Updated: Dec 18, 2020
By Julie Herman - Writer and CoHousing Houston Explorer
I am really into porches. I spent much of my summers growing up either on our own front porch or hanging out with friends on theirs. They are transitional spaces, those porches. They bridge the private space within a home and the community in which we live. They invite interaction, build relationships. They are architectural invitations to visit. With the rise of conditioned interior spaces, we have lost traditional transitional spaces like the porches of my youth, when Mrs. Sullivan would walk by and stop to sit and chat, or we could exchange just a few words with Mr. Edsel walking his dog. I see this from our own porch, where we only see people driving by in their air-conditioned cars as they go to their air-conditioned houses from their air-conditioned work/schools space. It’s like our world has slowly been built to keep us apart rather than bring us together.
2020 has been a year. It’s hard. And part of the hard is not interacting with people. The seclusion of our inside-all-the-time way of life has taken what feels like a final step into isolation. So when Paul and I started talking about what our next home would look like, being part of a community where interaction was central to daily life was high on our list. (Masked, of course, and socially distanced until it’s safe to interact more closely.) We wanted someplace where there would be spontaneous conversations. We crave sharing both laughter and tears with friends. And there would be a porch space of some kind, that transitional space where these interactions could happen spontaneously.
My brother was involved with a co-housing group in Ithaca, NY, called EcoVillage, where all the houses surrounded a shared lawn. There was a shared building with office space and guest rooms folks in the community could use. There was a gym, a playroom, a large kitchen and dining area. The people who chose to live there created that space from scratch, using shared values of protecting the Earth and each other. There was one lawn mower for the group because why buy 20 when you can share both the lawn and the mowing duties. Everyone knew everyone else. If someone needed a minute, they could go inside their own homes. But, if they needed to talk, there was usually someone around. We saw there that while private space is important for all of us, but it does not have to be all there is—you can share spaces that benefit everyone.
So when we saw a Houston Chronicle article about a new co-housing group here in Houston, we called right away. We hopped on Zoom, got the video tour, and signed up as Explorers. Not a full member at first sight because trial periods are good ideas. Maybe we won’t like them. (Like them a ton.) Maybe they won’t like us. (Not feeling any negative vibes from here!)
If any of you are thinking, “It’s a Commune!” you are wrong. Far from closing themselves off from the outside world, the East End co-housing Members, Explorers, and Friends talk often about how they can best become part of the greater community. That area has been there for a long, long time. It has traditions and history. We’re new, so we explore the area, talk to everyone we can to learn as much as we can about our soon-to-be-home. Prime example is the bicycle bingo in the East End organized by East End Bike Plan. Lynn (our communications expert extraordinaire) got friendly with some folks, one of whom is the Wraparound Resource Specialist at the local grade school and now we’re all scouring our closets for coats for their coat drive.
East End co-housing is already a third of the way to filling their membership, and I am so glad that we found them when we did. Co-housing community—and the friendships that it will bring—are within our grasp.