“Yes! Let’s do it!” – Building a cohousing community in Bridgewater

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My first introduction to Treehouse Village came when friends reached out to share their big dream of building a cohousing community that would become the greenest neighbourhood in Nova Scotia. I wanted to help them make it happen. I told them I’d be happy to learn more so I could pass along the information to friends or family who might be interested in living there someday. At the time, I was not considering a move or lifestyle change – after all, we had only been in our home two years and already designed a life we loved in the city. 

I registered for the info session and went armed with pen and paper. As I learned more about the history and structure of cohousing, and the sustainability features of the neighbourhood, I was struck by the enriched lifestyle it could offer to people in all stages of life. Returning home, I shared my excitement for the project with my husband Mike. I recapped all the highlights and features of cohousing, explaining that “cohousing” meant purchasing our own private home complete with our own kitchen, dining, living room, bedrooms, and baths. On top of that, it included sharing access and maintenance of a common house and workshop. Homeowners would be able to open their doors and let their children roam free through 15 acres of shared forested land. In order to build this custom neighbourhood, future neighbours would have to join as early as possible to finance the project and act as the developer – self-organize, collaborate, dream big, and work hard.

Mike’s first reaction was, “Yes! Let’s do it!” followed shortly after with, “How much time am I expected to participate as a member?”: a valid question from a parent of two little ones that rarely seems to find spare time. Initially, we didn’t have an answer to that, but fortunately joining as an Explorer member allows households to  participate for three months to get a sense of what’s involved before committing to purchasing a home in the community. For a nominal fee, there was no risk – we were ready to learn more. We jumped right into a weekend gathering in Bridgewater, facilitated by our cohousing consultant Jasen, and were warmly welcomed by the other members. What we discovered was that developing and building a cohousing community does take time, and that time spent in meetings and group gatherings is time very well spent. We always left meetings feeling invigorated and excited. Our shared values with other members also revealed shared interests and hobbies, and created new friendships.

Even so, a move to Bridgewater – where we had never considered living before – was a big decision. A cohousing neighbourhood was unlike any other neighbourhood I had house-hunted before. Yes it is close to schools, walking distance to amenities, includes green space, and an optional garage. But this new option of cohousing at Treehouse Village offered the choice to connect with my neighbours to create a healthier greener lifestyle. My husband and I have always intended to live sustainably and model healthy habits for our children. But we’re one household. If others in my neighbourhood shared these intentions (like practicing zero waste, growing food, playing in the woods, balancing family and work), I imagine together we could do more. Instead of each working independently, there would be a welcomed opportunity to collaborate, off-load, share, and offer help. Our habits would become a lifestyle that reflects our shared values.

The more we learned and participated in Treehouse Village, the more we realized we could only gain by joining. Upon move-in, we imagined our daily schedule to remain much the same: getting up and out the door in the morning; off to daycare, school and work; back home to prepare supper and play; bedtime routine; then tidy the house to prepare to repeat again tomorrow. The benefit of cohousing comes from welcoming the support of our neighbours. We can choose to share and rotate the responsibility of ‘daycare’ at the common house, guiding the walk to and from school, cooking for others once a month and enjoying others’ cooked meal twice a week; play dates that don’t involve scheduling and loading kids into the car; and tidying a home that is comfortable and simple, yet includes everything we need.

I’ll admit, I supported the idea of Treehouse Village from the beginning… in theory. However, despite Mike’s willingness to change things up and build our home and lives in Bridgewater, it took me months to get off the fence. Thankfully, during the months as Explorers, we worked with other members and shared our ideas for how Treehouse Village would take shape. This growing group of people were driven to create something new that fostered a vibrant community.  The work-ethic and energy was contagious and it reinforced the decision to become a neighbour. This group has welcomed our loud and messy little family, challenged my status-quo to find better solutions, and self-organized better than any other group or organization I have worked with before.

When my children ask why we decided to move, there are so many ways I can answer. I’m confident that our neighbours and shared spaces at Treehouse Village will offer our current comforts and so much more:

  • More space to play outside away from traffic
  • More opportunity for connection 
  • More time for myself 
  • More energy efficiency in our home 
  • More caring and helping hands
  • More space to grow food with more keen gardeners (novice and expert) to work alongside
  • More invitations to challenge my ‘business as usual’
  • More tinkering and creating in the workshop
  • More unscheduled playdates for me and my kids
  • More opportunities to learn with people of all ages that share our intention of living lightly, living healthy, and living in a welcoming supportive community.

We have loved every moment of working with our future neighbours to design our homes, neighbourhood and lifestyle – including the challenging conversations and the hard decisions that have all brought us closer to building Treehouse Village. I hope our story inspires other families to stop and ask themselves if their current lifestyle is truly what they desire it to be, now and in the future. And if you’re the least bit unsure, come explore!

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