With a Little Help from Our Friends

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by Fran Parker

franparkerLast August, I blogged about being a “spinster” and the importance of having a more deliberate approach to creating community as I get older.  In the blog and others, I’ve worried about how I’ll get the support I need as I grow older and recognized my need to learn, even at my present age, to let other people help me when I need help. I stated my desire to explore different ways to live in retirement.

I found a good resource to guide my search, a book by Beth Baker, With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older.  I’ve started to read it three or four times.  The last time, I got as far as page 20.  It’s still sitting on my bedside table.  It’s time to get moving!

Baker’s book describes nine different options to traditional retirement communities.  Some of the options she presents are cooperatives, co-housing, naturally occurring retirement communities (NORC), communities without walls, house-sharing, and affinity groups.

Over 10 years ago, I heard about the concept of co-housing and found it intriguing.  The definition of co-housing is, “an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space.  Each attached or single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen.  Shared spaces typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry, and recreational space”.

I find co-housing appealing in many ways.  I like the fact that some cohousing communities are intergenerational, with built-in opportunities to be in neighborly relationships with younger people.  I don’t think I want to live in an age-segregated community.

An introvert, who’s lived by myself most of my adult life, I need my time alone.  But, I want to avoid the kind of isolation that so many of the elderly experience and the shared space, frequent group meals, and the consensus-based resident management would provide ample opportunities to spend time with others.   

Co-housing communities are typically designed and build by its future occupants/owners. I know I’d like being involved in that kind of planning process and seeing those plans become a reality.

Potential downsides of co-housing are the time and cost required to develop these planned communities.  The good news is that Beth Baker’s book lays out other alternatives for community if I were to conclude that starting a co-housing community is not feasible.

Having the opportunity to create future living options for myself and others excites and energizes me.  But, how long can I maintain this kind of energy?  I’ve concluded this is not the kind of thing I can or should try to do by myself.  This project is a lot bigger than me.  And it provides the perfect opportunity to be in community with other like-minded people as I approach retirement.

So, I’d like to create a local group to read and discuss Beth Baker’s book and to see if there is any interest in creating more alternatives for living in community as we age.  Such a group could conduct research and take field trips to find out more about nearby alternative housing options for older adults. Perhaps we’ll even end up creating one or more new models for living well in retirement.

Grand Valley folks, is anyone interested in joining me in this exploration?  Let me know by posting a comment below.

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