Sanctuary Communities Newsletter

Like much of the Southeast, we’re starting 2010 in the North Carolina Mountains peeking out from under down comforters and polar fleece. It’s been cold. Record cold, in fact!

It’s the kind of weather that brings to mind stories of “cabin fever,” a malady brought on by winter isolation and made worse depending on your distance from the nearest neighbors. In the old days, it could be life threatening. Now it’s just depressing when you find yourself cut off from friends and deprived of the pleasures of community because of the weather. The deprivation is temporary when the temperatures drop. They’ll go back up again. But there are other isolation-causing forces that are not so temporary, especially in a society tempted to sacrifice community in the name of privacy and especially when we age out of the time in our lives when we can adapt to a car-only culture.

We were reminded of all that last November when we traveled to Raleigh to hear a presentation from California architects Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant, the husband and wife team responsible for guiding groups towards organizing neighborhoods for aging successfully “in place.” That’s a big deal. Since the mid-20th century, we’ve lived in the era of suburban sprawl, where just about everything we need for our daily lives and every opportunity for engaging with the community requires a car. So it’s tough to live independently, yet plugged into a community, when we no longer want to drive.

The approach Chuck and Kate are pioneering in America after observing its impacts in Denmark offers one powerful solution. It’s called “cohousing.” Chuck literally wrote the book on it: The Senior Cohousing Handbook: A Community Approach to Independent Living. (New Society, 2009).

Cohousing reverses the usual developer-designer-builder-homeowner relationship by encouraging potential neighbors to get together before there’s an actual neighborhood. The group decides how they want their environment to look and feel and what support systems they want to build in. Then, they hire the developer, the design team, and the builders to assemble the place they’ll live within the budget they all agree upon.

Does it sound like a commune? Well, the communal part is actually a typical condo or co-op arrangement, with families owning their own units and agreeing to partner in maintaining common areas. In cohousing, the shared areas almost always include a common house where neighbors take turns preparing community meals at least a couple times a week. Groups may also want to include a community garden, a workshop, exercise facilities, or common house guest rooms in the shared space.

What Chuck and other cohousing experts have told us is that communities designed like our Sanctuary Village in Franklin are ideal settings for cohousing. Living in community is already the organizing principle. Walkability is built into the design. Better yet, because the Village is an in-town community, within a few blocks of shops and restaurants on Franklin’s historic Main Street, amenities suburban developers have to create are already waiting for customers and already accessible to people of all ages. In Sanctuary Village, you can even walk to the hospital and to doctors’ offices.

We know Franklin and the western North Carolina region are major destinations for retirees. We talk to people all the time who are thinking of moving and are attracted by in-town living. Some of those folks seem ideal candidates for cohousing, and we want to encourage the idea and welcome the formation of a group to consider Sanctuary Village.

Does the thought interest you? If you’re in Franklin this week, Ben Brown, who’s been involved with the planning and marketing of Sanctuary Village from the beginning, and I will be presenting cohousing concepts to the monthly League of Women Voters luncheon. The lunch begins at noon on Thursday, January 14, in Tartan Hall at the First Presbyterian Church on Church Street. For lunch reservations: contact Maethel Shindelman at 524-5192 or email

If you want to know more about the cohousing idea, check out the Cohousing Association’s website: And you can see two video interviews with cohousing architects Chuck Durrett and Jim Leach on youtube:

Tim and Iva Ryan
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January 2010
First snow of winter December 2009



Silver Sage Cohousing



Silver Sage Cohousing community kitchen



Winter in Franklin



Winter in Franklin



Winter in Franklin

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