… but Wine on the Porch is putting the cork back in the bottle.
We gave it three years. We talked with our friends, held information sessions, organized a well attended workshop and got enough media attention to make the Raving Orange Man jealous… and at the end of all that, having met hundreds and engaged with dozens of wonderful people, the four of us who began this journey find ourselves on our own again.
We enjoyed the process thoroughly. Each new conversation informed our vision and helped clarify our goals. The people who gave their time to meet with us over plans and potlucks enriched our lives with their varied experiences and perspectives. Among them we found some lasting friendships.
In a nutshell, the people who most wanted to do this couldn’t afford it, and many of those who could afford it didn’t wanna do it. That’s much too simplistic, of course, but there’s a kernel of truth to it. When you come at cohousing from a position of wealth, you’re more likely to look on it as a sacrifice.
The very things things we chose as our key benefits, like promoting community through a shared kitchen, were often seen as drawbacks. We didn’t see it as giving anything up, but rather as gaining: gaining friends to cook and bake with, gaining the freedom not to cook every day, having a broader repertoire of recipes and skills…. But this perspective was shared only rarely.
Cost became an increasingly difficult issue. Part of that was because of choices we made, for example wanting to be in Toronto on a subway line. Part of it was the wild escalation of Toronto real estate over the past few years, and the construction boom that elevates Toronto construction costs, we’re told, 30 percent above other parts of Ontario.
Some costs are added because of zoning bylaws that don’t recognize cohousing, and specifically seniors cohousing, as a valid development type. From a policy standpoint, city planners and politicians love what we were trying to do, but the zoning bylaw won’t permit it without a variance — a procedure that can add $100,000 or more, and a year or longer.
Our last straw came in late January.
We had gathered five potential partners, two couples and three singles, who had chosen to become Associate Members and engage in a five-session process leading toward full membership.
Two days before our first meeting, we had a call from our architect. As of January 1, he told us, a new regulation had come into force, putting us under the jurisdiction of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. (Yes, it turns out we really are on a ravine.)
In other words, we would now need a sign-off from the Conservation Authority even before we could talk to the city. ‘This is brand new so we don’t really know what it means yet,’ our architect told us, ‘but for planning purposes you should probably add, oh, $40,000 and another six months.’
We think the new regulation is probably good policy, but for us it was crippling. Some associate members were concerned about the additional cost. Some were concerned about the extended timeline. And all were daunted by the new uncertainty. One by one, with regret, they withdrew. (We get the very best break-up notes!)
The four of us took some time to reflect. We set aside March 1 to consider next steps. And we decided that we would call it a day.
We continue to believe that what we were proposing is a good option for seniors housing and that it will come in time, but we are at peace with the fact that, here and now, we will not be the ones to build it.
We have some sadness about the end of this vision, of course, but we have no regrets. It’s been a great experience.
This blog will remain for whatever help it may be to others, but it will be updated only rarely (if at all).
For those who are interested in other developments in cohousing, I’ll continue to aggregate news and information over on our Facebook page.
One final thought that we take some comfort in.
Our primary motivation through all this has been the desire to create a robust and resilient community. But community, in the final analysis, is not dependent on architecture. Yes, some forms of architecture facilitate community and some detract from it. But ultimately, the quality of your community depends on the dedication you put into it nurturing and sustaining it.
We’ll carry that thought with us to the next step, where ever it turns out to be.
Thanks for being part of this journey with us and for the many words of encouragement you’ve shared. We’re not sure where the next porch is, but there will always be wine.