Temescal Commons is a co-housing community founded in 2000 by a group of people who were part of a Christian church and craved a way of living their faith more actively the other six days a week. Over the years, it has evolved to be interfaith. Its founding and enduring principles were 1) “radical hospitality”—the idea that everyone, no exceptions, is deserving of kindness—2) community, and 3) sustainability.
We live on less than half an acre (three lots combined), where proud trees drop persimmons and apples and we are known by passerbys for our prolific blackberry bush along a robust vegetable garden, all smack dab in the middle of urban Oakland. The nine units vary, but everything was built or rehabbed to be as green as possible; solar panels on our roofs mean the electricity bills rarely exceeds $10 in an average month per family.
A central courtyard is the hub of our life together—the place where we gather with cups of coffee for spontaneous chats while little ones splash in baby pools or dogs wander around sniffing the flowers. In addition to our individual units, which have all the amenities a typical home would have, we have a shared laundry room, tool shed, bike shed, exercise room, and industrial-sized kitchen and eating area. There is also a flexible space; these days you might be lucky enough to hear the local band, Brothers Prince, practicing (Austin and Ambrose grew up in the community).
The glue that keeps our diverse, intergenerational community together is our common meals. We have two a week, on Thursday and Sunday. Each quarter, community members serve as head chef once and assistant chef once. If you’re the head chef, it’s your job to plan, shop, pay for, and cook the meal; if you’re the assistant chef, you show up an hour early and do whatever the head chef needs done. You both cook and clean on your night, which makes for this sort of easy breezy experience for everybody else—all you have to do is show up, share a meal, and throw your dishes in the dishwasher on your way out. Folks can also asked to have a meal saved or show up with a Tupperware container to grab something as they head out for the evening.
We also do community work days one Saturday morning a month. After a shared breakfast and a discussion about what needs to be done on the property, we head out and toil together until the noonday sun sends us back inside to rest. Many of our greatest conversations happen while weeding, turning the compost, or fixing fences.
Anytime our community gathers, including owners meetings, we begin and close with prayers or contemplative readings. For the founding members, the majority of whom are still practicing Christians, this usually means a traditional prayer or a Biblical passage. For other members, who don’t identify as Christian, this might mean an excerpt from Wendell Berry or a poem from Maya Angelou. We collectively strive to honor one another’s beliefs and practices and see the differences as generative, not divisive.
We are blessed by the chance to live together, with all of its challenges and gifts, and hope that other communities interested in creating more structured interdependence find this site helpful in the journey.
By the Numbers
Year established: 2000
Number of residents: 23
Number of units: 8
Shared meals per week: 2
Quote we love
A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.