Community

Cohousing community residents settle into Iowa City's new Prairie Hill development

'It hasn't done us very well in the world to be so separate,' resident says

People play instruments on the porch outside the home of some of the first residents of Prairie Hill, Iowa City's cohousing community, on Sunday, July 29, 2018. (Marissa Payne/The Gazette)
People play instruments on the porch outside the home of some of the first residents of Prairie Hill, Iowa City's cohousing community, on Sunday, July 29, 2018. (Marissa Payne/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Nestled into their new hillside homes on Miller Avenue, Prairie Hill’s first residents are beginning to settle into what is believed to be the state’s first cohousing community.

Upbeat strains of the violin echoed through the common house at the center of the cohousing development Sunday afternoon as residents opened their community to the public with music, food and home tours.

The “cohousing” concept comes from Denmark, offering residents private living spaces built around a shared common area — a means of retaining a sense of community while enjoying privacy.

Doors remained open as the 10 current residents greeted people curious to view the inside of their new abodes.

Craig Mosher, 74, one of the first Prairie Hill residents who moved in March, said it’s worked out great so far. Social gatherings happen organically, he said, as the design of the 36-unit development is set up so that residents can run into each other on their porches or in the shared common house.

“We’re saving a whole lot by sharing tools and equipment and facilities,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and I like the idea with sharing with other people and living in a cooperative way where we work together to do things for ourselves rather than having other people do it for us.”

Additionally, the development boasts eco-friendly features, such as solar panels, in an effort to be energy-neutral, Mosher said.

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“We’re trying to make a contribution to solving the problem of climate change by building buildings that have a very small carbon footprint,” he said.

The land also offers room for an orchard and other green spaces.

Behind the common house, Mosher pointed out the residents have planted redbud trees to honor women who the residents consider important to them. Sticks marking the budding trees are labeled with names such as Michelle Obama, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Coretta Scott King, to name a few.

Carolyn Dyer, 74, one of the people on the development’s five-member Board of Managers, said that after six years on the board and working with the other community members to make decisions, she still likes them all and they work well together.

“Sometimes, that conclusion is, ‘Well, you can do it in your place,’ and sometimes it’s, ‘Well, this will be the best thing for everybody,’” she said.

Prairie Hill residents share an interest in living in a place in which everyone has a voice, said Nan Fawcett, 73, a member of the Board of Managers.

People can maintain their own identities in a cohousing community like Prairie Hill, she said, while also learning to cooperate more with those around them.

“We would culturally work a little better if we weren’t so competitive,” she said.

Residents value their privacy, she said, but to find community, all they need to do is walk outside their doors.

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“It seems like this is the way people need to learn how to live again instead of everyone having their own private little space and their castle and accruing a lot of goods and materials and belongings,” she said. “It hasn’t done us very well in the world to be so separate.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8332; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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