It's late June, and now that my husband and I have celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary and my parents have marked an incredible 76 years together, we're about to celebrate the anniversary of a much younger relationship: the opening of our net positive energy co-housing project 4 years ago.
The idea was born long ago, in 2009 or 2010. I was looking for a place near my parents, but my eyes kept straying, instead, to the rustbelt cities of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. Incredible as it seemed, great cities like Detroit and Cleveland were dying. Their populations were falling and wh*** neighborhoods were abandoned and derelict. Prices had fallen so much that in Detroit you could actually find a house for $100! And what was even better, although most of the people buying these houses were investors, artists and writers were also beginning to move in-- people of imagination and skill-- and a dream of creating something different. Many of them were also interested in energy independence, and in Cleveland there was a new worker-owned cooperative, Ohio Cooperative Solar, that provided solar installations.
I had been thinking that I really wanted to live in a multi-generation co-housing community as I got older. But I had no roots in the area, and no experience in any of these things-- just a fascination with the possibilities and a dream that something might come out of it all. Finally I decided I would at least visit and see what I could do. I got a small place, put ads up at the coop businesses for free rent in exchange for renovation help and over the next few years began visiting whenever I could.
Slowly, I made friends and contacts. I got to know people who had the skills we would need and shared our interests. I knew from my friend, who started the first cohousing project in Austria, that the architect would be one of the key people for a successful project. Fortunately Ohio Cooperative Solar was already working with a number of architects, and among them we found just the right person.
We were lucky, too, that by the time the project was designed and ready to start, Cleveland had started work on its smart grid. By the time our place was built we were able to connect to an electrical system that would not only integrate with our solar and wind systems, but would pay us for any excess energy we created. Although we don't produce as much energy as some, we still get a nice check every month from the power company.
It's beautiful, sitting in our glass-covered courtyard in the winter, watching people gardening, or walking on the small paths. Cleveland is a different city than it was back then. It's filled with young families, brimming with energy and art. It will be a wonderful place to grow old.