Sunday, June 14, 2009

To Your Left, a Better Way of Life?


VICKI SETZER and her cats inhabit a small ranch home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Visalia, Calif. Connie Baechler leases a split-level house in Smyrna, Ga., with her fiancé. Perfectly typical nesting arrangements, and yet something profound seemed to be missing.

So on a Saturday morning in the East Bay area of California, they and about 17 others boarded a rumbling white tour bus to try to find a mode of living better suited to the times.

The tour was one of several this season in different parts of the country designed to give participants an up-close look at various co-housing communities, and to address an increasingly common feeling that one pays too much for one’s home, sees friends too little there and generally lives a more isolated life than is desirable. These are not new complaints, but the recession has sharpened them, as it has thrown all large expenditures under deeper scrutiny.

Remedial questions are permitted on these tours, like, “What is co-housing?”

The Cohousing Association of the United States has been answering that question quite frequently as more people sign up for its tours: The communities consist of individual houses whose residents share some common space, a few communal dinners a week and a commitment to green living.

The movement has been gaining momentum here since it first arrived from Denmark two decades ago. But passengers on the bus tours describe the general climate of uncertainty as setting off more urgent waves of reappraisal: Is this how I want to raise my family? Spend my remaining years? Is there a better option — a more stable community?

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