Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Soil and Water - New Developments

Iowa City Cohousing is seeking to implement sustainable practices in many aspects of our development. With our land, we are not only seeking sustainability, but working to restore soil quality. We have sought and are seeking funding from outside sources to further these aspects of our development. On November 4, 2015, we received notice that we had received a 50% cost-share grant from the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District for $12,804 to help pay for our bio-retention cell. The main purpose of this bio-retention cell is to keep rainwater on our land rather than having it run off into city stormwater drains. A great fringe benefit is that it will also add beauty to the site, since it will be full of flowering plants.

On the same day that we got notice of the Soil and Water Conservation grant, we also received notice that we were awarded $17,207.16 cost-share money to help with our soil quality restoration. We plan to incorporate compost into the topsoil on over one half of our property. This will be the largest soil quality restoration project undertaken in Iowa. So not only are we being sustainable; we are also being restorative at Prairie Hill.

Del Holland

An Article on Shared Ownership

Here's a link to an interesting article, submitted by Scott:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Visit to Another Cohousing Community

One of the fun things about being a member of a cohousing community is that you are welcome to visit the hundreds of other communities around the US and the rest of the world. Almost all cohousing communities have guest rooms. Prairie Hill member Nan Fawcett recently spent a week staying in one of these guest rooms at Westgate Cohousing in Asheville, North Carolina.

Here is a view from the spacious deck of the commonhouse 

It is informative and inspiring to visit other co-ho communities when you are in the process of planning and building your own, so Nan learned as much as she could about what has worked at Westgate, and what they would do differently. The buildings and layout there are beautiful, with multicolored units, lovely plantings along pathways, plenty of space for gardening (see below) and a large commonhouse for meals, meetings, hanging out, laundry, exercise, and guests.

Terraced garden and long bridge connecting homes

As in most cohousing developments, the parking at Westgate is totally on the perimeter, even fenced off from the housing area. This makes for a protected and safe space for the residents and their children.

Enter here to walk past the 25 residences

Nan's visit to North Carolina was actually focused on being with her daughter and family who live in Asheville. The availability of Westgate's guest room made it possible to escape to a quiet and comfortable space after busy days with the family.

Grandson Henry holds a salamander while Gus looks on

Two Prairie Hill Members Speak Out!

Mary Beth at the potium

On November 12, 2015, the Iowa Utilities Board held a public comment hearing in Boone, Iowa. This day of public comment preceded the formal hearing which is continuing for about two weeks on a petition filed for a hazardous liquid pipeline permit that would take crude oil from northwestern North Dakota to Pakota, Illinois through 18 countied in Iowa on its way to the Gulf Coast. Approximately 5700,000 barrels per day of crude oil would be transported through the 1,134 miles of pipeline bisecting the state of Iowa.

Prairie Hill members Marcia Shaffer and Mary Beth Versgrove attended the hearing the both spoke in opposition to the pipeline permit along with about 150 others who attended the hearing to express their concerns about the proposed pipeline. Both Marcia and Mary Beth are members of 100 Grannies for a Livable Future, a group from Iowa City who have a central mission to educate and advocate for a fossil-free future. A delegation of 10 Grannies all opposed the pipeline in Iowa which directly would violate the rights of Iowans and at the same time the rights of nature.

Here's Marcia in the green Grannie's t-shirt

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Field Trip to Habitat ReStore: Planning for Kitchens and Bathrooms

Yesterday, 11/28, a group of cohousers made the trip to Cedar Rapids to meet with Habitat ReStore's Home Center Manager. He spent two hours with us, as we learned about all the options available in countertops, sinks, floors, cabinets, and appliances. There was a vast array of colors and styles! And we were heartened by how dedicated he is to our project and our vision. Here we are, gathered around his computer as he showed us preliminary arrangements for our kitchens:

And here we are again, looking at some choices in cabinets:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Check Out the Latest Prairie Hill Site Plan!

This plan shows the commonhouse (turquoise) which will include 4 small apartments; four stacked fourplex flats (green and yellow); six duplexes (blue and violet); four townhouse apartments (brown); making 36 units in all. To the west, you can see an initial concept drawing of gardens, orchards, prairie and play space. Our entrance is off Miller Avenue on the east, with parking (shown in grey) on the periphery. We're so excited to break ground in the spring!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Gardens, Orchard, Prairie: Planning for the Future

In the picture above, the Prairie Hill Land Committee is pouring over a map of our 7.89 acres. The commonhouse and dwelling units will occupy approximately half of the land on the lower eastern end of the site. That leaves an intoxicatingly large acreage available for the horticultural fantasies of many of our members. Informed by permaculture principles, our current plans include a section of prairie on the steep southern slope, two large garden areas with panoramic views near the center of the upper site, fruit and nut orchard to the west as well as east, and edible landscaping surrounding the buildings. A number of our members have years of experience in gardening. Some have permaculture training. And we are grateful to be working with landscape architect John Thomas, as the final plans for the City of Iowa City are developed. There are many things to consider: we'd like to plant as many native species as possible; we want frequently harvested plants closer to the dwellings; we'll make piles of topsoil removed from the lower site to be cherished up above as well as wood chips from the brush now covering the building site; and perhaps most important of all, we want to be sensitive to the qualities of the ecosystem already there, planning in coordination with the micro-climate and the existing life on the land.

It is an important time, with ground-breaking scheduled to occur in the spring. We know that this project will be an evolution, one step at a time. Nourishing the garden spaces will be one of our first projects. We want the layout of the different growing areas to be pleasant and attractive, with one function moving gracefully into another. In our brainstorming sessions, we've often talked about how good it would feel to have a large tree somewhere on top, a gathering tree. Perhaps we'll plant that tree as part of a special occasion, with our members gathered around.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sociocracy: a good governing tool for cohousing groups

One of the reasons sociocracy is good for cooperative groups is that it is a practical method for making social goals operational. It allows an aim to be anything that can be measured. it enables action and has methods for directing the action at the intentions.

It can be used to achieve social capital, not just financial capital. No other method of organization does that.

Sharon Villines
Sociocracy: A Deeper Democracy

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Flash Mob at Union Station

Here's a link to a video of our 100 Grannies Flash Mob, including two of our cohousing folks, Mary Beth and Marcia. ​​

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Two from our own cohousing community go with the 100 Grannies to Washington!

Grannies backed by James Hansen storm Capitol Hill with songs and climate warnings
See Mary Beth and Marcia pictured below. We're proud of them!
Grannies backed by James Hansen storm Capitol Hill with songs and climate warnings
Malavika Vyawahare, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, September 14, 2015
At 12:45 on a muggy Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C., guitar notes rang out in the crowded cafeteria of the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill. Stern-looking suit-clad men and women huddled over lunch or papers, or deep in conversation, were startled out of their activities by a flash mob of elderly citizens.
"We're on a planet that has a problem," they chanted, gesturing and swaying in the front seating area, "We've got to solve it, get involved, and do it now, now, NOW!" An impassioned guitarist stood atop a chair and strummed on.
And just like that, in a few minutes it was all over, appended with exuberant clapping, congratulatory greetings and the distribution of pamphlets. Mitch Whitaker, 22, a House intern, who was hunched over his lunch when the singing burst out, expressed surprise at what had just occurred. "I had no idea it was happening," Whitaker exclaimed. "This is pretty cool!" he said as he watched the advocates leave the cafe, determinedly clutching their files, folders with studies, photographs and newspaper clippings, ready for the second part of their program -- lobbying House and Senate lawmakers on climate change issues.
100 Grannies
Members of 100 Grannies pose at the Capitol. Photo courtesy of
Among those who lent their voices to the climate demonstration was Barbara Schlachter, a 70-year-old grandmother of two from Iowa City. She and six other women represented 100 Grannies, an Iowa-based advocacy group that Schlachter founded. The rally was part of a two-day event organized under the banner of Elders Climate Action. 100 Grannies was one of several organizations that participated in the demonstration and a daylong orientation program Wednesday in Washington, where they were coached in lobbying and other activities and attended talks.
The keynote speaker at the orientation was James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who rang the alarm about climate change decades ago and has emerged as a leading voice in the United States advocating for action on climate change. "We have a bond," Schlachter said. "We go a long way back." Like Schlachter, Hansen is from Iowa. Schlachter also was one of more than 100 people arrested along with Hansen at a Keystone XL pipeline protest in Washington, D.C., in 2011.
Hansen was one of the reasons Schlachter started the 100 Grannies: Uniting for a Liveable Future group, which was officially founded in 2012. Around Christmastime in 2010, when her daughter announced that she was expecting her second child, Schlachter was reading Hansen's book "Storms of My Grandchildren." She remembers thinking, "What kind of a world am I leaving behind for my grandchildren?"
Soon, Schlachter and a friend gathered a group of eight other like-minded older ladies to her house to brainstorm about what they could do. That evening, Schlachter recited from a poem by Drew Dellinger about an elderly person haunted in dreams by future generations asking, " [W]hat did you do while the planet was plundered?"

A push for the Clean Power Plan and cap and dividend

As one of the grannies explained, one doesn't technically have to be a grandmother to be a member of the group but only has to demonstrate some understanding of climate change issues and have time to engage.
The mission of 100 Grannies, Schlachter said, "is to call attention to the reality of the climate crisis and the need to reduce our use of fossil fuels and the need to increase our use of renewable fuels." But what drives its members is their deeply felt concern for the future of their grandchildren, an anxiety that forms the underlying theme of their activities. Back in Iowa, they organize sit-ins, lecture series and movie screenings.
"You can sit at home and you can read and you can despair, or you can get out and find the other women who are concerned about this -- and do something about it," Schlachter said of how their numbers have steadily grown over the past three years.
As the seven women sat eating lunch in one corner of the Longworth cafeteria before the rally started, their conversation turned to Hansen's speech. Paula Sanchini, 64, said she understands why they did not heed his call for action on climate change decades ago. "I understand why nobody was doing anything then; he did not have all of the information," she said, "but there is no excuse for it now."
About 80 elderly people were in D.C. for the two-day event to pressure lawmakers to act quickly on climate change. 100 Grannies has two key demands -- its members are asking their lawmakers, especially Republicans, to support the Clean Power Plan and refrain from blocking funding for it. They are also pushing for a carbon fee-and-dividend program.
Schlachter actively lobbied as part of the Citizens Climate lobby before she retired. But for some of the other members, it hasn't come so easily. "We are out of our comfort zone, but we are doing it," one member said as they headed out to the Russell Senate Office Building to meet lawmakers. "We are as older women less threatening," said Jan Stephen, 71, "so people listen to us without getting defensive."
Though climate change is their main focus, they say they are concerned with all environment-related issues, including unsustainable agricultural practices, use of plastic bags and water pollution.
For now, their ire is directed at those occupying positions of power in Congress who they believe are not aiding the fight against climate change. "I just don't understand why the Congress people can't do what's right. I understand in my head, but it's like, come on!" Stephen said.
"Maybe we should be blocking the doors to the House and Senate," Mary Beth Versgrove, 63, suggested, with a hint of exasperation.
But apart from the nervous energy that was clearly visible on their faces, there was also a sense of satisfaction. "When my grandchildren will ask, 'What did you do?'" Hall said, with feeling, she will have an answer now: "I came to Washington, D.C."

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Paths on Prairie Hill!

Last Saturday, an intrepid team of volunteers (David, Michael, Roxane and John) worked for several hours during the hottest day of the summer, bush-hogging paths from Miller Avenue up to the top of our land, and then continuing the paths around the high plateau.

Above, you see a wide path leading across the flat area at the bottom of the hill, starting at Miller Avenue.

Keeping in mind our evolving vision for the 3+ acres above our housing site, the team mowed several places such as this one that seemed good for gathering or just sitting.

Here is a shot looking to the northeast. There is plenty of room for vegetable and flower gardens, orchards, prairie, gathering spaces, playscape and perhaps someday even a solar garden. Now is your chance to have easier access to the site, following a labyrinth of paths circling the entire upper acreage. Thanks go to the mowing crew that made this possible!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015

Work Day on Prairie Hill!

On a sunny day in May, Iowa City Cohousing members and friends gathered at our land for a work day. Our mission was to begin cleaning up the "encampment" on the east hillside, a ragged conglomeration of makeshift shelters left over from past years. Some of our new buildings will be located in this spot, and we worked hard to clear the accumulation of rotting wood and other trash from the ground.

Annie ready for work

One crew dismantled a partly underground shelter (see below). Others sorted things that could be recycled. Still others piled up panels, wire, and fence posts. We were very dirty by the end of the day, but happy to see that we'd restored some order to the landscape even though there is more to be done.

Clearing the hillside of trash