INTERdependence

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Publication Date: 
Mon, 2013-03-25

No, I'm not talking about those collectives many of my generation lived in years ago—though some who experienced these (and others who only fantasized about them) may yearn nostalgically for those times. Rather, I want to advocate for the kind of radical  INTERdependence that co-housing may offer, arrangements where each individual/couple/family of multiple ages and with diverse backgrounds live, with each having private separate space, but also sharing in communal resources such as spaces for socializing, dining, laundry, or whatever whenever they want. Co-housing accommodates the need for privacy with principles of solidarity and cooperation—both benefiting as we shop as needed for each other. Residents offer childcare as a way of intergenerational bonding; sit and have a coffee or glass of wine with others; prepare collaborative meals—all the while being able to close doors and be on our own whenever they choose. 

Setting up these arrangements will require government support for creative housing arrangements as well as commitments from all who take part to the mutually supported goals for the co-housing project that are agreed on before even the first location is sought. Similarly, the participants need to agree to shared decision making on all that may affect the community living together (e.g., about joint purchases, repairs, etc). Consensus is valued and supported; solidarity is essential.

This isn't at all easy to do. And the dearth of such arrangements in Canada demonstrates this. For example, there actually is a co-housing network in Canada, but it seems to be a rather new venture, since not many places have ongoing or even developing projects. There is only one listing for all of Quebec, with several scattered throughout British Columbia. There also seemed to be one project being explored in Montreal—though my unsuccessful attempts to reach them suggest they are moribund. As well, Montrealer Janet Torge is hoping to see the establishment here of what she calls "Radical Resthomes." A good idea but perhaps one in need of a better title than "resthomes," since this is unlikely to capture the actual activities of its likely residents—and not all need be seniors.

However, this nirvana is not likely to happen soon enough for some, so some improvisation for the here and now is needed to nurture—and to normalize—INTERdependence. A few rather obvious ideas, none especially innovative in themselves, are potentially simple starting points—with some of them perhaps already ongoing:

- Creating a community of care by gathering friends or other like-minded people onto a kind of roster and then, when someone needs something done, posting this request via email with volunteers then following through. This was useful recently for a friend who had major surgery and couldn't do much on her own. Several signed up to be "on call" to shop, clean, go for a walk, whatever, when her partner (and this could as well have been her child) had to return to work or was just plain exhausted. And for one account of how a community of friends supported another, in this case a woman facing death, June Callwood's Twelve weeks in spring: The inspiring story of Margaret and her team (Key Porter Books, 2003 – first published in 1986) is well worth (re)reading.

- A variation on this is to update the idea of "neighbourhood watches" and apply it to multiple resident dwellings. All it takes is a sign on the door of an apartment to show who is taking part and who thereby can help with—or needs help with—inside (or outside) chores. Or who just wants a visitor. We just simply watch out for each other in a slightly organized fashion.

- Another approach was first used successfully by many women in pre-daycare days when they had young children—and it's no less relevant now. Create informal childcare co-ops arranged so that each woman has assigned hours each week when she is in charge of all the kids with the rest of the week free to do what she wants. In the one I was part of, a group of us worked out the schedule so that a three to four-hour stint one morning per week turned into four mornings we could use at will while others did their shifts. The kids loved it and so did the moms. And similar evening babysitting arrangements were done through the use of "chits," bartering, or other non-monetary methods of exchange. Updating these approaches, we might consider including grandmoms who live too far from their own families, single women who want to be "aunties" and others who would enjoy offering these services to overworked mothers—time off for the latter, while the former can have the joys of reading stories or teaching some skills to this extended family.

- And why not set up general "time banks" where people exchange services without exchanging money, with different models possible. These also work to create community and solidarity.

A recent CBC radio documentary on a project for older women in France elicited lots of positive responses, many asking "why can't we do it here." Well, why can't we have our own Baba Yagas house—or some variant—here?

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