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On my last evening as a guest at Prairie Sky Cohousing Co-operative, I found myself enjoying a common meal that illustrated the heart of community with neighbours coming together to share food, conversation and even a spontaneous round of singing "Happy Birthday".

The 30 or so people come together every couple weeks to share a meal, organized by the social team, one of several volunteer committees. This time around, homemade soup and bread was on the menu, and the meal was followed by a games night.

 
  About 30 people enjoy a common meal in the Common House dining room.

While the majority of the people at the meal were cohousing residents, some were friends of residents or former residents.

When one of the cooks for the evening asked for volunteers to do the dishes and cleanup from the meal, several hands quickly went up.

It really does feel like a large family, a sentiment that was shared by residents when I interviewed a handful about their commitment to cohousing.

There are nine cohousing communities in Canada, and Prairie Sky is the only one currently in Calgary, with a second called Dragonfly Cohousing in development.

There are 18 households, with between one to four people in each, totalling approximately 50 people sharing the three-quarter acre of inner-city land.

Immediately upon arriving at Prairie Sky you feel like you’ve entered a neighbourhood that is designed to build connectedness. A pedestrian path down the centre of the land has houses on either side, all of which have porches and balconies facing towards one another. Windows and doors show glimpses into people’s residences. There are common spaces outside such as a children’s play structure, canoe storage, fire pit and garden.

 
  Prairie Sky's walkway connects the 18 different housing units.

The Common House is the heart of the community. Every unit is complete with its own facilities, so this shared space becomes an extension to the individual living space. It is where community gatherings happen and people can entertain using rooms like the lounge that has a piano and large screen movie projector.

Prairie Sky is an ownership co-operative, where members own their unit with a strata title.

When I asked Sarah Arthurs, who invited me to stay in the guest room, about when she has felt grateful for the community she pointed to things like the supports they had when they moved in four years ago, the common meals her children get excited about, and taking part in a three-day canoe trip adventure down the Red Deer River.

There are a lot of benefits to living in this type of community. Resident Joanie McMahon shared about the collective talent present, and how people lend their skills to help one another out when needed.

Joanie, and others I talked with, also mentioned the ease of social interaction and being able to get together spontaneously with a group of friends because of the proximity they share.

There’s also ways of life that are promoted in cohousing. Being environmentally responsible, learning ways to relate and respect one another, and fostering inclusion are some.

I couldn’t help but wonder; how would society change if everyone resided in cohousing?

While this way of living may not be for everyone, the values instilled from living in community with your neighbours and building strong social connections would surely lead to positive results in homes, communities and society at large.

 

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Jennifer Neutel

Jennifer Neutel is a Story Advocate and Generative Journalist at Axiom News. She completed her Bachelor of Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa in 2006, and joined Axiom News in 2007. She has taken on a variety of roles at Axiom including new social media intiatives and has a passion for creating strengths-based questions that can lead to positive change.

Contact Jennifer: jennifer@axiomnews.ca, or 705-741-4421 ext. 26.

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