What is Cohousing?
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Some describe cohousing as the village reimagined. Many describe it as a design movement originating in Denmark and focused on creating a more meaningful community through physical and social architecture. A Cohousing community is an intentional community. Neighbors have intentionally chosen community and meet, get to know, and work with their neighbors long before buildings are built. Cohousing architectural design is focused on choreographing human behavior to create routine moments of connections with neighbors and with the land. Danish architect Jan Gudmand-Hoyer is one of the acknowledged founders of the cohousing movement. The Canadian Cohousing Association has a wonderful, short summary of what motivated the movement and how it developed here.
Nevada City Cohousing in California
Cohousing is not to be confused with a commune, as there is no shared income whatsoever. It might happen that, after move-in, a group of neighbors come together to buy a car to share, but in general, cohousing neighbors share only the desire to have more of a connection with each other. They also do not share a common political opinion, religion, or ideology. While they share common spaces, neighbors have their own private homes. These homes are close together, village-style, and they are surrounded by generous shared amenities which foster easy connection and promote living lightly on the land. Thus, in addition to their homes, cohousing neighbors share a Common House and common gardens. Successful cohousing communities generally share 5 key characteristics nurtured by specific design.
1. Faces Not Fences:
Nurturing Community Connection By Design
Oak Creek Cohousing in California
Cohousing communities are defined by certain design features that cultivate social interaction and activities. Rather than invest resources solely in private homes, members invest a significant portion of their home resources in generously shared buildings and outdoor spaces. The heart of cohousing features a large common house, and the common house features a large kitchen, dining area, a children's playroom, and rooms for guests. Common Houses also include other rooms that reflect their unique shared community priorities, which may include: a communal workshop or craft room, an exercise gym or yoga room, a pool, a sports field, music studios or art studios, small remote worker offices, and sometimes even shared farms or businesses. Almost all land is held in common, and communities gather in outdoor open spaces and gardens routinely. Community design features cars on the periphery to maximize human interaction and to create a nurturing place for children to play safely. This allows children a degree of freedom and access to friends and play that's seldom experienced in traditional suburban neighborhoods.
The canvas for community-centered design varies. Communities can be senior-specific or multigenerational, and Greek Cohousing Village is a multigenerational model. Communities can also be in rural, suburban, or urban environments. Greek Cohousing Village plans to be rural, close to a village, or close to a town. Some communities design and build from scratch on parcels of land. Others repurpose large or historic buildings or mansions, making multiple dwellings and a common house. Still, other communities take a block of free-standing homes and knit them together into community, adding a common house. No matter the initial canvas, future residents collaborate to design a community that sparks shared experiences, and the result is a sense of meaningful belonging.
2. Shared Meals:
An Essential Cohousing Ingredient
Individual cohousing homes have private kitchens. However, the heart of cohousing is the Common House, and the most important activity in the Common House is cooking and eating together several times a week, often with fresh ingredients from the garden.
The Mediterranean diet is widely considered one of the healthiest possible diets and has produced some of the longest living people on earth. Our community values living a healthy Greek life focused on sharing meals made with fresh and local ingredients. Not only is cooking with neighbors fun but not having to cook every day is also fun, especially in Greece where you can instead spend the day swimming at the beach or hiking in the mountains. On the days you cook at home for yourself, if you have forgotten to pick up the spices, rest assured your neighbor will probably have both the spices and cooking advice, or you can both go pick your herbs from the gardens. Prefer to relax at the taverna, rest assured that if you want company, someone will want to go with you to enjoy the wonderful food and views.
Rocky Hill Cohousing, Massachusetts, USA
3. Sustainability and Stewardship
Installing photovoltaic cells on the rooftops
Highline Crossing Cohousing in Colorado, USA
Beyond the core value of intentional connection with and support of one another, cohousing communities value connection with their environment. This is reflected in preserved open space, in utilizing green building materials and techniques, minimizing the intrusion of cars, and the prevalence of community renewable energy systems like solar panels. The sense of community created in these neighborhoods is the secret ingredient of sustainability, enabling people to have an impact as they collaborate to become good stewards on their land or in their building.
4. Owners as Developers
In traditional cohousing, it is the future residents who collaborate in designing their neighborhood according to community-centered design as well as their own unique community needs. Cohousing group members come together over a series of member workshops, a method that has successfully led to over 160 thriving communities in the U.S. They work with professionals, utilize the support of their greater cohousing community, and work together as “owner-developers” to identify land and/or buildings to purchase individually and collectively. Because residents have a direct hand in how their neighborhood is designed and developed, turnover in cohousing tends to be quite low.
Manchester Urban Cohousing, UK
5. Safety and Security for Everyone.
Freedom for Children
Playing in the Common House playroom
Langley, BC Cohousing
Raising children in cohousing
Nevada City, California Cohousing
Living in a community with no cars, where everyone is looking out for one another, and where kitchen windows often look onto the commons, provides an extra layer of safety for children and adults. Even in large cities, cohousing communities experience very little to no crime, offering safe living in an already safe country.
Not only is cohousing safer, but children grow up with a sense of freedom and richness of friendships and connection. Parents are supported by close neighbors. Children can run freely and knock on their playmates’ doors.
In addition, community-centered development includes resources spent on aging-in-place and child-friendly building features as well as outdoor play and safety features that enable all to thrive in the community together. Neighbors who are sick or injured can count on neighbors knowing and caring. There is always someone around to lend a helping hand.