The concept of cohousing invariably conjures up images of hippie communes from a bygone era. While some of the core values between the two have some similarities, today’s cohousing environments are highly sophisticated when examined from both an urban planning or societal perspective and are actually quite dissimilar from their early, tie-dyed cousins. If you’ve tried to picture life for you and your family in a cohousing community, here is what you need to know.
Public Yet Private – The model for modern cohousing sprang up decades ago in Denmark, where there are currently hundreds of cohousing developments in existence. Today’s cohousing communities are comprised of private dwellings which house one individual family each, plus public indoor and outdoor areas shared by all. Respect for privacy is freely given but the opportunity to seek out the company of others, and benefit from social connection, are numerous. Cohousing strives to promote a sense of belonging while simultaneously acknowledging each individual’s need for privacy and space.
How Do Cohousing Developments Start? – Cohousing communities can be found in urban, rural and suburban areas in countries throughout the world. Unlike cooperative apartment buildings or condominiums, cohousing developments are started and designed by their future residents. These individuals and families are more interested in structuring a close-knit village type of location, where people feel a sense of belonging. They are less interested in salability and profits than a typical developer would be. As with all forms of real estate ownership, finances are pivotal and can vastly determine the overall scope of the project. The most successful cohousing developments are often guided or spearheaded by seasoned architects and allied professionals, who are familiar with the concept and able to give input and advice about financing, as well as planning, to its future residents. Cohousing developments often expand, or have housing become available, so finding an existing community to buy into is also possible.
What Is Life Like There? – All of the residents of a cohousing community share a desire to live collaboratively and know each other well. Daily dynamics may vary from community to community, but typically, large decisions affecting the entire group will be made together. There is a common house which functions as the heart of the community. The common house includes facilities where people cook and break bread together as well as recreational spaces and areas where both children and adults can gather. Outdoor areas are also designed to provide for maximum social interaction. In a cohousing community, people know each other well enough to rely on each other without feeling as if they are imposing on a neighbor. This can be beneficial to individuals throughout all stages of their lives. Childcare becomes less arduous and the needs of the elderly more easily met. Cohousing communities often have a focus on building sustainability and a core interest in reducing energy usage and cost, so these values provide a guiding principal.
Who Lives There? – Your librarian, store clerk, banker or even the co-worker in the cubicle next to you may be commuting to work from a cohousing community each day. Residents tend to span all socioeconomic strata, ethnic groups and nationalities, as well as ages. Many older individuals are opting into multigenerational housing, though some seek out cohousing groups specific to the elderly. Young families find this living situation valuable because of the support they get for child-rearing, as well as the benefit of having older individuals willing to function as an extended family unit nearby. Single people relish the opportunity to share their lives with others and need not be concerned about setting a solo table for Thanksgiving or spending a birthday alone.
Cohousing does not appeal to everyone. Many people eschew the group decision-making process, preferring to captain their own ship. Others dislike the need to pool a percentage of their earnings, or already have a large, close-knit unit of family and friends able to fill their emotional and social needs. For those craving connection and finding it lacking, however, cohousing communities provide a rich opportunity to share laughter, tears and wisdom, as well as to live life safely and fully.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.