Monday, October 23, 2017

Co-Housing In Anchorage - Six Years Later Ravens' Roost Has Been A Reality For A Year

Back in late 2011, J and I went to some meetings of a group that was starting up a co-housing project in Anchorage.  They were at the stage of announcing what they were doing in public to get other interested folks to join them.  I posted about two of the meetings here.  Here's a definition of co-housing from that post:
"Co-housing is a word coined by Chuck Durrett*, an architect who studied co-housing in Denmark in the mid-80's. Co-housing was his version of the Danish “bofællesskaber.” which his website says "directly translates to “living communities."
[*Not only does it say this on his company's website, but they even have the Oxford English dictionary entry that credits him and his partner with the term.]

I've been aware that this group bought property** (along Abbot Loop Road between Elmore and Lake Otis) and had built units and people had moved in.  A year ago September it turns out.  And I'd been meaning to go to one of their open house events, but just never got around to it.

Yesterday we went to their pumpkin carving event to see the reality of this deliberate housing development by people who want to share a sense of community that is being lost in this faster and more commercialized world.

This looks more like a condo association than a commune.  In a condo situation, people tend to be looking for affordability and perhaps someone else to take care of the landscaping and maintenance.  The condo association meetings and rules are the headache they have to put up with in exchange.

Here's a view from the parking lot.  There are housing units on the left and the big greenish building in the middle is the common room where the pumpkin carving was happening.  (And yes, the snow waited until after we got back home early Saturday morning.)

And here's the inside of the big common room.   The kitchen is that open area in the back right.

And here's a closer look at the kitchen area.  The architect for this project is one of the residents of Ravens' Roost too.

The wood for this counter (with the bins underneath) came from spruce trees (if I remember right) that were cleared to build the property.

Chris offered to be our guide and show us around when Tony, whom we'd met at a couple of returned Peace Corps volunteer events, had to leave for another activity.  It turns out Chris is also a returned Peace Corps volunteer.  I think he said he was in Swaziland.

This atrium is a neat feature.  If you look at the top picture, this is inside the building on the far left.  There are one story units on one side and two story units on the other.  This is in between them.  And this space is connected to the common room as well.  I like the idea of a warm 'outside' where you can go and socialize with your neighbors in the winter time without having to get all your warm clothes on first.  

Chris took us to another building where they have a wood shop.  Since the architect lives here, there are a lot of projects that he does or supervises that helps improve people's living spaces.

One example was lofts in the one story units.  They're one story, but with high ceilings.  He also makes things for the common areas as well.  I'd love to have access to a wood shop like this, especially if there was someone who would guide me a bit on how to use all the tools.  

  Aside from the main building with the housing and common room, there are other units on the property, including some still under construction.   

In co-housing, a key ingredient is to have shared space and community with folks.  Each unit is privately owned by the occupants, but they have common spaces, and there are group dinners four nights a week, though not everyone goes to all of them, or even most of them.  As we talked with Chris and others, we learned that the meetings are often tedious as they work to reach consensus on major decisions.

I don't know what research has been done on the characteristics of people who can get along in group settings like this.  I don't think it's simply something like political orientation.  I think it's more about agreement on levels of civility, ability to abide by rules established for the common good, respect for others as human beings, and an ability to communicate and work out differences.  Tolerance for other views is important.

We were tempted at the beginning, but when they picked their location, we lost interest.  We're too attached to our ability to walk and bike to key places around town and they're just a little too far out to be able to do that.  And we do like our yard.  But as we get older, a community like this with mixed ages - not just other old people - is very appealing.

Most impressive to me is that a group of volunteers, in their spare time, pulled off a vision like this.  No speculator developers did this with the hope of a big profit.  These were just every day folks with the hopes of creating a friendlier and more cooperative neighborhood.

**As I understand it, they bought the property from folks who homesteaded up there and still live there.  They didn't want to sell to a developer who would fill up all the land with houses.  They liked the co-housing idea.  The agreement was the couple could stay in their house until they wanted to move or passed away.  The house is still there separated from Ravens' Roost by trees.

Thanks Chris for the tour and update. I'm delighted to see that this project has made it into reality and I know you've all put a lot of hard work into it.


  1. Steve, if you visit again could you check out the gardening component. I read on the website about the shared gardening spaces? I wondered how much of the food for the commons meals came from the gardens or if people kept what they grow?

    1. Oliver, the garden plots are right out there in the middle of that first picture. We did talk a bit about it. Everyone was offered a plot, some people took them up on the offer and they were made. They don't seem to be an important source of commons meals at all. Those tend to be pot lucks as I understood it. I think they are just busy doing lots of things and they do what people need to do or have a passion for at this time. Maybe in the future the gardening will become more important. They have a great spot for it.


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