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Intergenerational Cohousing

Clustered homes and a common house foster a community for making friends of all ages

Friendships with all ages

The intergenerational component of cohousing is also a big draw. At Fresno Cohousing in Fresno, Calif., where the 28 one- to four-bedroom homes go for $200,000 to $300,000, George Burman, 71, has embarked on his third "career": surrogate grandparent. The retired navy engineer, who then became a high school physics and math teacher, and his wife, speech pathologist Patricia Looney-Burman, 68, "love the intergenerational aspect." Their own grandchildren live in Colorado and two hours away in California. "It's great to watch kids tear up and down the sidewalk on their scooters or stop to talk to us," he says. "Yesterday, a 2-year-old came to our front door and wanted to see our cats. It was delightful! Senior cohousing, I think, would be very boring!" He and others travel to hear his 14-year-old neighbor, a violinist, in concerts.

Charlene DiCalogero, 51, owns a 700-square-foot one-bedroom unit in Camelot Cohousing, a second intergenerational development built on property adjoining Mosaic Common in Massachusetts. One night after dinner she was playing a board game in the common house with other adults and children, and noticed none of the kids' parents were there. "I love that I get to have relationships with children in the community as well as older people," says the college grants administrator.

Too close for comfort?

Of course, when people live in close quarters, there inevitably will be conflict. "I've certainly had some disagreements with folks," says DiCalogero. "But we all know we're here for the long haul. Someone apologizes. Time passes and people get over it. That's real life. There are also lots of other people to hang out with." If members of Camelot's 34 households are unable to resolve an issue themselves, a committee helps deal with interpersonal friction.

Burman says resentment can build between those who pitch in more in the community and those who don't. While there may be a few scheduled workdays and many committees to keep the place running smoothly, rolling up sleeves is not mandatory. Most people, though, are participatory types, and that's why they choose cohousing.

Manoj Padki, his wife, Manisha Kher, their two children, Supriya, 11, and Aseem, 9, and his mother, Sarita Padki, 82, came to Camelot two years ago. "My grandma's a writer and wrote a play," says Supriya. "We got all the kids together and another older person here helped us make costumes for the play. We performed it at the common house three months ago."

Before they moved to Camelot, Padki and his family lived in a neighborhood that had few children. "We were always driving them everywhere," he says. "But here, it's awesome. My daughter gets up in the morning, has breakfast, and heads out and is on her own. I don't have to worry about her."

While Supriya may be thinking of Camelot as friend heaven, DiCalogero considers it "a major part of my retirement plan. I'm single and I know I will always have company and neighbors to help if I have any physical disabilities. In 10 years, they will be lifelong friends and will be another family for me."

Sally Abrahms, a writer from Boston who specializes in aging and boomers, has published in Time, Newsweek and the New York Times.

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