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Aug 7, 2016

Community is more than the building

CHUC-entrance-800x600It’s been a long six years and a particularly long last six months but we’ve finally arrived. Persistence pays off! We moved into CHUC (Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing) on June 14, 2016.


Spencer and I have long been interested in community and in cohousing. We explored it with our friends Larry & Karin in the early ’90s but didn’t want to leave the dense, diverse and walkable neighbor we’ve lived in on Capitol Hill. After 20 years in a house in this neighborhood we moved into a condo ten years ago describing it as “cohousing-lite”. And while I was the president we indeed had some sense of community. But with 150 units, high turn-over, no actual intent to BE a community and a 5-person board making all the decisions, that sense dissolved rapidly when I left leadership. When we heard there would be a new cohousing development right in our neighborhood (literally half way between our old house and the condo) we attended the next gathering and were quickly “all-in”. That was in April, 2010.

About CHUC

You have likely seen/heard about our process over the last six years. You can visit our website for more specifics and see photos of construction on Flickr, but here is a brief overview of what it has taken to build our community. We began with regularly scheduled introductory meetings promoted through the neighborhood blog. During this process we “kissed a lot of frogs”. Many folks were excited about cohousing and/or our project, but for an assortment of reasons it didn’t work out for them. Such things as timing, size, cost, layout all played a role. And of course in some cases it just wasn’t a good match. It was a “self-selecting” process with no application form, background checks or approval. But it worked. We eventually had all nine of our households committed and participating for more than a year before we moved in. Everyone involved was drawn to living in community AND specifically to this Capitol Hill location. We are currently 17 adults and 11 children including one born since we moved in (and not pictured below).


What does “participating” mean exactly?

Early on we had several all-day, professionally facilitated workshops including creating our vision and values, learning about decision making by consensus and how to resolve conflicts, our communication styles, etc. We had monthly business meetings with potlucks from the beginning and a few years ago added bi-weekly Supper Club meals where one household hosted. These activities plus assorted social events such as baseball games, bowling, game nights, pumpkin carving and post-Thanksgiving potlucks all served to create connections and a sense of community long before we were in the same physical space. And of course there were also numerous team meetings to devise plans for our common meals, how to integrate the kids into the community, and most importantly the design and development of the physical plant and how it would all get financed and maintained. Our unique hybrid approach to our financial structure is a little more detailed than the purview of this post. Suffice it to say that our finance-legal team (dubbed Finegal) met weekly for a couple of years to sort it all out and aren’t quite done yet! It’s a lot of work creating a community.

So what’s it like?

At this time, it’s been nearly two months since we moved it. We’re still in the start-up phase where we’re settling in and figuring out how to live together with our different styles and preferences and how to get all the work done while holding down jobs and nurturing families. What’s wonderful is that the building is designed to encourage interactions, with tall windows, facing kitchens, wide open walkways and ample common spaces.

There are many wonderful things about living in community. Here’s a short list of joys that come immediately to mind:

  • We often hear children playing in the courtyard.
  • Spencer has already had many coveted opportunities to play with the kids.
  • We get fresh greens from the rooftop farm.
  • We have impromptu visits from neighbors.
  • We share resources and workloads.
  • We eat together 5 times every two weeks and each only cook once in that time.

We’re confident that the start-up workload will settle down and that we’ll continue to find both joys and challenges in living in community for a long time to come.

Spencer & Sheila’s apartment

For those who are not able to stop by for a visit here’s some photos of our new home. It’s 850 sq ft, so only slightly smaller than our condo. But here we have a much smaller storage area and no parking included. Of course we can walk to everything, are across the park from Light Rail and have ample transportation alternatives.  There are 3 unique floor plans and each unit had one non-weight-bearing wall that could optionally be left out. We chose to leave out the one that made a second bedroom. That allows us more light coming in from the west and better cross ventilation. It also makes a very long narrow unit which was affectionately dubbed “the bowling alley” prior to move-in. Hopefully you’ll agree that with furnishings it’s quite nicely arranged. We have 1.5 baths, a cork floors, Caesar Stone counter tops and a large storage closet.

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Aug 6, 2016

Community mosaic completed

Last March, 2015 we posted about Sheila winning an AARP Essay Contest and that we were splitting the proceeds between our Banff-Jasper bike tour and creating a mosaic for our community’s entry. The completed mosaic went up a few weeks ago and is all we hoped it to be. It makes a stunning impression as […]

Aug 24, 2015

Day 8 – Jasper

Monday, August 24: 35 miles / 934 ft. elevation gain / TOTALS: gain: 20,428′ / miles: 355.5 We left first today to have time to tear down the bike in Jasper in time for our 1:45 bus ride out. And since it was mostly down, we really rocked. Again, it was very cold. But we […]

Aug 23, 2015

Day 7 – Columbia Icefield

Sunday, August 23: 61 miles/ 3,362 ft. elevation gain / Cumulative gain 19,404′ We left this morning at the scheduled start time of 8:30. Somehow it had gotten pushed back to 9 without our knowledge. What the heck, we’ll just get in some early morning miles. It was freezing cold again especially since the first […]

Aug 22, 2015

Day 6 – Glaciers and Lakes

Saturday, August 22: 51 miles/ 2,692 ft. elevation gain / Cumulative gain 16,072′ It was still bitterly cold in the morning when we woke at Lake Louise (top) so Rich decided they’d shuttle us all up to Lake Moraine (bottom) for a look-about. That also would allow us to start riding when it was warmer. […]

Aug 21, 2015

Day 5 – Banff to Lake Louise

Friday, August 21: 1.6 miles / 10 ft. elevation gain / Cumulative gain 13,380 The rain that started yesterday came and went all night long. At our 8 AM tour meeting, we were told that the ride was a “go” and we should be ready to leave at 9. It wasn’t raining at the moment […]

Aug 20, 2015

Day 4 – Highwood Pass / Banff

Thursday, August 20: 57 miles / 3,533 ft. elevation gain / Cumulative gain 13,370 This was to be our most unpleasant day of the trip so far. Unmet expectations were the root cause.It was too far to ride from Waterton to Banff, about 231 miles. The plan was to shuttle us to the designated start at the bottom […]

Aug 19, 2015

Day 3 – Glacier to Waterton Lakes

Wednesday, August 19: 49 miles / 3,359 ft. elevation gain / Cumulative gain 10,017′ This morning we discovered we hadn’t read the tour offering very carefully and in fact breakfasts are not being provided. Oops. Another unmet expectation. These were going to crop up all week. There must be a lesson here. But we enjoyed bowls […]

Aug 18, 2015

Day 2 – Going to the Sun Road

Tuesday, August 18: 71 miles / 5,101 ft. elevation gain /Cumulative climb 6,718′ We woke at 5:50 because it was going to be a tough day. We had to get to the top of Going to the Sun Road (Logan Pass, 6,685′ high) no later than 11. After that we’d be kicked off the hill. […]

Aug 17, 2015

Day 1 – West Glacier

Monday, August 17: 30 miles / 1,500 ft. elevation gain We left Seattle at 4:30 PM Sunday evening. We booked a sleeper car which included breakfast and lunch. Of course we pre-ordered vegan meals. The food was pretty good. Sleeping on the train was not so great, what with all the announcements, rattling and train […]