Living Well Together
By Robin Allison
Arriving home to Earthsong feels like entering an oasis of calm. The noise and smells of the traffic fall away as I leave the driveway and walk between clusters of natural timber and rammed earth houses to my home. We are still in the city, but these are not houses dotted along a suburban street; they are houses in a garden, surrounded by old fruit trees and lush new plantings, in balance with the natural environment.
This is Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood, a cohousing community in west Auckland that is home to sixty-five adults and children in thirty-two homes nestled amongst gardens, paths, and a village green.
At the heart of our neighbourhood is the common house, our much-loved community building owned jointly by all the householders, providing shared spaces including the large dining/meeting hall and kitchen, children’s and teenagers’ rooms, guest room, and shared laundry. Our twice-weekly common meals are the heartbeat of our community, the regular sharing of delicious organic food and good company that reminds us we have an extra, shared layer of “home” beyond our single households.
Earthsong houses are nestled amongst gardens and fruit trees
The beauty of natural materials in a fertile environment
Education for sustainability at an Earthsong Public tour
Earthsong annual midwinter boat race on the pond
Earthsong was developed by a group of ordinary people who wanted to live more sustainably and with a strong commitment to cooperative neighbourliness. Launched in 1995, the future residents worked together to develop effective group processes, to set up the legal and financial structures, and agree on what and how to build. In 1999 we purchased an old organic orchard, then worked with consultants to design the neighbourhood, and contracted with builders to build the houses in stages over eight years. While the first residents moved into their homes in 2002, it was 2008 before the last homes and site works were completed.
It is a powerful experience to walk around a neighbourhood designed for people and nature alike; to touch the solid, natural materials; to smell the fragrant timbers and natural oils; to sense the atmosphere of peaceful engagement. Regular tours give visitors the opportunity to experience this sustainable urban neighbourhood model and have inspired many others to start their own cohousing projects.
A knock on my door signals a visit from my 5-year-old grandson, one of my Earthsong neighbours. We walk together to the common green to kick a ball around. What a joy, to be living just down the path from my grandchildren. Isn’t that how life is meant to be!
Robin Allison has also written the book Cohousing for Life about their experiences at Earthsong, available from her website.