One things leads to another and meeting up with Birgitte also created a lovely connection to Bakken Cohousing Community. Birgitte and Hendrick lived for many years in this well-established cohousing community in Northern Denmark and they organised a visit to the community and dinner with a good friend of theirs, Hans Emborg Bünemann.
The gallery’s café looked across the water to Sweden. It was a sunny day with a cold wind that didn’t deter the many people walking through the lovely grounds enjoying the sculpture.
Arriving at Bakken Cohousing Community at five o’clock, dinner preparation was well under way. Met at the front door by Sara and her two young children, Hans welcomed us from the stove where he was preparing a delicious meal of fish. Sara’s partner, Luis, joined us later after being held up by train delays (in Denmark?!?!)
Sara had lived in Alice Springs for a good chunk of time and spoke English like an Australian. She was working on a Masters and talked enthusiastically about the neighbourliness of Bakken, how she was using Hans’ house to write her thesis in (and resist internet distraction while writing), the support received with her young children and the big part the meal program has in community life.
Hans works in Admin in the Humanities Department of University of Copenhagen focussing on Policy Development. We discussed the comment Kevin Anderson had made about how he felt people in Social Sciences had greater capacity (than many other scientists) for grasping the big picture of the transformational change required in the face of climate change.
After dinner Hans conducted a tour explaining how the community works.
Bakken was first built in 1979. Comprising twenty-seven households, including two units in the old farmhouse, Bakken sits of 55,000 sq. mt. (5.5 hectares) of land. Two-thirds is surrounding open space – currently zoned as farmland although this could change and if it did, so would the tax.
Hans explained that Bakken had been through a period where they realised they were without many young families and they started advertising and actively recruiting. Sara and Luis were amongst the respondents.
One of the difficulties in their community is that it is expensive and that is, universally, a deterrent to families with young children and most have challenging work-life professions and seeking to amass enough capital to be able to afford a house
Bakken is self-contained, brick built, houses in duplexes or triplexes with a very large Common House all with outlooks to the country open space.
Built in 1979 the environmental elements weren’t conducive to good energy management – the roof pitches weren’t angled to the south so missed the rooftop solar opportunity. (Nb. A stand alone bank of panels could b an option in the future.)
Designed like a village with a street down the middle and the Common House nearly at one end, some members can feel a bit far-away and a bit separate. The community is some distance from city and jobs and has a number of cars and also makes good use of the usually exemplary Danish public transport system and bicyle-riding. Hans sometimes rides the two hours to work, leaves the bike and catches the train back and then rides back the day after.
The Common House is large with two wings – one for eating and dining and one for other purposes with the kitchen at the junction.
The kids’ room and gym has big mats and balls and room for table tennis.
The meal roster involved people nominating their available and unavailable times over the forthcoming five-week period.
The Meal Organising team (of two women) then put people into cooking teams of two adults and one child. The cooks decide on the menu, do the shopping within the budget, cook the meal and determine where people sit by placing names on the tables.
Diners are asked to sign up in the Common House a couple of days ahead. They have meals five times a week and don’t do take-aways.
They have a friendly kitchen plus a separate cleaning and preparation area containing a big steaming and roasting oven, a big mixer and two-minute dishwasher and stainless steel preparation benches and sinks.
The community has a large storeroom for catering paraphernalia and some community cleaning products.
A workshop upstairs was a big loft, like a mezzanine, with a pool table, a soccer table and a comfy spot for overflow of guests or for teenagers, etcetera. Like many Danish communities they have a sauna although it has seldom been used.
Bakken has four workdays a year – two which include children – and they register people for ‘visibility’.
Hans spoke about how Danish people are generally very willing to help but that they need more people to ask for help.
He suggested a walk around part of the perimeter of the community’s land, past the veggie plots, the sheep and goats and horses. They were having some issues with their compost and Hans said it could be better organised.
To the old farmhouse and barn where Hans explained that the community wasn’t a very attentive landlord to the tenants in the two farmhouse units and were considering selling the asset off. Maintenance of windows and a few other things seemed to be the main reasons however recognition that the Farmhouse is an incredible asset that sits right with the Co-housing community and once gone would probably never be regained, was also part of the discussion.
The nearest neighbours aren’t THAT far away!
Visit this link to get a Denmark Retrospective picture of Cohousing in Denmark presented to the Cohousing USA Conference in Boston 2008