We not only choose the kinds of place where we live, we can make them. Oak Parkers recognized not so very long ago that they wanted racially integrated neighborhoods. They set out to do it. The results proved more modest than expected, but the resulting diversity created a unique suburban place, making spirit-fueled, active, purposeful support for high-quality public investment in education, housing, infrastructure, parks, safety, communication, forestry and more. 

Ironically, the collective efforts to make a beautiful racially diverse place has made Oak Park attractive to newcomers who want to buy in. The property owners among us experience the thrill of rising land value as we shudder with each corresponding increase in our property tax bill. The large cohort of aging empty-nester boomers are torn between resentment at increasing taxes and grief at the prospect of moving somewhere more affordable. Many young households looking to purchase a home in Oak Park and join this unique community cannot afford to buy a home. What can we do to make a place where both groups could live together in the same place? 

Arbor West Neighbors sponsored a housing forum on shared housing last fall that mentioned co-housing as one strategy. Several activist boomers embraced the idea and began researching what it might take to use co-housing to bridge the widening intergenerational divide in Oak Park. Diverse households come together and form an intentional residential community. Instead of each entering conventional housing markets and competing to find a place, they take time to learn about each other and create a vision of the place they will share. 

The residential place includes a private dwelling for each household that allows for independent living. Although the size and shape of each dwelling will vary, none possess large living, dining or entertainment areas. Each household contributes a portion of their private social space to make room for social activity in a shared common space. This arrangement has some of the physical features of a condominium development, but with a commitment to creating an intentional community that makes neighboring a priority and not a happy accident.

If you would like to learn what it takes to build a shared residential co-housing community, join the Oak Park Multigeneration Cohousing group at a monthly meeting. They meet next on Tuesday May 1 at 7 p.m. in the first floor meeting room at the Oak Park Public Library. Contact stallsusan@gmail.com

Ken Cozette & Charlie Hoch

Oak Park

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