Cohousing and Buildings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe see the power of cohousing at Living Well Community, with a core group of cohousing members already a part of our community. Cohousing is a model of community that includes private homes on shared land, with a common house that may be used for functions that the group defines, such as group meals, meetings,music, guest lodging, laundry facilities, childcare, library space, or computer labs.

Join our cohousing group at Living Well Community! When would now be a good time to live the life you desire?  Contact Harvey Harman at harvey.harman@gmail.com (919-799-6819) Or read on to find out more about cohousing.

The origins of cohousing arose in Denmark, in the 1960s among  groups of families who were aware that existing housing and communities did not meet their needs. Bodil Graae wrote a newspaper article titled “Children Should Have One Hundred Parents”, and this inspired a group of 50 families to start a community in 1967 called Sættedammen. This is the oldest known modern cohousing community in the world. Another pioneer, Jan Gudmand Høyer, who studied at Harvard,  saw experimental U.S. communities of that time. He published the article “The Missing Link between Utopia and the Dated Single Family House” in 1968, and started a second group.

The Danish term bofællesskab (living community) was introduced in the US as cohousing by two Americans, Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett, who studied architecture in Denmark. They visited several cohousing communities and wrote a book about it. The book inspired  some newly forming communities, such as Sharingwood in Washington state and N Street in California. The cohousing model clarified the goals that these groups already held. Many cohousing groups have multi-generational communities, but some focus on creating senior communities. Charles Durrett later wrote a handbook on creating senior cohousing. A groundbreaking  community in the United States that was designed, constructed and occupied specifically for cohousing is Muir Commons in Davis, California. Although not distinctly defined as cohousing, there are precedents for cohousing from the 1920s in New York, with the cooperative apartment housing model with shared facilities and good social interaction.

Cohousing is defined by six elements, according to The Cohousing Association of the US:

1. “Participatory process. Future residents participate in the design of the community so that it meets their needs.

2. Neighborhood design. The physical layout and orientation of the buildings (the site plan) encourage 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, with cars parked on the periphery. Often, the front doorway of every home affords a view of the common house. What far outweighs any specifics, however, is the intention 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 also may contain 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. Residents manage their own cohousing communities, and also perform much of the work required to maintain the property. They participate in the preparation of common meals, and meet regularly to solve problems and develop policies for the community.

5. Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making. Leadership roles naturally exist in cohousing communities, however no one person (or persons) has authority over others. Most groups start with one or two “burning souls.” 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 the group cannot reach consensus after a number of attempts, it is 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 residents to do a specific (usually time-limited) task, but more typically the work will be considered that member’s contribution to the shared responsibilities.”

Read about cohousing  and think about whether this type of community resonates with your ideas about neighborhood. There are several great books on cohousing including:

1.       COHOUSING:A CONTEMPORY APPROACH TO HOUSING OURSELVES  by Charles Durrett & Katie McCamant

2.       THE COHOUSING HANDBOOK

3.       COHOUSING: BUILDING SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES by Charles Durrett and Katie McCamant

4.       SENIOR COHOUSINGHANDBOOK  by Charles Durrett  

Visit cohousing  communities if you have never seen one.  There are several in central North Carolina, including  Eno Commons, Arcadia, and Pacifica.  The Cohousing Association of the U.S. http://www.cohousing.org/   schedules  bus tours. There are community contacts on the Association’s website for arranging individual tours. Many cohousing communities are happy to meet and talk with just-starting cohousing communities.

There are workshops about the Cohousing Model. See Katy McCamant’s website for information on  occasional weekend “Getting It Built” workshops, and links to other resources.

Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant are the authors of THE cohousing book, Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves  They introduced cohousing to the United States and have been critical drivers to its growth and success.

A licensed architect, Kathryn McCamant founded McCamant & Durrett Architects and The Cohousing Company with her husband, Charles Durrett, in 1987. The firm, with offices in Berkeley and Nevada City, California, specializes in sustainable design, cohousing, affordable housing, urban planning, and childcare facilities.

In 2006, she founded CoHousing Partners with Jim Leach, a cohousing development company, of which she is now president.