Rancho La Salud, Ajijic, Mexico Co-housing

From the website ( www.ranchosaludvillage.com ): “Our goals include building residences that are beautiful, comfortable, resource efficient and sustainable. Our site design will have extensive common facilities surrounded by a lush landscape and connected by handsome walkways. But we plan to take it two steps further – by creating a true sense of community, and hosting ongoing educational programs at our unique multiversity, located conveniently on site.”

I was the lucky winner of the week-long trip to Rancho Salud Village near Guadalajara, Mexico, offered at the Cohousing US’ online auction last year. I invited my friend, Reuel Young, to join me in late December and what follows is a brief account and a few photos of our trip.

Co-housing on Lake Chapala, largest fresh-water lake in Mexico; elevation 5,000 ft.; agricultural center for blackberries throughout the US an hour away from an international airport (Guadalajara); near an ex-pat community in Ajicic (Ah-hee-heec) . . . sounds pretty interesting.
Rancho de Salud is in the formative stage. Land exists, the common house has been built and a visitor's casita is available for guests to learn visit and learn of their plans, their philosophy and experience the region.

This settlement is the passion of Jaime and Sarah Navarro. Jaime, trained as an engineer, and repatriated to his native Mexico after a full educational and professional stint at UCLA. Jaime has shaped the vision based upon holistic values that include community based self-governance, a land and architectural design based upon the principles of walk-ability, connectivity and sustainability. There is also integration of organic agriculture as both part of the community itself, and an affiliated commercial undertaking.

Ultimately this vision of an integrated community will be expressed as a multiversity: an educational resource that addresses the full spectrum of interests and needs for a healthy, whole life. Adjacent to the common house will be a building to host conferences and classes. The organic gardens throughout the community will provide vegetables, the passive solar design will greatly limit the dependence on the grid, the sustainable water management principles will serve to keep the community almost self-sufficient.

This spirit of adventure and respect for nature to live sustainably is clearly expressed in the personality and passion of Jaime, and the skill and experience of his architectural consultant, Rick Cowlishaw.

Cowlishaw, having spent 14 years as founding member of a cohousing community in Boulder, Colorado, moved to Ajicic, and has designed the land plan, the homes and the systems based upon the principles of sustainability. These are not abstract principles for Rick, but rather the focus of his professional and personal commitment and experience.

Besides the philosophical appeal of the guiding principles for Rancho la Salud, and the personal warmth and intelligence of Jaime and Sarah, the environs themselves are very appealing. The climate is mild, the town of Ajicic itself is comprised of masonry buildings, mostly one and two-stories tall, four-foot wide stone sidewalks flanking 16-foot wide cobblestone streets. The north-south main streets lead past a lively town square down to the lake-front promenade.
As the original town has expanded to accommodate a large ex-pat community, the intimacy and rugged nature of the old town gives way to variations on the theme of American-style gated communities. The physical layout of these are somewhat analogous to the proposed co-housing community, but lacking entirely the personal connectivity that comes from a site plan dedicated to the interaction of the members of the community. Whereas a typical condo community clearly has close proximity of living units, the public realm is devoted to convenience for the car or set-design "amenities" that may be pretty, but are not composed to support social interaction and community identity. And the condo community has no over-arching commitment to a holistic and sustainable life-style.

Rancho la Salud is about connectivity: between people, between people and the environs, between daily life and the food we eat, between ideas and principles that shape our actions and our lives.

Finally, the appeal of Rancho La Salud is economic. While there are homes in the area for wealthy people who are drawn to the climate and lake, a significant portion of the ex-pats are drawn because a healthy, socially vibrant lifestyle can be had for about 60% the cost in the US. Clearly the actual costs can be influenced by the popularity of the area and influx of more Americans, and the global economy, the basic costs for food and day-to-day services are considerably lower than in the lower 48.

It appears that the relationship between the ex-pat community and the indigenous community is very mutually beneficial. The ex-pats with whom we talked were very happy and eager to share their experiences about local businesses - including those started by ex-pats - local and federal government, health care and general "how-tos" in both making a decisions and settling in.

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