"As a single person who's aging I'm excited to be . . . with families with children," she says of the Belfast Ecovillage. "With the shared purpose and vision, it's a family of sorts. And that feels really, really important to me."

Another plus is the village's proximity to nearby retail and public spaces. In Ravenwood, O'Connell was dependent on her car; even carpools were inconvenient for the long distance into the nearest town. In the Ecovillage, she'll be able to walk, bike, or carpool conveniently to downtown Belfast, just two miles away. This speaks more to siting than anything else, but being part of a larger community, as well as a neighborhood one, is often desirable for people interested in cohousing.

For Lindsey Piper, a nurse practitioner who recently moved with her wife Allison from Massachusetts to Belfast, the appeal is at least partly philosophical: Piper says she was intrigued by "the concept of living closer to each other and being responsible to each other and for each other . . . more in tune with the world around us, being around people who want to live intentionally."

She believes it to be a "personal challenge to have to be a good community member — an opportunity for personal growth." Anyone who's ever learned to live with an undesirable roommate can relate to that, but in a cohousing situation — where you've bought into not only a living arrangement but a home and a piece of land — it's crucial that you cultivate interpersonal relationships with your neighbors.

"I was nervous to leave the urban setting," Piper says of their decision to move from the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston to the midcoast region. "Moving to rural Maine was kind of like, 'oh, jeez, am I going to feel lost and lonely?'" Not with 35 other families around, she won't. "I'm looking forward to having the common house and common meals . . . but we'll have our own space. It's like the best of both worlds."

Both practical and theoretical factors can play into the decision to convert to cohousing. For Steve Prescott, a cabinetmaker who lives with his wife and sons in Two Echo Cohousing in Brunswick, the pull was initially based on logistics. Prescott and his wife wanted a rural lifestyle, but they didn't want to become too isolated. Then they learned about Two Echo, which consists of 27 clustered homes on 90 acres of land.

"We co-own 90 acres," Prescott notes. "But we didn't have to buy 90 acres, and we don't have to pay taxes on 90 acres." And certainly, there's little chance for loneliness. "It's very hard to get from your house to your car without getting into a conversation," he says.

But don't conflate cohousing with a commune. "You don't have to drink the Kool-Aid," he says. Whether you choose to help tend the community gardens or take care of 150 broiler chickens (as in the case of Two Echo) is completely your prerogative. Prescott himself has grown increasingly comfortable with the cohousing model.

"My interest in community living has grown," he says of the six years since he and his wife bought their lot. "Now that we're here, I've come to value the neighborhood camaraderie."

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  Topics: News Features , Bill McKibben, Housing, cohousing
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