Can communal city living work?
The cottage next door has just sold. It was a tricky place to sell because it shares a garden with four other cottages. This put most people off. But in the end it attracted exactly the right sort of person for our shared living arrangement.
We live in a part of Hobart very close to the CBD, but on most days our garden is quiet and serene. It nestles between the cottages and is sheltered by leafy canopies. You’d never know we were five minutes’ walk from a main road and fifteen to the city.
Shared gardens are common in blocks of flats. But it seems that most people looking for a house want privacy. They don’t want to interact too closely with neighbours.
On the plus side this meant a higher chance a buyer for next door would enjoy communal living. And she does, which is good for all of us.
In our set of cottages, each is owned separately and only the garden area is shared property. Some of the cottages have a tiny private courtyard as part of their land. Ours has a deck.
When we looked at buying our house, we weighed up the pros and cons.
When we first looked at our cottage the communal aspect both repelled and attracted us. The warmth and openness of one of the residents, who invited us in for a cup of tea, was a huge factor in our choice. It seemed like a wonderful arrangement.
And this is what is wonderful about communal living – people. Exchanging news at the washing line; planting vegies together; always knowing somebody is nearby.
Although these things can be true of any neighbours, our communal garden encourages contact – because we’re out in the same space, and because we need to negotiate over shared tasks. We have a body corporate to deal with legal matters like access or building fences. We meet regularly but sparsely to discuss how to pay for the removal of garden refuse, and who will do the mowing. Mostly these things are settled through informal conversation.
Because we share living space, we share an added sense of belonging and mutual goodwill.
Likewise, the downside of shared living is people! We’re all different, and conflicts arise. And it’s much harder to distance from a hostile neighbour in this kind of setting. Occasionally the body corporate has to settle disagreements by vote.
Shared living means not being able to make your own decisions about everything.
It also means you can’t walk around your garden in the nude. (Unless you’re communal nudists.)
The Bobcat Incident and How to Compromise
Here’s an example of how our community dealt with a recent event that could have escalated into unpleasantness if we hadn’t all been calm (mostly), kind and considerate with one another.
Our neighbour in the back cottage needed rubbish from renovating removed with a small bobcat. He cleared this with the rest of us as the bobcat would likely damage the lawn slightly.
On the day in question I looked out of the kitchen window to see an enormous shiny red and yellow bulldozer carving its way past the guinea pig hutches. The trenches were deep and broad and like tank tracks. I was a bit shocked, but held my peace and kept the guinea pigs inside in case the hutches were demolished.
Later in the day our neighbour arrived home to find his back yard and the shared lawn gouged out to a depth he had neither commissioned nor thought possible! He’d had to attend an unexpected funeral and the tradesman, in his absence, had brought along the wrong bobcat. Our poor neighbour’s stress was intensified because the bulldozer had destroyed the beautiful shared garden!
Never mind, we said, the grass will grow again.
Meanwhile our other neighbour had her house on the market and the devastated back garden was hardly a favourable selling point. But she is a kindly soul and took it in good part.
Without goodwill one can imagine how this might have become a focus for aggression, resentment, and even demands for monetary compensation for lowering the sale value of one of the cottages.
Communal living requires good people skills. It encourages us to step out of our comfort zone, to relax our need to control, and to depend on one another a little more.
Our new neighbour’s keen to plant raspberry canes, and we can’t wait!
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About the author
Merridy Pugh is an editor and writer based in Hobart. She loves books, sun and tropical fish.