Owing to a growing preoccupation with the concept of living lightly in Dallas, I’ve recently become more aware of the number of plastic bottles and tubes that have accumulated in my home. Today, I counted no fewer than eight bottles of shampoo, conditioner and soap on my shower ledge. This seems excessive to me, but I wonder if it’s not out of the ordinary. Ergo, I’m asking you to conduct a similar audit of your bathroom.
Would you want to live in a compound much like that of The Others on Lost? You’re in luck.
My sister-in-law’s mother has found such a place for her retirement: White Rock Crossing, a co-housing development near White Rock Lake. She calls it an “intentional community,” and that’s an apt description. Residents buy their plots and build their townhomes with the expectation that they will actively engage with their neighbors: maintaining the grounds, preparing and consuming regular meals together, and making decisions based on consensus. They also support the notion of living lightly in Dallas and have enlisted Anderson Sargent Custom Builders to construct homes that are energy efficient and earth-friendly.
White Rock Crossing is among a growing list of similar experiments across the country, some of which have existed for more than 20 years. Cohousing.org publishes a directory of existing or planned communities, which include:
- Muir Commons in Davis, Calif. — The first newly constructed co-housing development in the U.S. Its first residents moved into their homes in 1991. Today it has 26 units.
- Doyle Street in Emeryville, Calif. — First occupied by co-housing pioneers Chuck Durrett and Katie McCamant and completed in 1992. Today it has 12 units and 19 members.
- Boulder Creek in Boulder, Colo. — A larger complex featuring a mix of properties for lease or ownership. Today it has official 13 members, and several nonmembers also live on the grounds.
Judging by the number of listings on Cohousing.org., the western U.S. – notably California, Washington and Colorado – offers more options, but 33 other states have at least one co-housing community. Many of these developments cater to older residents looking for safe, close-knit communities in which to spend their later years: The Oakcreek Community in Stillwater, Okla.; ElderSpirit Community at Trailview in Abington, Va.; and Eldergreen Cohousing in Chapel Hill-Carroboro, N.C., to name a few.
This sort of semi-communal living isn’t for everyone. Residents may like the idea of sharing tasks and maybe even occasional meals with their neighbors, but they draw the line at sharing walls. For some, buying a plot on a compound doesn’t jibe with traditional ideas of homeownership. And for others, co-housing may smack of communist ideals that they can’t reconcile with their own political leanings.
However, it’s hard to deny the appeal of knowing and trusting the people on one’s block. How great would it be to know you could safely leave your child or dog with the Joneses while you go the store (and pick up a bag of rice for said Joneses while you’re there)? How great would it feel to be trusted to reciprocate? Fifty years ago, this wouldn’t be a topic for discussion. Times have changed, though. Our population, particularly in large cities, is transient. We often don’t know our neighbors, much less trust them. For some, co-housing makes doing so more likely.
Peak Oil Hausfrau has published this list of ways to live lightly (i.e. reduce your household’s carbon emissions). As a renter, some of these ideas aren’t feasible for me — I’d love to have my way with the insulation in this house, xeriscape the lawn (particularly given Texas’ climate), plant more trees, etc., but that’s up to my landlord. However, plenty of these tips are applicable for everyone. My favorites:
- Saving the “warm-up” water from your shower for watering plants
- Buying in bulk to reduce packaging waste
- Donating useful goods to charities rather than tossing them in the trash
- Using shampoo, conditioner and makeup more sparingly
- Wearing layers and using blankets and lowering the thermostat in the winter
While saving the planet is a worthy goal, it’s also important to note, as Patton does, that many of these changes also save money.
<RANT>Frankly, that’s the message I think environmental activists in Texas need to focus on. The average person here may very well resent consultants from Seattle or Portland waltzing into Dallas under the assumption that those cities are better than Dallas by virtue of being “green” — and that everyone here shares that assumption. Groups that support adding bike lanes and expanding the DART system would be better served by promoting the life- and money-saving benefits of alternative transportation. Commuting by train lessens wear and tear (and costly repairs) on your car, and it reduces your risk of being mowed down by a meth-crazed truck driver on LBJ. Riding your bike or walking to the grocery store lowers your monthly gasoline bill — and builds exercise into your day (read: you can cancel your expensive gym membership, and you could save on health expenses, too). Call me crazy, but I think Dallas residents are more apt to listen when money is at stake. </RANT>
Anyway, I’d love to hear what steps you and your families are taking to live lightly in Dallas.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a woman who, like me, moved to Dallas from New York this summer. She asserts that it’s actually cheaper in many ways to live in New York than it is to live here. She had a large corner unit in Harlem that cost a modest $1,000 (on par with “artist” lofts in Deep Ellum and less than what my husband and I pay for our duplex, which is nowhere near the train station), and because she had no car, she had no car payments, auto insurance, tags, inspection, gas, etc. draining her bank account. Not only that, but the sales tax in Dallas is almost as rude a surprise as the city and state taxes in New York. You can certainly find cheap rent in Dallas, but you inevitably sacrifice hipness or convenience (or both) in doing so. My feeling is that most artists aren’t willing to make the former sacrifice, but maybe I’m mistaken.
I sometimes wonder whether Dallas has a strong enough appetite for art to support a true and thriving artist community. Plenty of local groups certainly are pouring a lot of money, time and energy into whetting that appetite, and it would be lovely if they were successful. Still, I wonder.