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  • Writer's pictureAl Parrish

Summer & Sustainability

The point of building and living in cohousing is to be more sustainable. I went out yesterday and bought a fully electric car – it’s a conversion experience. The downside is it will likely take a year to take delivery. But when it arrives, driving will be a much more eco-friendly experience. And I can feel better about myself. But it’s not just about my feeling better about me. It’s about sustainability for the world… because of the mess we’ve been making of it.

This has been quite a summer with forest fires creating a continent-wide pall of smoke, torrential rain storms and the ensuing deadly floods, the hottest July in human history globally… these are problems of our own making. We have always felt like we could do anything we wanted. Throw it in the river; it’ll wash away. Just send the smoke up the chimney; it’ll dissipate. Clear cut it; it’ll grow back/there’s lots more. Nature could handle anything.

Jacques Cartier once sailed into a school of cod so abundant that he was unable to keep sailing. But we overfished for 400 years until someone said, “Will you look at that? The cod’s all gone…”. So we did something about that! We switched and began fishing other species toward extinction. NOT a solution. Nor is letting it grow back, letting it dissipate, letting it wash away.

For decades we’ve been hearing that we must stop greenhouse gassing our atmosphere. But we keep driving gigantic, gas-guzzling vehicles. We build sprawling suburbs of single-family McMansions on half-acre lots. We’ve taken some small steps here and there, now and then, but not enough, not big enough, and not soon enough. We need to be more deliberate and take more steps, more often.

We are building a new home in Guelph, for our community putting 24 households on a piece of land that for most of the last century held 4 houses. That’s a step. It will be cheaper to heat and cool these 24 than the 4 current ones. A step. It will have about half an acre of native Ontario plants and trees helping to draw carbon out of the air, cooling us and calming us. A step. There are many amenities on-site and easy access to others nearby, on foot or by bike. A step. It will have a carshare because 24 households do not need 24 (or 48) cars. A step. And it will be electric carshare so that when we do need to drive, emissions are low. A step.

In the few years before we move in, we won’t be “waiting around”. This land has received re-zoning approval with strong support from Guelph council. The next big step is site plan approval: drill wells, study water, take soil samples and check out the dirt, measure runoff and plan landscaping for noise mitigation, for looks inward and outward, for our souls.

One almost-immediate and fun projects is designing the interior. Not just what I want in my place, but what we want in our place. The first draft called for a relatively small common area. Most of us want a much larger common house – important in all cohousing communities. It will be a space for everything from large-scale cooking and eating to music and art; a space with guest quarters, meeting spaces, bike storage, workshops and laundry facilities. All these shared spaces and amenities will allow us to keep our individual spaces smaller without cramping our lifestyle.

It will create a more sustainable community. And that’s the point.


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