Wasatch Commons Co-housing in Salt Lake City

Spent a lovely evening and morning with folks at Wasatch Commons, a well-appointed co-housing community on the outskirts of Salt Lake City. Here’s a comparison, from my perspective, of Wasatch and my own community, Columbia EcoVillage (CEV):

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Commonalities:

  • Our communities are around the same size- 60-ish human beings.
  • We emphasize gardening with both individual and communal gardens.
  • We focus on sustainability, including low-impact lifestyles.
  • Some of our members are eco-activists with great concern about climate change. Currently several folks are involved in fighting a new tar sands mining operation in the area.
  • We are mostly white, middle class, educated, and heterosexual, with a small sprinkling of queer folk.
  • We are inter-generational, with kids and grandparent generation folks too.
  • The property appears to be approximately the same acreage and includes an area for individual gardens, although there are not enough spots for all residents. This is not a problem, they say, as not everyone wants to garden.
  • The land produces lots of fruit but the chickens were eaten by raccoons!

Apparent Differences:

  • Wasatch is 16 years old! Very impressive. CEV is a baby at 6 years old.
  • Wasatch doesn’t have as robust a meals program as CEV. One member reported that the community “lost interest” in regular shared meals, and currently the program consists of one weekend potluck and one weekday lunch, which is attended by a small group. Question: Has this affected Wasatch’s sense of community and family-ness?
  • Wasatch uses a more traditional concensus-based approach to decision-making, with twice-monthly community meetings. CEV has switched to Sociocracy. I wasn’t able to get the pulse in such a short time on how members feel that decision making and governance is working at Wasatch. At CEV my experience is that most residents are pretty involved in the community and that in spite of our conflicts and disagreements, we get a lot done and many folks feel bonded and involved. Democracy? CEV members likely disagree on how well Sociocracy is working. I personally LOVE It. It feels participatory, healthy and efficient.
  • Wasatch only requires 2 hours per month of communal service! That baffles me, since CEV requires 9 hours per month and we complain that there is not enough help to manage our acreage and buildings. Perhaps it’s because Wasatch doesn’t have a robust meals program nor a communal kitchen garden, and only one community building. CEV has two large community buildings, a large community garden worked by members, and an active meals program.
  • Wasatch is a younger crowd, with a large portion of the community still working. This may contribute to the low participation hours and the lack of major meals program.

Lessons to Bring Back to CEV:

  • Maybe CEV should consider leasing land to a local urban farm initiative or CSA? Could CEV expand it’s light footprint and sustainability efforts to neighboring properties with residents who have enough money to purchase more land? Wasatch has the good fortune to have several members with some wealth and contiguous undeveloped properties that members were able to buy.   Without their own communal garden, they have a close relationship with Bug Farms, Backyard Urban Gardens, a successful CSA initiative.   The community invited BUG to farm on a large unused corner of the property, as they do on other otherwise unused backyards in the neighborhood.

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Co-housing residents can purchase shares and walk over to a neighboring property farmed by B.U.G. to get their regular share of produce.

  • On another contiguous property, owned by a Wasatch member, a specialty farmer has another farm.  And on yet another piece of land next door, owned by a Wasatch member, various folks are gardening and raising chickens.

wasatch

  • Could we find a way to create more affordable units for younger folks at CEV? Wasatch is not as dominated by retired folks as is CEV. Housing is much cheaper in Salt Lake, and several units were created as affordable housing units through local government. Also, the contiguous BUG farm includes low-cost housing for the young folks who do the farming, thanks to the Wasatch resident who was able to buy the land and provide the housing.
  • Could we lower our labor needs by purchasing more labor? Wasatch hires a local company to mow the lawns (which they hope to get rid of someday). Not sure if they also hire other landscaping help.
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