I love having houseguests – the opportunity to monopolize out-of-town friends when they are visiting,  and to have long chats over tea in the evenings. Sometimes I miss the old days of having a ton of roommates who are always around, although I definitely appreciate peace and quiet, and walking around half-dressed.

Z and I have scored more than our fair share of houseguests since becoming the first among our friends to invest in a futon. The fact that none of our friends own futons (or, perish the thought, an actual spare bed) might sound strange to folks who aren’t familiar with this city and its tiny, overpriced living spaces.  My office, with the futon, is sheer, undeserved luxury, and one of the main reasons I love this hotbox of an apartment.  One day if we are so blessed as to build a little human and put them in that room, we will lose our status as top vacation destination, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Tonight my old friend A is not only visiting, but is actually moving back to town from an academic exchange abroad.  She and her husband have been gone since last summer.  I’ve missed them, and will appreciate having them back for however long it lasts. They’re not destined to stick around long.  Their goal, like so many of us, is to find a damn job and have some babies.

A is a schoolteacher by trade, and started her undergrad the same year as I did. We were in a first-year music class together called Aural Skills (oh, the jokes never ended), and lived in the same dorm. Once she finished her teacher’s degree, it turned out there weren’t any jobs in Canada for music teachers, so like a trooper, she has returned to school to get *a second undergrad* so she could teach a different specialty.  She’s a tough nut, and a smart cookie.

Due to a fiendish subletting situation, A and her husband spent their last several weeks at her school abroad without a home of their own. They couch-surfed with friends, and spent three weeks staying with other dear mutual friends, a family with a baby.  The deal was that in exchange for the spare room, A and her husband cooked dinner every night. Apparently, this situation was a delight for everybody involved.

A figures that the perfect utopian housing arrangement might be a duplex, with the walls knocked out between the dining rooms.  Each family has private space, but there is also a shared space for meals which allows for not only socializing, but also exchanging labour of meal preparation and childcare.

I’ve thought about this a lot too -although less now that I’m getting old and jaded and resigned that North American housing stock is just not set up to allow  non-traditional, semi-private space.  Living quarters are built (and more importantly, sold) to be either completely private or completely public.

What alternative solutions people have come up with are small-scale, and wrought with lots of effort.  Like A suggested, two families could shop around two sides of the same duplex to go on sale at the same time.  You could get together a few families and buy a giant old house.  There’s also cohousing, an idea that completely fascinates me, but which I’ve never actually seen in action.

The book Redesigning the American Dream raised a lot of these questions back in the 1980’s, with the angry feminist conclusion that the very foundations of society needed to be changed in order for folks to have access to homes that worked just as well for working parents as for traditional single-income heterosexual couples.  The author makes the excellent point that it’s easier to sell clearly delineated private units.  The book gave me lots to think about, but is also discouraging, and certainly shows its age.  I don’t know of anything more recent that tackles the same issues.

On a personal note, I sometimes wonder if getting into real estate (we own this apartment) might be a positive or negative force in helping us find a way to live in the kind of community where we can one day hope to share childcare, a social network, and maybe the odd dinner. It takes a village to raise a child, not a damn strata complex.