Cohousing started in the 1960’s in Denmark to foster new, small communities that would offer a greater community by nurturing participation with caring neighbors, healthy families, adherence to a community covenant, sharing of resources, and respect of privacy. The movement grew throughout Europe and came to the United States in the 1980’s.
above: Trudeslund cohousing community, Birkerød, Copenhagen, Denmark 1979-1981
right: Jystrup Savværk cohousing community, Jystrup, Denmark 1982-1984. Architects: Tegnestuen Vandkunsten, Copenhagen
attribution: seier+seier [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
above right: First of fifteen units built at Groundswell at Yarrow Ecovilage
attribution: Yarrow - Sunray [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
“If by 'lifestyle' you mean similar religious, political or ideological beliefs, none. We tend to be liberal but that is definitely not a requirement,” said Brooks. “If someone is committed to living in community as we are, then that will suffice in terms of ideology.” Brooks said the best features of their community were shared dinners, the common house, pool and social support from neighbors.
There seems to be a consensus that the best size for human relationships in a cohousing community is somewhere between 30 to 100 adults. Architectural style is wide open, but the ideal size of a unit should be 660 to 1200 square feet. This potentially keeps the cost of the units down and lessens the need to spend so much time and energy on caring for a property and more time on socialization and helping each other out.
photo: Courtesy of Windsong Cohousing Community
above right: Petaluma Avenue Homes, an affordable cohousing community with farm gardens in Sebastopol, Calif. Photo: Schemata Workshop.
“I love it here but as a model of a cohousing community, it’s too big - both in the number of units and the size of the units, said Karen. “140 adults is too many. There are 67 units that range in size from 1600 sf to 3200 sf. Such a large home occupies the time and attention of the homeowner to the degree that they don’t need communal living. If your house is big, you are spending more time caring for the house, being in the house and not spending time in socialization.”
There is an idea that cohousing by nature is affordable, but it is often not the case. Karen explains that in an ideal community, factors such as communal meals and connected walls can make the difference in bringing prices down. The kitchen is the most expensive part of any home. Three to six units might share a kitchen. The common house may offer laundry facilities, a common kitchen and possibly guest quarters for visitors.
“Cohousing naturally attracts those who are creative in giving,” said Karen. “If I need a particular type of cooking pan or a tool, a bike, I can get what I need with an email to my neighbors, often with a note on how to use the item! I can walk across the street with an extra plate of food for a neighbor in need. Some communities share cars. If someone needs in-home help or care, nearby neighbors can often share in taking care of those needs, rather than that person having to pay for outside help. These physical and social factors require strong collaboration among residents.”
Photo courtesy: Plaanpool Architects/Cohousing/Berlin
“An urban setting is appealing to many millennials, but they can’t afford it.” said Karen. “Some cohousing space is available, particularly in a large community like East Lake Commons, but people get pretty attached to these communities. Turnover rates are tiny. Finding millennials who can afford a suitable cohousing community is a challenge, then they have to wait 6 to 7 years before they can move in. Such developments in our cities tend to be expensive, purchased by older people who can afford them. Where do we stretch into what the millennial population is looking for?”