Co housing planned for Whitehorse

Even living in a modest-sized city, like Whitehorse, residents often give up the closeknit support found in small towns and villages.

Even living in a modest-sized city, like Whitehorse, residents often give up the closeknit support found in small towns and villages.

But there might be a way to have the best of both worlds.

Some Whitehorse citizens are planning two separate co-housing developments.

Alan Carpenter, a member of the Cohousing Association of Canada, is helping with the planning.

“What’s unique and different about this concept is that the future residents are involved in the planning and the development of these projects,” said Carpenter.

“Everyone has an equal say.”

Carpenter has lived in a British Columbia co-housing neighbourhood, called Windsong, since 1996.

It was one of the first such developments in Canada.

The neighbourhoods usually contain a number of custom-designed individual homes and extensive commons facilities.

These facilities become an extension of the home and allow for a sharing of resources that leads to financial and ecological savings.

The common kitchen allows for community meals and there’s usually a common space to have large celebrations and parties.

A children’s playroom is usually on the top of the residents’ wish list, said Carpenter.

“There are reduced childcare costs because we all take care of the children — they’re all sort of part of the family.”

There could also be an arts and crafts room, shared laundry facilities, a guest room, a woodworking shop and a media room to share cable services and high-speed internet connection.

Some co-housing projects even include swimming pools, playgrounds and gyms.

“And we reduce our travel costs a lot,” said Carpenter.

“Typically the travelling in co-housing is 50 per cent less than other standard developments”

This arises from more opportunities for carpooling and a lot more social connections within the neighbourhood.

You don’t have to travel that far to visit with friends — a lot of your life and fun can happen within the neighbourhood.

The ideal size for one of these projects is about 100 people or 30 homes.

The homes are completely self-contained and designed for privacy and retreat.

All of the homes have their own bathrooms, kitchens and all the amenities that one might need, said Carpenter.

“But you wouldn’t need that guest room, or that family room anymore because of the shared spaces.”

The concept of co-housing began in Denmark in the 1960s.

It came to North America in the late 1980s and was restricted mostly to BC and Washington.

“It was hard at the beginning,” said Carpenter.

“But as more people understand it and hear about it, more people want to join in.”

There are hundreds of these developments throughout North America and about nine operating in Canada with another four or five in the process of being created.

Because of the original idea of recreating that small town feel, the developments usually include different housing styles and different sized units.

This allows for a range of ages — from students to families to pensioners.

“We’re trying to create it so that we can have a whole life cycle here,” said Carpenter.

“That way you can be born here and you can go through your whole life here.”

In typical developments people have their privacy, but they don’t have that sense of belonging.

“I think people are missing that sense of community, that sense of connection,” said Carpenter.

“And that’s why people are taking risks to get involved with their own developments to create these projects.”

The projects can be more risky because, essentially, the residents become the developer.

“They have to put up the equity capital to do these developments — which is fairly large,” he said.

“They work with a developer and partner with them but they’re risking with that developer.”

The price tends to be a bit above market if you compare the home to similar sized homes, said Carpenter.

“But if you include the commons spaces, it’s about on par with market values.”

Some developers are getting excited about the concept and are actually moving their development model over to that, he added.

Each group tends to take a green approach with increased insulation, high-energy efficiency furnaces and low-flush toilets to conserve water.

There is also the possibility of using a common boiler and geothermal heating to heat and cool the entire neighbourhood.

Carpenter said he is certain that there’s more than enough enthusiasm to get the plan off the ground in Whitehorse.

At the first information meeting on April 25, more than 60 people came out.

At the meeting, people signed up for three possible types of development — rural, urban and suburban.

Two distinct groups were created as a result.

The Urban Group will be meeting today at the Alpine Bakery at 7:30 p.m.

The Suburban Group will be meeting there tomorrow.

Two public meetings will be held Thursday as well — a gathering at the Fireweed Market around 4 p.m. and then a meeting at 6 p.m. at the Whitehorse Public Library.

A 6 p.m. meeting will be held at the library on Friday as well.

“There aren’t many other places where you’ll find such a high quality of life, living around people that care about each other,” said Carpenter.

“It’s just a phenomenal way to live.”