My name is Ann Zabaldo.

I’m 62 years old and I live in an intentional community in northwest Washington, DC.

Today I’m sad, vexed, and... cranky. I’m sad because my 61-year-old childhood girlfriend called to tell me she has “pre-frontal brain atrophy.” I don’t know what this is, but anything with “atrophy” at the end of it can’t be good. My friend lives in a rural area of North Carolina — Asheville is 60 miles away.

She’s having a difficult time trying to figure out how to get a ride to the doctor’s office on a regular basis. She has friends, of course — one will be taking her to Asheville this week. But her friends have their own lives, as well as being scattered over a large geographic area. She can’t depend on them ad infinitum. And she needs help with other things, too. She’s having trouble making change. She forgets a lot of things. She’s depressed. And she’s scared. Very scared.

Life in Takoma Village Cohousing

by Ann Zabaldo

I’m vexed because she’s having these difficulties, and because she doesn’t know what to do. Neither do I. This makes me cranky. What makes me crankier is knowing it doesn’t have to be this way.

How different it is for me, living in this intentional community called Takoma Village Cohousing. We are a small-scale condominium, comprised of 43 privately owned homes. We came together because we saw the value of knowing our neighbors and pooling our resources to do more with less. By collaborating, we have all that we want and need without excess — we don’t need 43 lawn mowers. We are NOT a commune. While we share a lot of things, income is not one of them.

Strangers to each other when we began 12 years ago, we have come to know firsthand the power of living in community which helps us live longer, healthier, more robust lives.

I was part of the development team that built Takoma Village. When I started the marketing and outreach campaign for the community, I was still walking 10 years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over the last 12 years, I’ve gone from walking to using a power wheelchair. I suffer from extreme fatigue, especially in the heat. While I could live on my own in a single-family house or in a standard condominium, it would be so much harder. Most of my day would be taken up just maintaining my daily needs.

Instead, one of my neighbors buys my groceries every week of the year. I send her a list on Sunday night and Monday morning she delivers them, even puts them away for me. Another neighbor shops at the Farmers’ Market so I can have fresh produce all year. Yet another neighbor picks up my prescriptions at the local drugstore. Several neighbors drive me to my appointments because I get so easily exhausted from driving these days.

I contribute my time and energy to our community through activities that I can do from home. I’m the point person for elevator maintenance and repair. I organize community events. On community work days, I’m the job-broker helping to match up people with work that needs to be done. I serve on a team that’s overseeing refinishing the interior of our Common House — a community building, only bigger, with a lot more bells and whistles. It includes a living room with a small library/meeting area, a sun room, and at the center a very large dining room and kitchen, designed to host large community meals, parties, movie nights, and other community celebrations and events.

The “Great American camp out” at Takoma Village Cohousing
in Washington D.C. in June 2010.

Living in community makes it possible for me to live an interdependent full, dynamic, passionate life in my own home. I am ever grateful to my neighbors.

Unlike my friend in North Carolina, I have 65 adult neighbors whom I can call for assistance if I need it. One of my friends in another cohousing community says you know you live in cohousing when you can call any neighbor at 2:00 a.m. — even the one with whom you have the least relationship — and they will come if you need help. That’s the commitment that comes with the decision to live in cohousing. An example from my own life: One night fairly late, I fell in my living room. Luckily I had my cell phone, and I called a neighbor. In fewer than 30 seconds, three sets of neighbors showed up at my door. All of this makes this kind of community living a safe place for me.

My friend’s situation would be so different if she lived in this kind of intentional community. The conversation wouldn’t be “Who can I get to give me a ride?” but rather “Which one of my neighbors is going to get here first?” Ubiquitous in Europe, intentional community living can be the norm rather than the exception in our country.

You can do cohousing anywhere. While there are architectural design principles — front porches, central courtyards, or green spaces; parking relegated to the exterior of the community; core principles of spontaneous sharing, spontaneous support, commitment to neighborliness, bottom-up governance; shared work maintaining the community — all these can be practiced in any housing or neighborhood situation.

I’ve shared with you my experiences of how living in community has mitigated the effects of my disability. Living in community also mitigates limiting circumstances as we age. For those of us 80 million getting-ready-to-retire-baby-boomers, we would be wise to think in advance about what kind of community we want to be in as we age before someone makes the decision for us. It’s important to make that decision as early as possible so you have nurtured the relationships that will see you through difficult times. Waiting until you’re 85 years old, in poor health and needing lots of assistance, is too late to form the relationships to age in community.

And now, I have to return to the vexing problem of helping my girlfriend find a ride to Asheville.


Ann Zabaldo, M.A., is a national leader in the cohousing movement. She is past-president of The Cohousing Association of the United States and is a founder and current board member of Mid-Atlantic Cohousing, a regional non-profit organization. A specialist in outreach, education, and marketing, Ann is a certified facilitator for McCamant & Durrett’s Senior Cohousing Study Group workshops, and the co-executive producer of “Building Sustainable Communities for Today’s Housing Market,” a DVD and companion handbook created specifically for developers. Ann was also on the development team for both Eastern Village Cohousing in Silver Spring, MD and Takoma Village Cohousing in Washington, DC where she lives. Contact Ann at Zabaldo@earthlink.net.