Photo: Steve ChiassonScanning through the website for the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage development in Belfast, Maine, you might find yourself wondering if this is a buncha pinko commies who’ve just slapped a fresh coat of paint on the ’60s commune-in-the-woods routine. Says here there will be extensive common facilities (uh huh), complete resident management (ayup), a non-hierarchical structure (I have heard this all before). But wait, what’s this? Separate income sources?
“We probably do have some hippie communists [in the group] that have grown up and look a little different now,” says Sanna McKim, the project’s founder. “But this is really about a return to an old fashioned neighborhood. I want to have more to do with my neighbors, I want to share more — but I don’t want to share everything.”
Oh, thank God.
This super eco-groovy condo-development-to-be will function more like an tight-knit, urban neighborhood than the bong-smoking boondoggles of decades past. The houses, many of them duplexes and triplexes, will be clustered together to leave room for farming and forests on the rest of the 42-acre site — and they’ll be small by design, to encourage residents to spend more time in shared spaces both in- and outdoors.
A clubhouse — “common house” in co-housing lingo — will serve as a community center where residents can gather and where meals will be served five nights a week for any who want to partake. (Imagine dragging yourself home from work to find that dinner is already served! You cook maybe one night a month, and enjoy the fruits of others’ labor the rest of the time. But only if you feel like it!)
“It’s a way of bringing more leisure and social life for busy parents,” McKim says.
The site is something less than two miles from the grocery store and schools: “It’s bike-able, walk-able , draft horse-able,” says McKim, who used to farm with horse-power. (Her husband, Alan Gibson, is a former horse logger.)
And the homes themselves will be quite remarkable as well. They will be built under the “passive house” model, developed in Germany, meaning that they will be so snug and airtight that no furnace is required to keep them warm through the New England winters. (Passivhaus fans like to brag that you can heat these homes with a hair dryer.) The company that will design and build the houses, G•O Logic, has won a stack of accolades for its prototype passive house, built just down the road. (Check out the video at the end of this post for a totally geek-tastic home tour.)
The bulldozers cleared the access road just last week, so after a long planning process, building can finally begin. So far, 24 families have bought in as partners in the ecovillage. There’s room for 12 more.
McKim says living in a community like this is bound to come with challenges, but apparently we’ve learned a thing or two about living well together in the last 40 years — or she hopes so: “If we can’t [live peacefully together] with a small group of people, how are we going to do it globally?”