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Cohousing in the U.S - the Neighborhood of the Future?

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Cohousing in the U.S: The Neighborhood of the Future?

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to live in a community where you know everyone who lives there, not just a passing hello in the street to a fellow neighbor, but really know who they were. Where are the communities in which our parents and grandparents lived, in neighborhoods where everyone knew each other, safety was not an issue, children on the block played together, and adults socialized over dinner? Our twenty-first century neighborhoods can be alienating and isolating. Some people long for the communities of times gone by, so much that there is a minor yet stirring movement to utilize the values of the more neighbor friendly communities of the early twentieth century. One such effort to create a friendlier, more secure child and even multi-generational supportive environment is cohousing.

Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing that places high priority on community. It attempts to overcome the alienation of modern subdivisions in which few people know their neighbors and there is no strong sense of community. Cohousing combines private dwellings for individual households and public areas for the community.

There are six distinct characteristics of cohousing. See the table below. (The Cohousing Association of the United States. "What is Cohousing?")

Characteristics of Cohousing

Participatory Process Ð'- Residents organize and participate in planning design. The group is responsible for all decisions.

Neighborhood Design Ð'- Physical design that encourages a strong sense of community.

Common Facilities Ð'- It is made for daily use. This is an integral part of the community and is a supplement to the private home.

Resident Management Ð'- The residents manage the community. They meet regularly to work on polices and any problem solving.

No Hierarchical Structure and Decision Making Ð'- There are leadership roles but no one person or persons have authority over another. Most communities make decisions by consensus.

No Shared Community Economy Ð'- The community is not a source of income for their members. SEPARTE INCOME FOR EACH HOUSEHOLD.

Cohousing homes are also designed with the community in mind. Most kitchens are situated at the front of the house or on the public side. The practical advantage of having the kitchen in the front is to be able to keep an eye on the children while attending to domestic chores. The living rooms are usually at the back of the house for more privacy. Front doors face the common areas, rather than a public street, so friends can meet more readily. The layout creates a stronger link between private and community areas. Houses are usually smaller than traditional single-family homes. Some communities have homes that are attached to each other, almost like townhouses. Others build single-family homes around the center of the community. It all depends on how much land needs to be used to build the homes. In this case, cost is a major consideration.

Each community has many common areas. These are places that all residents share and help maintain. Most have playgrounds, gardens, picnic areas, and tool sheds. Some may even have automotive and craft workshops. The common house is just that, a house where the community comes together to utilize the facility and socialize. It is equipped with a full kitchen and plenty of seating for the entire community. Residents are required to take turns preparing meals for everyone. They may choose to dine in the common house or dine within the confines of their private home.

Parking is much different in a cohousing community than more commonly designed neighborhoods. Cars are kept on the outside of the community to provide a pedestrian oriented environment. Walkways flow through and around the common house and peoples' homes. Generally, few communities have garages and some even have carports.

The community's main objective is to design a "child friendly" environment. Children seem to have more freedom here than in more commonly found developments, because their playmates live nearby and they know their neighbors well. The playgrounds are built in central areas within the common grounds so they can be seen from the homes. There are hard surface pathways for bicycling and other activities. Some communities build basketball courts and other sports related areas, not just for the children but the adults as well. Each community may be designed differently, but they all hold the same high value for a "child friendly" environment.

Cohousing is not a commune. Communes are usually organized by a strong ideological belief. They may have a charismatic leader and they share all of their income. Though cohousing is considered an "intentional community" it differs from traditional intentional communities. Most "intentional communities" function as educational or spiritual centers. Cohousing is considered a new approach to housing, and not a new way of life. It has no ideology other than the desire for a more practical and socially oriented home environment. (McCaman, Kathryn & Durrett, Charles. "Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves")

Cohousing first began in the 19th century in Europe. It was revived in Denmark in the 1970's because some people were tired of the isolation and impracticalities of the housing options available to them. The first collaborative housing development was built in 1976 in Ny Hammersholt, Denmark. There were twenty-five households in the community.

Cohousing can now be found in Australia, Belgium, Demark, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, England, and the United States where, in the early 1990's, cohousing was first developed by a husband and wife architecture team. Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett were so intrigued by new concept in housing that they decided to research it for themselves. They spent 13 months studying 46 cohousing communities in Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden. When they returned to the U.S, they started working closely with a number of cohousing groups, helping them to develop and design several of the first communities. Muir Commons in Davis, California was the first cohousing community in the United States. It was built in 1991 and it has twenty-six units.

What motivates people to try the cohousing way of living? Anyone who is interested in living in a strong socially focused community-based environment. Traditional and single parent



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