Cohousing originated in Denmark in the early 1970's. This innovative neighborhood design philosophy came to the United States in 1988 where it is now one of the most promising solutions to many of today's most challenging social and environmental concerns.
These cooperative intergenerational neighborhoods balance the traditional advantages of home ownership with the benefits of shared common facilities and ongoing connections with your neighbors. A new age-targeted cohousing model for people age 55 and above has recently come to the U.S. For additional information about Elder or Senior Cohousing please click here. For information on cohousing in general, I recommend the Cohousing.org Web site
Cohousing Communities Share Six Main Characteristics
1. PARTICIPATORY PROCESS. Future residents participate in the design of the community so that it meets their needs. Some cohousing communities are initiated or driven by a developer, which may actually make it easier for more future residents to participate. However, a well-designed, pedestrian-oriented community without resident participation in the planning may be "cohousing-inspired," but it is not a cohousing community.
2. NEIGHBORHOOD DESIGN. The physical layout and orientation of the buildings (the site plan) encourages a sense of community. For example, the private residences are clustered on the site leaving more shared open space, the dwellings typically face each other across a pedestrian street or courtyard, and/or cars are parked on the periphery. The common house is often visible from the front door of every dwelling. But more important than any of these specifics is that the intent is to create a strong sense of community with design as one of the facilitators.
3. COMMON FACILITIES. Common facilities are designed for daily use, are an integral part of the community, and are always supplemental to the private residences. The common house typically includes a common kitchen, dining area, sitting area, children's playroom and laundry and may also have a workshop, library, exercise room, crafts room and/or one or two guest rooms. Except on very tight urban sites, cohousing communities often have playground equipment, lawns, and gardens as well. Since the buildings are clustered, larger sites may retain several or many acres of undeveloped shared open space.
4. RESIDENT MANAGEMENT. Cohousing communities are managed by their residents. Residents also do most of the work required to maintain the property, participate in the preparation of common meals and meet regularly to develop policies and do problem-solving for the community.
5. NON-HIERARCHICAL STRUCTURE AND DECISION-MAKING. In cohousing communities there are leadership roles, but no one person or persons who has authority over others. Most groups start with one or two "burning souls" but as people join the group, each person takes on one or more roles consistent with his or her skills, abilities or interests. Most cohousing groups make all of their decisions by consensus, and although many groups have a policy for voting if consensus cannot be reached after a number of attempts, it is very rarely or never necessary to resort to voting.
6. NO SHARED COMMUNITY ECONOMY. The community is not a source of income for its members. Occasionally, a cohousing community will pay one of its own members to do a specific (usually time limited) task, but more typically the task will simply be considered to be that member's contribution to the shared responsibilities.
Over the past 30 years I have been involved in a variety of sustainable development activities including, solar design and construction, biological wastewater treatment facility design, and sustainable neighborhood development.