kind of the whole point.