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Cohousing: a vision for aging-in-place in Langley

October 16, 2012

“A Healthy Community by Nature” describes the concept behind the Maples Living project proposed by Mitrunen Development Corporation (MDC), a company established by a Scandinavian family in the Jericho neighbourhood of Langley.

Leo Mitrunen is MDC’s spokesperson and part-owner. The Maples Living process started  in 2002, with the assistance of Leo’s father while he was still alive. Driven by the experience with his own father’s aging, Leo envisions something different for the approximately 15 acres of land that encircle Maples Discovery Gardens Co-op (about which I wrote about in my last two posts). His plan is innovative as, not only will the buildings be built upon sustainable principles, but amenities and community service organizations will be established to specifically target the needs of seniors. The building and organizations will be governed as nonprofit co-ops under BC laws.

Additionally, the vision encompasses “cohousing”, a community approach to creating housing. In “cohousing”, the end-users assume responsibility for most or all steps in the building process: from planning through development, and then managing all aspects of the facility once the project is finished. By doing so, the end-users eliminate middle man costs and the cost savings can be used to improve the amenities of the project or to increase affordability. Cohousing also means that the owners take more responsibility and pride in the overall project. It is a way for us to again get to know our neighbours, create community and, in a sense, take a step back in time.

Extremely popular in Scandinavia, a review of the Canadian Cohousing Network’s website shows a total of 14 cohousing sites are currently in the planning or development stages or operating in BC, ranging from Qualicum Beach to Nelson. Several are located within the greater Vancouver area, including an award-winning development “Windsong” in Langley Township.

What is the appeal of cohousing and how does it differ from typical condo ownership? Chuck Durrett, a well-known author and U.S. architect specializing in cohousing, states in a video on YouTube that generally it reflects the desire of its owners to “live lighter on the land”.  Regarding seniors specifically, Durrett states that “seniors are not interested in accepting the same aging scenario as their parents” (we baby boomers continue to shape the way we live) and that the “most successful way to accomplish happy elderhood is to do it with others”. This is not to say that cohousing is designed only for seniors, but that much cohousing is designed so that the various stages of life can be accommodated.

The largely undeveloped Jericho Neighbourhood, which lies bracketed by Langley City to the south and Highway 1 to the north, is covered now with pending development signs. The MDC lands lie in the middle of this fast-changing neighbourhood. If development proceeds as it usually does in our fast-paced, to-hell-with-the-environment approach, these surrounding lands will soon be clearcut, loaded for months with piles of sand and then filled with the usual uniform, instant housing.

It is inevitable that the lands in the Jericho area will be developed. What sets Maples Living apart from its neighbours is its plan to keep much of the natural areas intact as only about 6 1/2 of the 17 1/2 acres will eventually be built upon. The already existing Maples Discovery Gardens Co-op, walking trails, rehabilitated salmon-bearing Latimer Creek and ecological learning centre will be central features of the development. The project, to be done in stages subject to Langley Township approvals, government funding and market demand, proposes multi-family and adult-oriented condos, seniors’ housing and assisted living, as well as palliative care to create an inclusive community.

Leo tells me, “I look over the hill and see large demographic changes happening in society. The expectation for taxes to pay for everything [such as healthcare and elder care] is not realistic.” Leo would like to show what is possible when people work together in social enterprise and are open to creative ideas. Seniors do not want to be shut away in seniors’ homes. They want to be active participants in their communities with access to amenities that meet their needs as they grow older. Maples Living is breaking new ground with its proposal for general and seniors’ housing that preserves the environment and offers a novel approach to senior care.

Cohousing challenges the ‘build and bolt’ approach of many developers. It allows development to proceed in a way which sustains people and the environment. It gives people more choice in how they live. And it calls upon our governments to respond accordingly so that forward-thinking urban planning and health care models can meet our future needs.

If cohousing appeals to you, check out Maples Living, the Canadian Cohousing Network’s website or the Canadian Senior Cohousing website for information specifically about cohousing for seniors. You may also wish to check out the Vancouver Cohousing Meetup Group regarding a cohousing proposal in Vancouver.

Let me know what you think and please come back to visit.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Laureen Ens permalink
    October 26, 2012 9:57 am

    Great Post! I will be checking out the links provided!

    • October 26, 2012 10:08 am

      Thanks for the comment. It is interesting to see different approaches to housing, especially ones that focus on development that cares about the environment. And that deals with our rapidly aging population. Thanks for following :)

  2. October 17, 2012 10:13 am

    What a wonderful concept. Congratulations on your very interesting blog post. I will be checking out the linked sites, for sure. Could a long-time Surrey resident find happiness in Langley?

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