The goal of the Brooklyn Street Neighborhood Alliance is to create a community that combines the best aspects of our childhood with insights from more recent decades. For us, this means a neighborhood where children can play safely, neighbors can count on each other, families live separately but share many resources, that promotes healthy and sustainable living, and includes a common space for regular community events. We also value aspects of neighborhoods that our experience has taught us are important, such as the enrichment that cross-generational and inclusive interactions can provide. Neighborhoods with grandparent figures can help younger families by providing child care relief for parents and a sympathetic and interested older ear (not to mention homework help and the sharing of hobbies) for the children.
Many of us taught, grew up with, or have children with disabilities, and have seen how the culture around disability has changed over the years. As the policy of inclusion became more generalized, all children regardless of ability had access to regular school programs, and many were able to reach much higher levels of functioning than anticipated. We have seen how having people with disabilities as part of a community promotes compassion and empathy in everyone. But the world after completing school is not so inclusive and is more difficult to navigate. We are struck by the way that our society is returning to the model of multi-generational living. Many young adults of all abilities continue to live with their parents, or move back home because of economic conditions. Some middle-aged adults move back home to help care for their parents. Such arrangements, with multiple generations in a single household, are in fact a return to a more traditional way of living together. In our view, communities where a diversity of ages, abilities, incomes, and backgrounds are present and welcome are enriching and thus desirable. That is what we seek.
With these principles and values in mind, some of the members of the group began thinking about purchasing a property and dreaming of building an intentional community. It took a wise advisor to point out that a number of us already lived on Brooklyn Street in North Adams, interacting as friends and neighbors, with a sense that we were living in our own houses but within an extended family. Brooklyn Street is a side street near the hospital, within walking distance of Mass MoCA and downtown North Adams, and has a southern exposure that brings us sunlight in the wintertime and is ideal for solar electricity. We consulted with Laura Fitch, a Northampton area architect specializing in cohousing, to learn more about how our goals might work within the structure of co-housing. It turns out that the fit is excellent: in a cohousing community, homes are separately owned by people have share common values and desire to share many aspects of their lives. Central to the cohousing community is the presence of a “common house”, an inviting place to gather, share meals, work together on projects, meet for holidays and celebrations - a place to nurture the quality of our shared lives. These characteristics define our current goals: to set up a common house, share the spaces around our homes, and welcome other families who share our vision.
As of 2015, two BSNA houses had finished complete renovations. We have purchased another house, and have renovated it so that it now serves as a common house, where we meet at least once a week for pancake breakfasts, dinners, card and board games, puzzles, or movies. A little free library has been set up in front of the common house. The BSNA sponsors a yearly block party. We hope to soon add a monthly acoustic music coffee house and afternoon homework help sessions for neighborhood children. We are committed to living in a sustainable community that values intergenerational support, is safe and welcoming for everyone, and fosters connections that enrich the lives of its inhabitants. We are begun to take down our fences and replace them with walkways, we are sharing lawn equipment and tools, and have plans for community garden and composting. The time is right to grow our dream!
Several houses on Brooklyn Street are up for sale, one is being renovated for sale, and more are likely to be available soon; some of these may be very inexpensive and need renovation, and so offer the opportunity for tailoring the house to a family’s needs.