Field Trip to Creekside Commons in Courtenay
Submitted by Sheila Whincup
On April 19, 2011, eight intrepid road trippers travelled to Courtenay to tour the Creekside Commons Co-housing Project. Warren and John had originally planned a “bus tour”, but since there were so few of us, they efficiently re-organized us into two cars.
We enjoyed a leisurely drive up-Island (despite being slowed by the clean-up of spilled gas at Goldstream). The day was sunny, the route was lined with blooming cherry trees, and we met up in Cumberland for a group lunch before heading to Creekside.
Sharon, our very informative guide, was a founding member of Creekside, was herself raised in a co-housing environment and remains inspired by community living. In fact, her parents also live at the project in their own unit.
Creekside is a multi-generational project consisting of 36 households in duplexes on 9.8 acres. The site was originally purchased by five people. About 10-15 people participated in the development process.
It was completed in 2007, after only 2.5 years of development, a speedy process which Sharon credits to the hiring of a professional project developer. She highly recommends their project developer, Ronaye Matthew; she feels it was well worth the $400,000 cost for an $11 million project. Ronaye was very detail oriented and had the experience needed to navigate municipal regulations and handle banking negotiations.
The houses are two-stories and range from 1-5 bedrooms. They are arranged in three pods, each with its own character according to what the residents want. For example, one pod is more informal and one is more landscaped.
When asked about thorny issues that the group has had to resolve, Sharon cited landscaping (what to do and where to do it), pets, and children. They developed bylaws about pets (she didn’t say what they did about “problem children”). She said there haven’t been many problems and they’ve usually resolved naturally, through “self-selection” – people with the problems tended to move out.
When asked if things had worked out as she and others expected. She said pretty much so, although she had originally envisioned a community with more of a focus on spiritual practice, which hasn’t happened. The community, however, is open to many forms of spirituality including Christianity, Buddhism and Wicca.
During our 2-hour afternoon tour, we saw only a handful of people at the site – we met a man in the common workshop, saw a couple picnicking in their backyard, and were introduced to an octogenarian who was tending her flower bed and who, we were told, still practices yoga. Then at about 3pm, all of a sudden laughing kids were running around the playground and riding their scooters along the no-car roads.
Car traffic and parking is restricted to an area to the outside of the housing courtyard. The project has two “share-cars” and one truck for common use. Characteristic of the informal modus vivendi which the group enjoys, Sharon said she decided to buy a truck for the community because “I felt the community needed one…it wasn’t very expensive.”
Creekside borders on a four-acre city park through which a creek runs. The project has a large communal garden with pond, composting system and garden tool shed.
Creekside believes in being part of the broader community. For example, they invite people to come for tours, to use the paths through the project, and to take part in courses offered at the Common House. There is a path for walking and cycling to a small commercial hub a few minutes away, and the centre of Courtenay is only about 15 minutes walk away.
The residents have formed teams to work on landscaping, finance, heating and cooling, the workshop, etc. People participate on a volunteer basis, according to their skills and interests – no-one is pressured or keeping track of hours.
The project has a Common House for meetings, group meals and other activities. They hold a business meeting once a month and a process meeting once a month. They have about two potlucks a week (so far people seem to prefer potlucks rather than cooking together). The monthly calendar includes activities such as yoga, meditation and group singing.
They hire people to clean the Common House, which includes two rooms with Murphy beds for use by visiting family and friends at no charge (and potentially for use by caregivers).
I believe that all in our group felt the tour was extremely worthwhile.
Mary: “It was a very positive, informative and community-building experience for me. I appreciated the vision that obviously continues to fuel the enthusiastic energy of the Creekside residents and the community they are building. It was all very heartwarming and encouraging.”
Warren: “It was very enjoyable and a good way to bond. I found Creekside inspiring – it had most of the features I would want to see in a co-housing project.”
Greg and Sheila: We enjoyed getting to know our own group better and were impressed by Creekside and its community life. But we’d would prefer a less suburban style of housing – either more distance and visual barriers between homes; or at the other extreme, something more urban such as an apartment building.
On the way home, we took the scenic old highway which conveniently allowed us to pick up oysters at Fanny Bay, and de-brief over dinner at the the Shady Rest Pub in Qualicum Beach. We concluded Co-housing policy should stipulate frequent road trips with many meals along the way. Sharon confirmed that one of the pleasures of co-housing living is that whenever you want to do something with others, like go for a hike or to the movies, it’s easy to put out a feeler and find a willing group.
One question we forgot to ask was if they have experienced anyone becoming ill and needing care, and if so, how did that work out. Will the next tour group please remember to ask that?