Community Counts

I live in a housing co-operative, a mixed-income community with deep roots in our neighbourhood. Living in a co-op usually mean built-in community, but our co-op is scattered across several sites throughout our neighbourhood, which makes community a little more challenging. To help with this, we organized a co-op crawl, funded in part by the Vancouver Foundations’s Neighbourhood Small Grants program.


Our members took an afternoon and visited each of our six sites, sharing food, games, music, and stories. We invited illustrator Sam Bradd along, whose work you can see at the top of this post. He created a kind of co-op map for us, showcasing our buildings and choosing features that help define each of our sites.

We were led from site to site by one of our members, a musician who played the fiddle as we walked along. Travelling the entire distance our co-op spans, stopping and spending time with each other at each site along the way, created a sense of cohesion in our community that I hadn’t felt before, for all of the hours we’ve spent together in meetings.


Each of our members will get a copy of the map and we hope to also use it to amplify our presence with our neighbours, many of whom don’t realize that our sites are part of a co-op.


Most of my photos show the food we shared (including Ottolenghi’s fabulous Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce), which is particularly appropriate for our co-op, as nourishment is written into our values:

VEHC exists to provide affordable and sustainable housing that nurtures a diverse community.

We aim to prevent physical, financial, social and other barriers to housing and participation. We always consider the diverse and changing needs of our members.
We aim to maximize participation of all Co-op members and to encourage individuals to find their own distinct way of contributing.
We maintain a healthy community that takes into account future needs and is committed to ecological, social and financial balance.
We recognize and value the range of skills, experiences and perspectives that each member contributes to the Co-op community.
We aim to build a healthy community that provides an environment for individuals to thrive.
Participatory Democracy:
All members have the right and the opportunity to express their views respectfully and to directly participate in the decision-making process of the Co-op.
We are committed to minimizing the cost of housing for members in need, including those with lower incomes. We believe that affordable shelter is a basic human right and
aim to contribute to affordable housing in the wider community.”

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while will know why I choose to live in a co-operative, as the values above reflect my worldview quite well, and building community is something that’s important to me. I think housing co-operatives have an important role to play in helping to maintain diversity in cities, especially ones that are becoming increasingly unaffordable, like Vancouver. They’re also a model for how community can be created in our neighbourhoods, combating the disconnection many city-dwellers experience. For me, the committee meetings are a small price to pay for the connections we’ve built with one another.



2012 – the International Year of Co-operatives

International Year of Co-ops sticker

I write about community-building here, well, when I’m not showing you photos of my dinner.

When you live in a city, even one that’s the size of Vancouver, community can be elusive. Your social circle emerges from the web of your identity and affiliations, but connecting across these lines can be challenging. Co-operatives can be a great way of making these connections. Co-ops can be specific or broad-based, economically-focused or centred around information and education. Most have a sense of social justice built into their structure and when they connect with each other, there’s potential for a movement that supports community-building across interests, identities, and status.

In practice, it doesn’t always work that way. Housing co-ops in popular neighbourhoods can become dominated by white, middle-class people; some small co-operatives can become cliques of like-minded hobbyists. But, at its best, the co-operative movement stands as an alternative to the atomized consumer-culture that many of us find so alienating.

As I’ve mentioned before, we live in a housing co-operative, which gives us a sense of connection across our neighbourhood, and more broadly, our region. We belong to a number of other co-ops, too. They enrich our lives and have the benefit of also being easy on our pocketbooks.

The United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives. Throughout 2012, there are going to be events across the world to celebrate the co-operative movement. Here’s a link to the official page and another that’s specifically for Canada:

IYC International

IYC Canada

And here’s a list of some of the co-operatives operating in Vancouver. It’s amazing how many needs the co-operative model can serve, isn’t it? There’s even a motorcycle repair co-op in Vancouver now.


The Vancouver Tool Library

modo – the car co-op

Vancouver Media Co-op

Co-op Radio

People’s Co-op Bookstore


East End Food Co-op

I’d love to hear about your experience with co-operatives. I’d also encourage you to check out co-ops in your area. You might be surprised at how many you find.