East Lake Commons prizes sustainable living


Commons residents obtain some of their food from Gaia Gardens, a farm they help to maintain with environmentally-friendly practices. Photo courtesy of Pete Pages

Few can say they eat dinner with their entire neighborhood every night, but that’s exactly what happens at East Lake Commons.

East Lake Commons, a cohousing community located in the East Lake district of Atlanta, features 67 energy-efficient homes. These homes surround a larger common house, with a dining room, two guest rooms, and rooms for meetings and social events. According to residents, living in close proximity and enjoying the common house together brings a sense of community. East Lake Commons contains no internal roads – occupants park their cars in an outside lot and walk to their homes.

Science teacher and commons resident Stephanie Gillain is no stranger to living in close proximity to others. While attending Michigan State University, she lived in student cooperatives, an alternative to dorm living. She briefly lived in a rented unit at Lake Claire cohousing in Atlanta. She moved to East Lake Commons, her first Decatur residence, in 2005.

“I’ve done this a lot, and really, my reasoning is that I don’t have a big family,” Gillain said. “[Cohousing] is a way to create a community like what people with big families have going on.”

When Gillain tells people where she lives, “they try to compare it to something else they know. They’ll say ‘Oh, is that like condominium units?’”

“Really, cohousing is different because it’s focused around [creating] connections between neighbors,” Gillain said.

East Lake Commons prioritizes protecting the environment. Residents acquire much of their food from Gaia Gardens, a nearby organic farm that is, according to farmer Joe Reynolds, “a quarter of the landmass of the community”.

“It seems to be that one of the biggest reasons people move to East Lake Commons is that it’s so close to a farm,” Reynolds said.

According to Reynolds, the farm’s practices help to promote sustainability. “[It’s] close to the [houses], so you have this minimized gasoline footprint,” Reynolds said.“We’re also very careful about our water system and any potential contamination [it might cause] to the farming system or the wildlife.”

East Lake Commons and the area around it require a large amount of upkeep. “We have a group called Friends of the Forest that’s trying to maintain invasives, and we bring in a guy who goes by the name “Machete Man,” and that helps deal with the fact that we have so much stuff growing in the woods.”

“[The forest] plays a really great role in preserving the ecology in an urban area,” Reynolds said.

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