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Cohousing movie featured at Wild & Scenic Film Festival

Chuck Jaffee
Special to The Union

Know & go

What: The film “The Best of Both Worlds — Cohousing’s Promise”

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Nevada Theatre, 401 Broad St., Nevada City; 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Gold Miners Inn, 121 Bank St., Grass Valley

What’s the meaning of the film title “The Best of Both Worlds: Cohousing’s Promise?”

Cohousing’s promise is a place where you get the best of privacy with the best of community.

What is cohousing? People will find out when they see the 27-minute movie this Saturday and Sunday during the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

Cohousing is a living situation that is more economical and practical, more convenient and healthful, more interesting and fun. People know and care about each other. They support each other.

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People who live in cohousing own their own homes. However, along with their private space, they live in a mini-village where everyone shares common facilities. At Nevada City cohousing, for instance, they share a garden and tools. They share an exercise room, a pool and a laundry room. Guest rooms are available. There are common social spaces such as the kitchen and dining room where people share dinners. There are meeting rooms.

Co-residents share responsibilities. There’s at least one meeting per month. The number of meetings depends on how many committees someone joins. Meetings are more frequent when a cohousing project starts out.

Kids benefit from cohousing. It’s a good shared environment for them, including a feeling that other adults are accessible to them. Kids seem to mature well in cohousing. People without kids benefit from the kids’ presence and interaction.

Wolf Creek Lodge in Grass Valley is senior cohousing, age 50 and over. The community intention there expressly does not want children routinely in the mix. Senior cohousing may have other personality differences, but the core vitality remains the same.

Architect Chuck Durrett coined the term “cohousing” and designed 50 cohousing communities. Along with Katie McCamant, Chuck wrote the first cohousing book — “Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to ‘Housing Ourselves.’” They’re still partnering together 30 years later.

In the late 1980s, Durrett showed McCamant the cohousing concept in Denmark. They came to appreciate a “neighborhood with life between the buildings.” Cohousing does the opposite of “designing community out of the picture.” You can almost see Durrett shudder when he refers to the “atomized boxes” — typically oversized — that characterize modern living for most people.

Connections

For a topic featured at this year’s Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival, cohousing maps nicely with sustainability and environmentally minded people. The whole community benefits from having solar. Sharing saves all kinds of energy and expenditure. The way Bill McKibben puts it, cohousing doesn’t just save energy, it creates energy.

Tending to the garden and poking through it for a meal’s ingredients add to the community feel of the village. Cohousing, in many ways, is a reminder how enhancing community is fundamental to attaining a sustainable future. As Durrett has said, “One plus one equals three.”

John de Graaf, who made the cohousing film, also showcases residents of the Muir Commons cohousing in Davis. Conceived in the late 1980s, it was Durrett’s first cohousing project, and it’s still going strong. De Graaf is proud and encouraged that the mayor of Vallejo, Bob Sampayan, after seeing “The Best of Both Worlds,” wrote, “I am now promoting cohousing in the city of Vallejo as an alternative to larger developments. I see it as a comfortable and sustainable model that makes great sense for our city’s future.”

De Graaf has made dozens of films, many of which have been shown at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. De Graaf won the People’s Choice award at Wild & Scenic two years ago for “Redefining Prosperity: The Gold Rushes of Nevada City.” He’s loved the Nevada City area since before making that movie.

De Graaf was gratified to work with Durrett to make a film on cohousing. De Graaf said Durrett is “so knowledgeable, it made it easy.” It was natural to make Durrett the through line in telling the cohousing story.

De Graaf is also quick to praise his editor Greg Davis, who took over for photographer Doug Stanley after he was hit by a drunk driver. Stanley has recovered and is working again. He’ll appear at the Saturday afternoon screening of “The Best of Both Worlds,” along with a large group of cohousing people.

As a cohousing resident, Robert Zeuner says, “This is probably, hopefully, the America of the future.”


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