Neighbours before neighbourhood: Finding community in the cohousing development process

By Caitlin Stonham

I first heard about Treehouse Village in February 2019. I was perusing the posters on the notice board in Halifax Central library, looking for ways to pass the time and distract myself in the week before my due date. The poster caught my eye simply because it featured the word housing, which happens to be the focus of my MA in Social Anthropology. 

So, in the name of research, I rounded up my husband, packed a bag of snacks, and waddled down to the Natural History Museum to attend the information session. There was a good turn out, including some distractingly cute children who flitted between their parents and the activity being run by the Waldorf School in the next room. As Cate and Leon launched into their well-rehearsed presentation, my mind drifted from my research to my own circumstances. Their discussion of the benefits that cohousing could offer to parents and children was captivating and persuasive. It seemed as though I’d accidentally stumbled across a solution to many of the worries that kept me awake at night as a soon-to-be first-time mom. But as we left that afternoon, a note of caution repeated in my head: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Two weeks later – now seven days overdue – we attended an orientation session at the Ecology Action Centre. I know that we learned some more details about project finances and had an introduction to Sociocracy, but what I remember most about that day was the words of encouragement I received from the other parents in the room, assuring me that going overdue was nothing to worry about, and the genuine excitement that these strangers exuded about the prospect of potentially welcoming our little family into their community. I watched in awe as another new recruit, Emma, participated in the orientation while simultaneously bouncing and feeding her one-year old in a carrier, and realized that I was sorely lacking friends and role models with young children. 

Two weeks after that, we packed our tiny newborn, Alfie, into a Car Share vehicle and drove to Bridgewater for our first workshop as Associate Members. It was the first time we’d left the house for more than a few hours, and, to be honest, I thought it was a terrible idea. What if we didn’t pack enough diapers? What if he cried the whole time and distracted everyone? What if I collapsed in a hormonal, teary mess and ruined any chance of being taken seriously by the community again? But my husband somehow wrangled us all into the car for a 7am start, and off we went to help plan Treehouse’s organizational structure. And thank goodness we did. In my opinion, there are few things as restorative for an exhausted, frazzled, milk-soaked new mother as a room full of people so delighted by your baby, so keen to offer a chair or a cushion or a snack, and so vocal about their appreciation of the effort you made to attend. Someone had even made Alfie a miniature name tag! Who knew a day-long meeting with near strangers would be just what this new mother needed?

Homemade name tags for Caitlin, David, and Alfie.

Almost exactly a year after that first weekend, we found ourselves at another community workshop, tackling some difficult conversations about cost-saving measures. Alfie staggered around the room as the meeting took place, keen to show his beloved rubber ducks to as many people as possible. One of our members sat down on the floor with him and made him laugh hysterically by dancing a duck along his leg. Another showed him how to balance a duck on a plate. At lunchtime, someone expressed concern about my workload and asked if they could do anything to support me in my role as Community Reporter. Another, knowing our household has been struggling with sleep, recommended a book that she found useful as a sleep-deprived mom. As we left, several people expressed their joy at Alfie’s interjections into the meeting, reminding me how valued his presence is. I left the weekend as I do most Treehouse gatherings, with a full heart. 

Alfie entertaining us with his dance routine during a Treehouse Village meeting.

I still sometimes hear that voice of caution in my head, warning me that this is too good to be true. But I try to remind myself that, despite being uncommon in our individualistic society, tight-knit, supportive, collaborative neighbourhoods are the norm in many other places around the world. We may not have a neighbourhood yet, but we’re already neighbours. I’m thankful to have found this community when I did. I am grateful for the support, praise, acceptance, and friendship that my little family has received in the past year, and I am beyond excited to see what we build and create together. 

Is there anything about cohousing or Treehouse Village that strikes you as being too good to be true? Comment below, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to convince you otherwise!  

Categories Community Life

Post Author: Caitlin Stonham

Caitlin is fascinated by people, culture, and stories. She is currently attempting to complete her Masters in Social Anthropology and lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia with her husband, tiny son, two crazy cats, and a slightly ridiculous number of bicycles.

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