Swan’s Market Cohousing, Oakland, San Francisco Bay


The extraordinary cohousing and climate change study tour was coming to an end. [Remember that the posts are best read on the WordPress site where they are laid and and supported with lots of photographs. They can be more easily searched there too although I still have a bit to learn on how to set that up properly.] https://4allsentientbeings.wordpress.com/

With one day left before the start of the journey back home, a visit to see Joanie Blank in Oakland and the cohousing community of Swan’s Market that she helped found was irresistible. Deciding to go across to Oakland on the ferry meant catching a bus to the Port of San Francisco. An unexpected delight at the Ferry Terminal was to be brought face to face (almost) with Gandhi or at least a very lifelike statue of the embodiment of his own words “Be the Change You Want to See in the World”.


Waiting on the Dock of the Bay, humming the familiar tune, chatting to other passengers at the head of the queue “On a warm San Franciscan day” was a sweet way to wind down and let the journey conclude.

Over the Bay and into Oakland it was a short walk through the old part of town, past lovely old architecture and local bars and past some of the homeless people that abound in San Francisco, mostly older people too. There are about six and a half thousand homeless people in San Francisco in a population of about eight hundred and fifty thousand. (1)

Swan’s Market is big. It was originally a fully functioning market place all under one roof.

Their website gives some background. “In the early part of the 20th century, Washington Street, extending from City Hall fourteen blocks to the waterfront across the Bay from San Francisco, was the bustling commercial core of downtown Oakland, California, in the Old Oakland neighborhood. Between Ninth and Tenth Streets, stood the building now known as Swan’s Market. Built in sections starting in 1917, this white brick landmark served for most of its early life as a department store and prepared food 2015-07-20 18.02.46 Swans marketmart. It closed almost 20 years ago and stood empty until five years ago when it was turned over for development to the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), a non-profit developer dedicated to community economic development and the construction of affordable housing.

The project was under construction for a little more than two years, and all 20 families completed the purchase of our units and moved in, as the 50th completed cohousing community in North America, in March, 2000. Swans Marketplace is open and busy, providing an ongoing venue for the popular merchants relocated from the nearby Housewives Market; our new neighbors in the rental part of the project moved in. The project is also home to the Museum of Children’s Art and some other arts uses, and features restaurants, shoe and games stores, and a grocery, along with some office space. And of course there’s the weekly Farmer’s Market out front every Friday!

2015-07-20 18.08.20 TomatoesAll of our 20 cohousing condominium units were sold to the original buyers who reserved them through our group, and two have since resold at market prices; one is rented. Our 3,500 square-foot common house is nothing short of spectacular and we ended up having a garden after all. Our garden and Swan’s Way which separates our two rows of condos are open to the sky with the trusses that used to hold up that portion of the roof exposed. We’ve completed our guestroom and settling into community living.” (2)

Joanie Blank had been part of the team involved in running the Cohousing US Conference bus tour to Solterro, Eno Commons, Elderberry, Pacifica and Durham Central Park Cohousing Communities.  Joanie in fact was the tour leader with the microphone and lots of interesting information and questions to ask from the front of the bus.

Joanie, now in her mid seventies, says of herself that her greatest claim to fame is the women’s sex aids business she established back in the nineteen-seventies called Good Vibrations. And of that she is most proud that she was able to get it set up as a workers cooperative when she sold it to move on.

She is a woman of great wit and intelligence and an indomitable community member and worker in cohousing. She ran cohousing tours for many years and did an expert job of it again this year in Durham.



Joanie came down for the ‘meet and greet’ welcome at the foot of the stairs to commenced the tour starting with her own place and going into the Common House and Common Spaces before. Joanie explained the Common Meal system which involved three meals a week – one every Thursday and two others on either a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.


A great conversationalist with lots to say, Joanie launched into a discussion about why “someone needs to write a tome about individualism and what its doing to this country” (ie the US). Individualism leads to greed which leads to capitalism. “Many people in the US think cohousing people are commies in a community.”

Being a hot and thirsty kind of a day, consensus was quickly reached to go to a local pub for a beer or two.

We talked for a bit about the cohousing “big picture” and it’s role in alleviating some of the stressors and pressures on our societies and on the planet and how important it is to open our doors to the wider cohousing network and the wider community to encourage understanding, to enable cohousing to proliferate and to be the beacon of inspiration that can change people’s lives whether they are lucky enough to get into cohousing or not. Being big-minded not small-minded, generous and inviting is part of the job these days especially as an antidote in the face of inertia, complacency and the desire for comfort above all all else. We agreed on a lot of things.

On the way back we walked through the commercial precinct of the community which included, according to Joanie, one of the all time best Mexican Restaurants and explained the mixed use connection with its many benefits to the cohousing community. While not being part of the cohousing community itself, having the vibrancy and the energy of all the enterprise right on its doorstep was a wonderful bonus.

It had been a great conversation, a yummy dinner, and a not to be missed opportunity to soak up the great atmosphere of Oakland and celebrate a lovely last night in the US and in the journey.

Back at the Surf Motel it was time to send the “Thank you and Farewell” email to the long list of people with whom important connections were made along the way. Described as a little ‘Hail friend – Well met’ it went out to an ‘e-room’ full of good people who all have much in common – activists, artists, campaigners, educators, innovators, philosophers, practitioners of restorative living, writers, wonderful people determined to make a difference.

The connections (and in some cases, reconnections) were made somewhere along the road travelled over the last three and a half months through the UK, Europe and the USA. Without exception, these are high calibre people of great commitment, wonderful to make friends with, be inspired and educated by. Conversations covered the climate emergency and community making, shared network connections and resources. Some of these people shared their homes and many their hearts, some were brief encounters on a bus or a train or a plane or at a community, a café, a conference or an event. Some have featured in posts that have been published along the way.

The conference in Leeds, the conference in North Carolina, the 28 or so cohousing communities along the way (some with long histories, some just starting), the meetings with the Director of the Tyndall Centre, Manchester Uni in England, The Director of Atmosphere and Energy – Stanford Uni, California, meetings with affordable housing consultants in Germany, The Climate Mobilisation campaigner and the extraordinary people associated with the Climate Change event at the United Nations, New York, the Climate Alliance Activists in Portland, Oregon, the stay with the eminent artist activist in Seattle.

A key purpose of these posts is to help to make the work everyone is doing – and the conversation that so desperately needs to be had – happen more intentionally and internationally. It is useful, in fact essential, to ‘the big picture’; to the restoration work for a safe climate, healthy oceans and biosphere and a safer society with a saner future that we make and strengthen links wherever we can.

The journey these posts have covered took fifteen weeks and went through Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Lancaster, Manchester, Glasgow and Findhorn in the UK; Copenhagen, Albertslund & Roskilde in Denmark: Amsterdam, Eindhoven  & Stiegelland in the Netherlands; Bochum, Herne & Berlin in Germany; New York & Ithaca in New York State, Durham in North Carolina, Idaho Springs and Boulder in Colorado, Bellingham, Seattle & Whidby Island in Washington State, Portland in Oregon, and Sacramento, Stanford, Cotati, San Francisco and finally, Oakland in California.

The Farewell email letter was accompanied with best wishes and an invitation to stay connected – to link up again in Paris for the COP21 if anyone goes there – and to be sure to visit Earth’s cohousing community – Murundaka – if ever in Melbourne.

And it included a little gift that came from Victoria and Chris Jordan. Listen to the Swainson Thrush in real time and then slowed down. Absolutely beautiful and amazing!!

About Giselle Wilkinson - 4allsentientbeings

Environmental conservation, community and cooperatives have been enduring threads in my life. Promoting sustainable lifestyles and more lately, focussing on restoring a Safe Climate, is work expressed predominantly through organisations such as The Sustainable Living Foundation (which I co-founded in 1999 - current President) and the others listed as links below. I am some way into a professional doctorate with MIECAT on "Mobilising Whole Communities to Restore a Sustainable Environment" and have in recent years moved into MURUNDAKA – a (more) sustainable, (more) affordable co-housing community / housing cooperative in Heidelberg, Melbourne (for which I gave up my co-op house of 19 years including veggie garden and small orchard) and it's great. I'm also a mum of two grown up daughters and have five step children.
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2 Responses to Swan’s Market Cohousing, Oakland, San Francisco Bay

  1. Graham says:

    Great to see Joanie’s beaming smile. She’s been a good friend over the years. Would love to see her again one day. Blessings from Findhorn. xx

  2. Giselle, we must catch up with you in Tasmania ! Come & stay in our cabin, dislocate; debrief at your leisure. In the words of Jon Anderson (Yes), ” hear your wondrous stories .” Much love Warwick, Odille, pussycats and rabbits ! XX XXXXX XXX

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