Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Road Is Taking Shape!

Exciting to see the road in the finishing stages. This photo is looking southeast from up near where the commonhouse will be. Rather than a practical straight lane, this Prairie Hill lane has lovely curves.

A Bio about our Latest New Member - Craig Mosher

I grew up in Iowa City, went to Antioch College in Ohio to study chemistry (pre-med), then to Columbia in New York for a doctoral program in psychology and anti-war demonstrating. In the early 1970s I helped create a 200-person intentional community in an abandoned candy factory in San Francisco and developed a love for helping create community. Then for 25 years I directed social service agencies, taught social work, did low-income housing development with Habitat and others, and helped raise a family in eastern Iowa. Two of my four children and five grandkids live in Iowa City so I will have lots of time with them!

I like to think of myself as a resilient sustainable community developer. I retired after eleven years teaching social work at Luther College where I taught social policy, community organizing, and systems theory and took students to Des Moines to lobby the legislature, and to Scandinavia to study sustainability and the future that lies ahead—as climate change and a changing economy transform our world.

I see Prairie Hill as a remarkable opportunity to learn how a cohousing project like this can become a resilient, sustainable community, which is ecological and efficient in design and, more importantly, provides opportunities for the growth of a close-knit community where people build relationships and trust so that we care for each other, draw upon each other’s strengths and skills, and support each other’s needs. I’m excited to imagine gardening together, charging our shared all-electric cars with solar electricity, and caring for each other over the years.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

High Technology: Smart Antennae Guides Grader Blade on our Emerging Landscape

Member David Tucker took this photo on Tuesday evening from near the top of our building site.You can see one person still working on a bulldozer to the right. Attached to the post in the center of this picture is what looks like a Trimble Antennae - maybe an SPS585 GNSS Smart Antennae - which is part of a GNSS-based guidance system that controls the blade of a grader so that the grading will be accurate.

The wire next to the post runs down to what looks like a large car or marine battery on the ground. You can see the Trimble receiver mounted on a high pole at the front of the bulldozer.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Polished Concrete Floors - A Good Choice for our Commonhouse

We are seriously considering using Polished Concrete flooring in our commonhouse as well as some of our individual units. It's a "green" choice, has low maintenance, is durable, and is more attractive than you might think. If you'd like to know more, here's a good link:

Field Trip on Friday!
We expect construction on the Prairie Hill commonhouse to begin very soon, and we've decided to see a variety of  polished concrete flooring to help us in decision-making. This Friday, May 12, we are taking a tour of several local businesses that have chosen polished concrete in their buildings. If you're interested in joining us, please email for more details. We'll be starting at 4:30 on the west side of Iowa City, and will end up in North Liberty to see one last floor in a restaurant where we can also share a meal.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Grand Celebration on Prairie Hill Site

On Friday, April 21, Great Western Bank sponsored a celebration to mark the completion of our construction loan with them. They are proud to be financing the first cohousing community in Iowa, and we are delighted to have the loan application over and accepted. Steve Schmidt, our general contractor, cleared off an area on the east side of the infrastructure work, and a canopy was set up. Tables were spread with delicious edibles, and champagne was served to toast the project and our wonderful professionals who have all helped make Prairie Hill Cohousing possible.

Here is a list of all the professionals who were able to make it to the celebration. Of course, there are many others who have been part of the work and were not present but who are equally appreciated.

Great Western Bank: Rick Oehler, Melissa Schooley and Patrick Donnelly

Apex Construction: Steve Schmidt, General Contractor

John Shaw, architect

C-Wise Designing and Consulting: Martha Norbeck, architect and LEED consultant

Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County: Tracey Achenbach and Casey Cooper (staff). Ellen Habel and Jerry Anthony (board of directors)

The Housing Fellowship: Maryann Dennis, Executive Director. Mike Dennis and Silas Hugill (staff)

City of Iowa City: Jim Throgmorton, Mayor

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Cohousing: An Antidote to Isolation

We will all experience loneliness at some point in our lives, but it doesn't stem from being alone. It comes from a lack of connection. Loneliness can be the result of our built environments, the very homes we choose to live in, says architect Grace Kim. She notes that many of us live in homes where we don't really know our neighbors, which can contribute to a sense of isolation. An increasing number of people are choosing to live instead in cohousing spaces, where they still have their own home but share indoor and outdoor spaces with neighbors. "It's not a new concept; it's an age-old way of living," says Kim. And in a time when loneliness has been called a public health epidemic, with isolated individuals facing a higher risk of death, the stakes couldn't be higher. "Cohousing could save your life," she says.
From Fast Company: Are Dorms For Adults The Solution To The Loneliness Epidemic?

Grace Kim imagines a future of cohousing as an antidote to social isolation.
Photo by Bret Hartman/TED

She speaks at TED2017, April 26, 2017, Vancouver, BC Canada:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Cohousers Well Represented on Earth Day Weekend

Barbara Schlacter Run/Walk Fundraiser for Victims of Climate Change, 4/22:
The fun began at 8:30 at City Park. Excitement was high as people of all ages and abilities gathered to first hear Mel Schlacter speak about his wife's unbounded and enthusiastic work on the challenge of climate change. Then the "race" began, runners first and then walkers. We trekked the 4.1 miles from City Park to the Terry Trueblook Recreation Area (some of us wiping out half-way and going the last 2 miles in a shuttle). We were glad to find edibles and drink at the end, as well as various tables displaying information about local environmental organizations including Prairie Hill. And we were inspired about positive steps addressing climate change from several speakers, including Iowa City mayor Jim Throgmorton. By signing the Covenant of Mayors in February 2015, Iowa City has joined mayors of 7,400 cities in committing to take effective climate action.

 Prairie Hill Display

 Mayor Jim Throgmorton speaking to the crowd

New Bo Market Eco Fest - Earth Day Celebration in Cedar Rapids, 4/22:
As some of us were running/walking on Saturday morning, others set up our display in Cedar Rapids outside New Bo Market. This event attracted families with children, who enjoyed doing origami at our table with member Carolyn Dyer and others. We had the chance to tell everyone about how wonderful Prairie Hill will be for parents and children.

 Carolyn folding butterflies

A family looking at Prairie Hill photos

Gloria Zmolek with the new 4-fold display

East Side Recycling Center: Craft Your Environment, 4/23:
And finally on Sunday, we were represented yet again, joining Donna Rupp with her wonderful display of art made from the creative re-use of materials. There was plenty of room to put up our own Prairie Hill exhibit, and we continued to spread the word.

All in all, a busy weekend! And a good one for reaching out to the wider community.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Iowa City is rated as the second best place to live in the US in 2017!

We know it's a great place to live. That's why we've chosen it as the location of Prairie Hill Cohousing. But it is nice to have that confirmed by Livability. Check out what they have to say about our city:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Last Installment about Great Oak Cohousing: Community Meetings and Common House


Frequency: Great Oak used to have a community business meeting twice a month. Then they decided to have only one of these two meetings focused on community business, and to devote the other one (called "alternative meeting") to other things: teaching a craft, show and tell, fun activities, or if needed, planning for something that has come up quickly.

Facilitation:  Good facilitation is the most important factor for good meetings. The whole Great Oak community has been trained in facilitation techniques. Each meeting is led by two co-facilitators. Not only does this help during the meetings, but there is also a half hour of de-briefing for the facilitators after each meeting. With so many people being trained to facilitate, there is a large pool to draw from. Having co-facilitators means there is a wider range of skills represented, there is someone to take over if one facilitator has to leave early or arrive late, or when one facilitator is presenting an item.


  1. Introductions of new people or guests 
  2. Welcome and Ice-Breaker
  3. Agenda Review
  4. 2-3 agenda items
  5. Announcements
  6. Evaluation (by group) of meeting
Committee Reports: Great Oak does not include committee reports in their all-member meetings. Committees meet once or twice a month. Meeting minutes are taken at each meeting and are sent by email to all members.

Decisions: Decisions are made by consensus. 


After the relatively large Common House in their original design, Great Oak Cohousing built a smaller common house because of the economic pressure of financing the larger building. Even so, it meets their needs. They  have one guest room, 3 offices (for members' professional use), a children's room, multi-use room, laundry, media room, workout room, kitchen and dining room. 

Great Oak has been in existence for 14 years, and the changeover has been slight. Currently 2/3 of their population are original members.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Installment #2 on Great Oak Cohousing: Their Work Program

The members and prospective members of Prairie Hill Cohousing have been curious about how other cohousing communities get their work done. We're all assuming that we will cooperate in many ways to make our community run well. And we're also assuming that there will be some things that we just hire out.

  How this will all develop is a bit beyond our imaginations right now, since we are not yet living at Prairie Hill (though some of us go to watch the construction so often that we might almost be residents!). So when I interviewed Sarah Ross last month about Great Oak Community, the work program was one of my biggest interests. Here's what Sarah told me:

At Great Oak, members are expected to put in 5-10 hours of community work a month. Rather than closely tracking whether this in fact happens, they have an honor system, trusting that members will pitch in to help as much as they can. If someone is sick or under stress, for example, the work from that person may drop down for awhile. And others fill in. It is interesting that on our recent field trip to Arboretum Cohousing in Madison, we found that they had a similar system. They recommend that members do at least 4 hours of community work per month, but they don't monitor this. As it turns out, some people end up doing relatively little and others do a lot. This may not be ideal, but they have decided that it works OK and is less stressful than trying to enforce hour commitments. It's like life in general. There are always differences is what people can do at a certain time. And if the community is healthy, with good communication and a caring atmosphere, members can trust each other to do what they can manage.

At Great Oak, interests and skills are taken into account when assigning jobs. Members take a computer survey to identify these. Then this survey is used to set up the community-wide work schedule. In the beginning, there was some tension around accountability and fairness, but over time that dropped away. New job assignments are done every 4 months. Some jobs are seasonal and others are year-round. Here are some examples of tasks assigned to members at Great Oak:

  • bookkeeping
  • check writing and depositing
  • billing of common meals to members
  • reimbursement to cooks
  • childcare during community meeting
  • taking minutes at community meeting
  • facilitating community meeting
  • snow removal
  • landscaping
When we Prairie Hill folks talk about what kinds of things will be on our own list, we assume that cooking and clean-up will be among those tasks, as well as taking care of the two guest rooms, group work days on outdoor landscaping tasks or indoor cleaning. And once we begin to live at Prairie Hill, undoubtedly we'll discover other tasks that need to be included. All in all, though, many cohousers say that they end up spending less on these household tasks in cohousing than they did in a private home. So we're not worried, and actually are looking forward to working together on things we once did on our own.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Benefits of an Infill Development - More Progress on Prairie Hill

From the beginning of our project, I heard the phrase "infill development" used in reference to our prospective community at Prairie Hill. It made me think of using dirt to fill a hole, and though I was wrong about the dirt, I now realize that in a way we ARE filling in a hole, a hole in the network of housing and other buildings in the city. Until recently, the 8 acres we bought several years ago were used for farming, even though they are surrounded by housing neighborhoods. Our development of this property for more housing is good for the city because it is not contributing to urban sprawl, something that cannot be sustained indefinitely. Being an infill development is also good for us, the future occupants. For we have an easy connection to electricity, phone, sewer, water, and all those convenient amenities. Instead of bringing these services for miles to a rural setting, they are all right at our doorstep. See the pictures below of yesterday's work, digging down to the old (close to 100 years old) sewer access and replacing it with new pipes that should last a long time!

One friendly worker told me that they estimated the old line was put in around 1930 and certainly it looked a little worse for wear (see below).

On Tuesday, the crew got the new piping covered on the east side of Miller Avenue (below).

And then they started digging a long trench on the west side of the road (Prairie Hill land). The road has been closed for the duration of this sewer work.

 Here's a close-up shot of the huge shovel as it digs deeply right along our eastern perimeter.

Each day brings new progress. We make sure we stay out of the way of these hard-working men. But we can't help but keep watch as changes take place!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Finally! Infrastructure Work Has Begun!

Both yesterday and today, land is being moved around on the lower part of our property, the area where our buildings are going to be. 

Guided by the stakes our engineers carefully placed weeks ago, a small bulldozer is pushing dirt into a high pile.

The large and small pipes are waiting at the east side of the land.

Trip by trip

Up to the top

And back down again.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Field Trip to Arboretum Cohousing in Madison - This Coming Weekend!

photo of front of Erin House looking east

Again members and prospective members of Prairie Hill Cohousing are making the trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit what we call our sister cohousing community there. Arboretum Cohousing has relatively recently gone through the development stages that we are experiencing now, and it has been heartening to hear their stories and see how they have achieved a thriving community in just a few years. Our commonhouse committee will be especially interested in how "Arbco" has planned and used its common spaces. We'll also be able to see the variety of housing units, hear about their daily way of life, how they get the community tasks done, how they make decisions, and all manner of other topics that come up when thinking about how this particular cohousing community works.

This field trip is still open for interested participants. We will leave at 8:00 a.m. this coming Saturday, 2/18, and carpool to Madison. Our meeting place is the OLD Hy-Vee parking lot on Dodge Street (not the new and thriving store about a block further south). We'll make this a day trip, getting back by mid-evening. If you are interested in joining us, email Nan Fawcett at

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fun at the Worm Talk

 Gummy worms in a cookie-crumb soil

 Partaking of the gummies

More worms for dessert

Monday, February 6, 2017

Find Out All About Composting with Worms! - Sunday, 2/12, 4:00

The unseen miracle-workers in the soil (and in your compost pile) will be the subject of this month's friends-of-cohousing meeting. As we look toward our future engagement with the dirt under our feet and in our gardens at Prairie Hill, this program will help get us started. And everyone is welcome, not just our members!

Scott Roser has been composting with worms (vermicomposting) for five years and has found it to be an amazingly simple and rewarding hobby. He has made his fair share of mistakes, but the worms have always been tolerant and forgiving of his errors. Vermicomposting is a great way to continue composting kitchen scraps throughout the winter. It is also a great method for those without space for a compost pile or those who do not produce enough kitchen scraps for outdoor composting. When managed well, a worm box produces very little odor and can even be kept indoors. Scott will give a presentation on the basics of vermicomposting and will teach you everything you need to know to get started.

This worm presentation will start at 4:00 on Sunday afternoon, February 12th at the County Extension Building at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, 3109 Old Highway 218 S. Come and hear about Scott's experience, then stay for an update on the Prairie Hill Cohousing project, and finally share a potluck dinner with us. Dessert will include our traditional Valentine's Day chocolate fondue (you can bring something to dip).  It's been awhile since we had a friends-of-cohousing meeting. They are great times to meet our members and have a chance to hang out with us over a meal. If you're considering cohousing, think about joining us on the 12th!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Interview with a Long-Time Cohouser - Installment #1: FOOD

The folks of Iowa City Cohousing have had the pleasure of spending time with Sarah Ross over the past week. Sarah lives at Great Oak Cohousing in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is considering the possibility of moving to our own cohousing community sometime in the future. She's been at Great Oak for 14 years and is enthusiastic when she talks about what it's been like to live in cohousing for that long. In fact, she says that if she ever moves, it would only be to another cohousing community.  I interviewed her this week and filled so many pages of my notebook that I've decided to post this interview in installments. This one is about Great Oak's common meals. Food is about as important as anything in people's lives, and Great Oak's practices around food are something we can learn from.

What It's Like: Sarah says that Great Oak has a robust meal program. They started with meals in the commonhouse five nights a week, but more recently changed it to four. Participating in these community meals is one of the most successful ways for members to interact. There is a team of people preparing the meal, a team cleaning up afterward, and a friendly social atmosphere during the meal itself. Common meals are a time to visit with others, catch up on happenings, and enjoy the children of other households. Parents get a chance to visit with adults as their children go off to play in the children's room after they eat.

Who Can Come: Anyone who participates in the cohousing work program (which means about everyone) is invited to join in the common meals. (There will be a separate post about how Great Oak distributes the work of the community.) Usually there are 20-40 people at any given meal. 70-80% of the members go to at least one meal a week.

Signing Up: A menu is posted ahead of time. Great Oak has an online sign-up so that people can check the menu and their calendars and then sign up to be at a given meal. That way the cooks know how much to prepare. There are different costs per meal depending upon age: free for the very young, a little more for bigger kids, more for teens, and more for adults. A member tallies up each household's meal bill regularly and sends it to the members.

What Kind of Food? Sarah says that in general, the food is very good and high quality. There are regular community discussions about the kinds of food people prefer, the menus, the quality (i.e. how much should be organic, meat and vegetarian entrees, etc.) and the quantity. Different cooks, of course, have their own specialties. One favorite is an inventive food bar so that people can pick and choose to put together their own combinations.

Celebrations: Although members decided awhile back that they did not need to have desserts at every meal, a special dessert is made for birthdays and other celebrations. On these occasions, all members (even those who did not attend the meal) are invited to come for the dessert/celebration after the meal.

The Core: Sarah says that mealtime is the core of how Great Oak cohousers connect. That makes sense. So as Prairie Hill members think about the future, much focus will undoubtedly be placed on our times together in the commonhouse dining room, perhaps eating from our gardens, certainly enjoying a variety of creative cooking our members come up with. It should be a food adventure!

Sarah camping on Isle Royale

Monday, January 16, 2017

Model of the First Stacked Flat (Fourplex) We Are Going to Build

Thanks to member John McGonagle, we have another model to see, this time of our first stacked flat building. We will have four of these buildings, three of them set into the hillside so that the upper floor also will have a walk-out entrance, one building all above ground so the top floor will be reached only by an inside stairway. There are four units in these "fourplexes", two on the bottom floor and two on the top floor. As you see on this particular building, there's a shared covered porch across the front, plus each unit has it's own private entrance as well: the lower two to the outside ends, the upper two on the back. It is so wonderful, especially for the people waiting to move into these units, to see these in three dimensions! Thanks, John!

View of the front (main south entrance with porch)

View from southeast

View from southwest

View from east

 View from west

North view, showing walk-out entrances on top level

Another straight-on view of top entrances

Friday, January 13, 2017


Here's what our land looks like right now: stakes all over the hillside denoting future places of excavation for sewer lines, water lines, electric lines, and whatever else one puts under the ground. It is somewhat exciting (if you've been waiting for a sign) but not nearly as exciting as what we'll feel when the holes start being dug!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Scale Model of our Future Commonhouse

View from the Southeast

View from the Northwest

In the first view above, you see the entrance to the lower floor which holds the common areas: large dining room, kitchen, lounge, coffee nook, activity room, laundry, children's room. As you drive into Prairie Hill, you'll look up to this view of the commonhouse.

In the second view (above) is the entrance to the second floor of the commonhouse, which includes four efficiency apartments (to be owned by members) as well as two guest rooms, the mailroom and office.

The commonhouse is one of the first two buildings to be built at Prairie Hill, for we place great value on the common features of our community. The existence of the commonhouse makes it possible for us to have smaller homes, not needing our own guest rooms, large areas for entertaining, etc.