Cohousing community breaking new ground in Iowa City

Iowa City Cohousing Information Meeting

Uptown Bill’s — Thursday, Feb. 16 at 5:30 p.m.

Iowa City Cohousing held a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 13, 2016 for its Prairie Hill development. -- photo via Iowa City Cohousing
Iowa City Cohousing held a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 13, 2016 for its Prairie Hill development. — photo via Iowa City Cohousing

A new housing community, Prairie Hill, hopes to bring the concept of cohousing to the Iowa City area — encouraging a greener, more neighborly living space.

The development, many years in the making, broke ground in November on land in southwest Iowa City. Construction will start this spring on 36 energy-efficient homes surrounded by green space, and a common house complete with a shared kitchen and eating area.

Aside from the traditional, shovels-in-hand ceremony to signal the start of construction, the community is also breaking ground by introducing a new way of living to Iowa. Cohousing traces its roots to Denmark, with the first community built in Copenhagen in 1972. Since then, it has spread internationally. The first U.S. community was built 26 years ago in California, and more than 160 have sprung up since then, according to the Cohousing Association of the United States. Prairie Hill is the first such community in Iowa.

“We feel like what we are doing is modeling a better way to live, and to live more sustainably,” said Del Holland, who is on the board of managers for the community.

Holland said he was drawn to the idea out of the desire for greener, more sustainable living. On his own, he said, his ability to reduce his footprint was limited. But collaborating with a group opened up more possibilities. Each of the homes is solar-ready, and the group anticipates the buildings being LEED certified as well.

The group has regular information meetings where individuals who are interested in the community’s progress or curious about purchasing one of the remaining homes can come and speak with members. The next meeting is Thursday, Feb. 16 at 5:30 p.m. at Uptown Bill’s (730 S. Dubuque St.). A multi-step process for membership is designed to make sure new members understand and are on-board with the goals of the community.

“We want people to take their time to decide because this is not just like buying a house,” said Manager Nan Fawcett. “We want them to make sure they are making the right decision.”

Site plan for Prairie Hill, the development organized by Iowa City Cohousing. -- image via Iowa City Cohousing
Site plan for Prairie Hill, the development organized by Iowa City Cohousing. — image via Iowa City Cohousing

Sarah Ross was among those who attended the group’s Jan. 19 meeting. She has lived in an Ann Arbor, Michigan cohousing community for the past 14 years, but is considering a move down to the Iowa City area.

“If I ever move, it will be to another cohousing community,” Ross said, adding that one of the main draws is developing relationships with her neighbors. “I have been able to be close to families and kids growing up, and that has been a blessing to me. That’s something that as a culture we don’t see a lot of. As a single adult, if you strike up a conversation with a kid at a bus stop or grocery store, the mom comes and moves the kid along.”

Organizers for the project have been meeting since 2009, developing the vision for the new development. Among their key goals is to foster a sense of camaraderie among members, support an environmentally friendly lifestyle and create a diverse, multi-generational community, they said.

“We intend for Iowa City Cohousing to be a resource for the community, which is an exciting thing to be able to say,” said Manager Annie Tucker.

Carlie Hendrickson attended the January meeting along with her three-year-old daughter, Alana, and her husband, Blake. At the time, she said they were considering the community, although they hadn’t made a final decision.

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“This is always what I dream of when I move into a neighborhood, that it will be a giant block party,” Hendrickson said. “But you buy a house somewhere and you never know whether your neighbors want to meet you.”

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