is a kind of neighborhood development that first appeared in Denmark
in the 1970s. It tries to balance community and privacy in a way that
some people think is reminiscent of an old-fashioned neighborhood. There
are now dozens of these communities across the United States.
respects, cohousing is similar to a condominium complex: each member
owns their own fully-equipped unit, while some property is owned and
managed in common. In fact, most cohousing communities are legally organized
the most distinguishing feature of cohousing is that the commonly held
property includes a community kitchen and dining area, where meals may
be shared on a voluntary basis. The private units, however, do have
their own kitchens.
kitchen and dining area is found in the "common house". This
is also where the community will hold its meetings and social gatherings.
Often, the common house also includes a playroom for children, extra
storage space, and sometimes a guestroom or two to accommodate visitors.
are attracted to cohousing for different reasons. Some may want a social
outlet outside of their busy work schedule. Some may want to raise their
children in a supportive community. Others may simply enjoy the company
of a diverse group of people. It's important to note that cohousing
communities do not share any particular ideology or religious beliefs.
Main Characteristics of Cohousing
by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett at the 3rd North American Cohousing
Conference in Seattle, September, 1997
1. Participatory Process.
Resident participate in the planning and design of the development of
the community so that it directly responds to their needs. (Developer
initiated/driven projects are in no way a threat to this. In most cases,
developer initiation may actually make it easier for more people to
participate in the process. On the other hand, a well-designed, pedestrian-oriented
community with no resident involvement in the planning might be "cohousing
inspired", but is not a cohousing community.)
2. Neighborhood Design.
The physical design encourages a sense of community as well as maintaining
the option for privacy. (It is harder to define here exactly what constitutes
"encouraging a sense of community,"but rather than saying
it must be a pedestrian-oriented design with the cars at the periphery,
it is more important that residents are involved in the decision making
(see above) and the intent must be to create a "strong sense of
community" with design as one of the facilitators. (Getting together
to afford your private golf club does not do it.)
3. Private homes supplemented by common facilities.
Common facilities are designed for daily use; they are an integral part
of the community and typically include a dining area, sitting area,
children's play room, guest room, as well as garden and other amenities.
Each household owns a private residence complete with kitchen
but also shares extensive common facilities with the larger group.
(Cohousing is not a shared house. A shared house could be included in
a cohousing community but is a different community/housing type.)
4. Resident management.
5. Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making.
There are leadership roles, but not leaders. The community is not dependent
on any one person, even though there is often a "burning soul"
that gets the community off the ground, and another that pulls together
the financing, and another that makes sure you, the group, has babysitters
for meetings, and another...If your community has a leader that sets
policy or establishes standards unilaterally, it is not cohousing.
6. The community is not a primary income source for residents.
There is no shared community economy (ala Twin Oaks): If the community
provides residents with their primary income, this is a significant
change to the dynamic between neighbors and defines another level of
community beyond the scope of cohousing.