By Jane Shiyah
Cohousing is coming together in the northern Berkshires! A development model predicated on community, economy, and sustainability, the cohousing concept originated in Denmark thirty years ago, and is now spreading worldwide. It seeks to recapture the feel of a traditional close-knit neighborhood in a manner that is diverse, environmentally sensitive, and ecologically sound.
The Northern Berkshire Cohousing Community (NBCC) is the brainchild of Jane Shiyah, retired school counselor, and Colin Murphy, a builder of “net-zero” homes. Murphy has offered to donate a 50-acre parcel of land in Blackinton for the development. The land borders Clarksburg State Forest, between Williamstown and North Adams.
Shiyah and Murphy are gathering a group of interested individuals, some of whom consider themselves prospective residents, and others who merely support the concept of innovative and economical community-building. The wider the supporting group, the more successful the project will be. It aims to provide alternatives for single people of all ages, couples of all varieties, families of different blends, a place where everybody from toddlers to retirees can interact to their mutual benefit.
Cohousing is characterized by privately-owned homes clustered around a core of common spaces: walkways, play areas, community gardens. Cohousing members participate in planning a common house, designed for daily use, supplemental to the private residences, thus allowing for the building of smaller homes. The common house might include a kitchen, dining area, sitting area, children’s playroom, laundry, workshop, exercise space—whatever the residents decide to incorporate into their community.
The aim is to create a community that is eco-friendly, multi-generational, mixed income, accessible to all abilities, welcoming of diversity and environmentally safe for those with chronic health conditions. NBCC envisions a living situation where neighbors care about each other, and shared resources allow each to live more lightly on the planet. Green construction will strive to reduce energy costs toward zero.
Murphy is a practitioner of such building, and the land he proposes to donate is well suited to the use of solar energy. As a local businessman, he is eager to support the local economy as well as realize a vision of thoughtful construction. More information is available at his website: www.freelandintheberkshires.com
Shiyah has a lifelong interest in community living, and has fallen in love with the idea of cohousing, which provides the privacy people are accustomed to, within a community where social interactions with neighbors come naturally, and where sharing of resources and abilities enriches everyone. She has a particular interest in creating an environment where people with chronic health conditions and chemical sensitivities can be less isolated.
Cohousing is a vision that will require a gathering of energies, and anyone who is interested in the concept as well as its final realization, is invited to participate in NBCC, whose motto is “Putting the neighbor back in neighborhood.” More information can be found on the organization’s website: http://cohousingberk.org