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People Share Meals, Life At Bloomington Cooperative Living

Cooperative living is becoming a more popular housing style in Bloomington, Ind., and around the U.S.

  • Bloomington Cooperative Living

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU News

    Bloomington Cooperative Living members share a meal under low light to conserve electricity. Members share the cost for food and utilities.

  • Bloomington Cooperative

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU News

    Bloomington Cooperative members eat a vegetarian meal. They get most of their food from local farmers.

  • Shelves

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU News

    Shelves at the Bloomington Cooperative Living house are filled with grains and other items. Members pitch in money for groceries each month.

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU News

    Shelves at Bloomington Cooperative Living are filled with bulk items. The members by in bulk to cut down on costs.

Imagine living in a house with fourteen other people who are not members of your family. You all pitch in money for rent, groceries, cleaning supplies. Everyone has their chores like cleaning the bathrooms or grocery shopping.

Then, every night you all sit down to dinner and talk about whatever comes to mind…work, school, your weekend plans, politics.

That is what it is like in Bloomington Cooperative Living, a cooperative housing development just south of the Indiana University campus. The co-op has about 36 residents divided among four houses, but they’re looking to expand.

Cooperatives And City Zoning Codes

The hard part is that Bloomington planning code does not address cooperative living. It typically only allows five non-related people to live in a single house at a time. So any new properties the co-op takes over have to be grandfathered into previous zoning rules, which did not limit the number of people living under one roof.

City Planning Director Tom Micuda says zoning laws exist for a reason. The more people who live in a single house, he says, the more negative impact they can have on a community.

“Then you potentially have 15 cars instead of maybe 2 cars,” Micuda says. “You have lots of trash generated because you aren’t following principals of sustainability – all sorts of off-site impacts.”

Members of Bloomington Cooperative try to keep their impact low. They recycle to cut down on trash and because most of the residents are students and live close to campus, they do not need cars.

The group members try to get out in the community and meet their neighbors so they are not thought of as a nuisance. Kelsey Smith has been living in the Bloomington co-op for about a year and says she’s gotten more questions than complaints.

“Everyone gets sort of curious,” Smith says. “The other house is right next to a bus stop, and we would always have people ask us, what is going on because they see us eating dinner on the porch, and they can tell that it’s not just a house, it’s not just apartments.”

The Psychology Behind Cooperatives

So what causes people to share their food and living space with so many other people? IU associate professor of communication and culture Susan Seizer says cooperative living could be one way people, especially students, make up for being away from their family and friends.

“I guess I think that loneliness is universal, and different societies deal with that in different ways,” she says.

The members of the Bloomington co-operative joined for a variety of reasons, but when asked what their favorite part of the cooperative was, almost all of them said the same thing—the family-style dinners.

This is the first in a three-part series on cooperative living. Check back for more stories later this week on the Green Acres Ecovillage and Dandelion Village.

Gretchen Frazee

Gretchen Frazee is a reporter/producer for WFIU and WTIU news. Prior to her current role, Frazee worked as the associate online content coordinator for WFIU/WTIU. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studied multimedia journalism and anthropology. You can follow her on Twitter @gretchenfrazee.

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