Book edited by Paul Born, Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement. BPS Books, 2008.
The percentage of Canadians living on low incomes fell from 29 to 13 percent between 1961 and 1977, but has not substantially decreased in the last three decades. At the core of the Vibrant Communities mindset is the realization that poverty reduction is the means to improve overall quality of life in a community.
Rather than focusing on supports for those living in poverty, the founders envisioned communities in which it would be impossible for poverty to exist. The basic themes of the Vibrant Communities approach are:
Comprehensive thinking and action
Community asset building
Community learning and change (rather than short-term intervention)
Vibrant Communities began as Opportunities 2000 in Waterloo, Ontario. As a four year initiative involving eighty-six community organizations in forty-seven poverty reduction projects, Opportunities 2000 ultimately helped 1600 families. This book includes two background papers on the driving forces behind Vibrant Communities, as well as ten case studies of communities across Canada – including Edmonton - that have followed this path.
Vibrant Communities Edmonton has developed a strategy focused on three areas: workforce development, family economic support, and community investment. The Job Bus was designed to provide transportation to work so that employees could find and keep jobs. The Make Tax Time Pay campaign sought to make low-income families aware of services available from the Alberta Child Health Benefit. The Home Program was created to help low-income individuals overcome the obstacles in their path to being homeowners.
The British Columbia Capital Region Quality of Life Challenge focuses on sustainable incomes, affordable housing, and community connections. As part of the Employer Challenge, HR Options for Action educates employers about ways they can improve the lives of their low-income workers. Mentors help those moving towards sustainable incomes make good choices through the Mentorship Challenge. Collaboration between many organizations established the Regional Housing Trust Fund to address housing affordability and availability.
In the Niagara Region, Opportunities Niagara offers services such as brokering and coordination, social marketing, technical assistance and coaching, and improved access to resources, while facilitating collaboration between community organizations. Target areas in this region include adequate employment, affordable housing, and accessible transportation.
In New Brunswick, Vibrant Communities St. John is examining low-income neighbourhoods and targeting the issues that make it difficult for residents of these areas to move out of poverty. VCSJ has focused on children and youth, providing early childhood development opportunities for low-income families. Other targeted areas are education for employment, safe and affordable housing, and neighbourhood change. VCSJ recently received five-year program funding from the municipal government for the neighbourhoods they have prioritized.
Vivre Saint-Michel en Santé is focusing on social exclusion and poverty in this east-end Montréal neighbourhood. They continue to work for more affordable housing and lobby for better access to services in the areas of culture, sports, recreation and commerce. In collaboration with the Cirque du Soleil and the local school board a program for promoting arts and culture among youth has been established. As part of an effort to train residents for employment in local businesses, a development worker is visiting local employers to match up needs with resources.
This book is useful for anyone interested in community development; those interested specifically in poverty reduction strategies; fans of Vibrant Communities Canada. Visit tamarackcommunity[dot]ca or vibrantedmonton[dot]ca.
Review by Jennifer Hoyer
Book by Charles Durrett, 2009
Reviewed in April 2009 Research Update & featured in Summer 2009 fACTivist newsletter
Senior cohousing is a model of independent-intradependent living that is vastly different from assisted living facilities and retirement communities, and distinct from communes and intentional communities. The cohousing model incorporates both private dwellings and common facilities, designed specifically for a community of residents – in this case, seniors – interested in building a supportive community together.
Now, I‘m only in my mid-20s, but this book actually made me want to move into a Senior Co-housing community! The book is full of interviews, pictures, design plans, and stories of suc-cessful (and a few unsuccessful) cohousing com-munities. What resonates most strongly is the contentment, satisfaction and fulfillment of actively participating in a community as an alterna-tive to our independent, and often isolated, family households.
Cohousing for seniors takes the uniqueness of aging into account. Some communities, for ex-ample, incorporate an extra suite for a full-time caregiver to occupy, should one of the residents find themselves in need of that type of support. Mutual care and support seem to be the norm in the communities profiled in this book. As one resident explained, "In the house where I‘m living now, if I fall off a ladder, who‘s going to know? In cohousing, even if you‘re in your own house, you‘re going to know if you don‘t see somebody". Senior cohousing provides community supports in many different forms, such as shared meals, community activities and events, easy opportunities to informally visit and socialize, and the opportunity to help one another with chores and errands. The model provides the peace of mind of knowing that there is always somebody that you know and trust if you really need help, and because all community members will be in need of some supports at some point, providing care or help is not viewed as burdensome, but rather as a form of insurance.
These social features seem to be what make the cohousing model stand out from other models. In many of the examples, a group of potential community members engaged in a long process of visioning, designing, and building their community. Community principles, obligations, decision-making processes, and conflict resolution are discussed and agreed upon at the outset, meaning that residents come to cohousing with a commitment to one another, and an idea of the shared values of the community. Participating in the design process means that the community can be structured both to fit and to be flexible. Some communities have prioritized features like easy access to shopping and services, accessible floor plans and elevators, extra-quiet individual units, and energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. Communities can include both higher and lower income seniors, and the vast majority of cohousing communities are financially self-sustaining.
This book does a great job of illustrating the potential of the senior cohousing concept. It gives examples of what has worked and what has failed, and provides resources and answers questions for people looking to start or to join a senior cohousing community. The handbook contains examples from Denmark, the USA, and around the world. In addition to looking at some of the advantages and risks, the handbook answers common questions regarding the physical design, the social design, financial considerations, the planning process, and the day-to-day life in a cohousing community.
Canadian Co-Housing Communities
Here is a sample of a few of the co-housing communities across Canada:
Prairie Sky Cohousing Cooperative (Calgary)
Alberta’s first cohousing community, based on the principles of caring, respect, and sustainability.
Saskatoon Cohousing Group (Saskatoon)
Newly forming seniors cohousing development of 20-24 homes to be located near downtown.
Cranberry Commons Cohousing (Burnaby, BC)
A closely knit community of families, singles, and seniors with individual homes and extensive shared facilities.
WindSong (Langley, BC)
An environmental award winning development with 34 family homes, community gardens, greenspace and common space on 6 acres of land.
Northern Sun Farm Co-op (Sarto, MB)
A rural intentional community with a focus on alternative energy, appropriate technology, simple lifestyles and self-reliance.
For more information, check out www.cohousing.ca