Edmonton local project profile: Urban Green Co-Housing Society

Members of the Urban Green Co-housing members aimed to establish a community-minded and environmentally-responsible setting in a walkable neighborhood of Edmonton’s urban core. Now, after years of planning, they have purchased properties in Old Strathcona that will each accommodate up to 25 units. The group is ready to expand their membership and want to involve new candidates in the design process.

1. What’s the story of how this came about?  

In the summer of 2009 several dreamers gathered to share their hopes and desires for living a healthy community life in a sustainable urban environment. They began by defining their vision and clarifying shared values of vibrant community, environmental and social sustainability, and urban living. They established the Urban Green Cohousing Society and set up a bank account. 

Meanwhile, across the frozen river in early days of 2011, a few friends gathered to see if they could turn long-shared values and conversations about living in community into a more concrete reality. 

Both groups held public information meetings and increased their numbers. As it happened, members from the Mill Creek group attended an information session hosted by Urban Green Cohousing Society. Within weeks the two groups agreed to merge and began to work together.

2. What was the need you saw in the community that it emerged from?

The modern approach to living in segregated communities (warehousing our children, our elders and diverse members of our community so there is little sharing of the joys and experiences of living) is not good for human beings. We need each other to flourish. We need to build housing that allows for interaction between generations and for the sharing of abilities and understanding.

Every member has his or her own reasons but all of us want to live more sustainibly. Older members want to age within the context of a community. Younger members want to see their children grow up with a sense of belonging. 

3. Can you share a few examples of how your project will work?

We have purchased property in Old Strathcona. Re-zoning will allow us to build 25 units. We have engaged a project manager and are currently working on questions of finance and design. All members will participate in the design process to ensure we build the kind of place people will want to call home. We will have common areas (a kitchen and dining area, a workshop, a play-recreation room, guest rooms)so we can work and play together, but we will all have our own suites complete with kitchen and bath.

4. What’s the response been so far?
Since we secured the land in Old Strathcona there has been a lot of interest. Most people need to know where they can expect to live and that the project is likely to move forward before they invest their time and interest. We’re there now!

5. What are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?

The first lesson is patience. Consensus takes time. The second lesson is compromise. I am confident that I will be grateful for the home we build, but it will probably be both more and less than I imagined. The third lesson is confidence in my fellow co-housers. There have been many times in the past two and a half years that the project seemed too complicated, too expensive, too precarious to go ahead. At this point I realize that working with other people makes big ideas possible.

 6. What’s the next level for your project? What are you most excited about that’s coming up?

We will begin the process of choosing a designer/architect. Getting to the place where we are ready to put our dreams on paper is very exciting.

7. If people want to find out more about your project, support it or get involved – what should they do?

 Come to our information session on September 17, 7 pm at the Old Strathcona Library, 8331-104 St., ! If they miss that, contact us at hello@urbangreencohousing.ca and ask away! If people want to support our group financially, we are also looking for community-minded investors. We expect the rate of return to be 1% or 2% above prime mortgage rates. We are still working out the legal structure.

8. Anything else you’d like to add?

We had hoped to have some affordable units included but at present there are no programs to support this kind of project in the city centre. Because we will build using energy efficient technology and because we plan to incorporate about 4000 square feet of common area, individual units will be a little smaller than similarly priced condos in the area. But, you won’t need a guest room for your mother-in-law when she comes to visit; that will be down the hall. And when your children are getting lonely or a little too lively, you can send them to the play area to find friends.