“Some people call them a return to the best of small-town communities. Others say they are like a traditional village or the close-knit neighbourhood where they grew up, while futurists call them an altogether new response to social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century. [Cohousing] describes neighbourhoods that combine the autonomy of private dwellings with the advantages of shared resources and community living.” – Canadian Cohousing Network
Cohousing is a development philosophy that attempts to foster a sense of community without sacrificing the autonomy of individual ownership. Through a participatory design process, future owners come together to create a community of individually owned private homes clustered around some combination of indoor and outdoor shared space. Indoor common areas often include dining rooms and kitchens, laundry rooms, workshops, guest rooms, and children’s play areas. Outdoor amenities often include courtyards and shared garden plots.
Cohousing community members maintain their own personal private lives while working collaboratively to plan and manage community activities and shared spaces. The residences each have individual kitchens, dining rooms, etc. but neighbours regularly come together for shared meals, work parties, and social events. Children are watched over by many families and elderly residents can rely on their neighbours to help with difficult daily tasks. For many, the balance that is struck by this combination of community and autonomy is the key to what makes cohousing so special.
Thanks in large part to the participatory design process, cohousing developments tend to exceed local sustainability regulations. Also, when compared to residents of other developments, cohousers are demonstrably more likely to form social clubs and carpools; more likely to share tools and hardware. In general, cohousers tend to reduce their environmental footprint through sharing resources and reducing waste.
Since its inception in Denmark in 1972, the cohousing model has grown rapidly, currently totaling well over 1,000 communities worldwide with hundreds more in development. There are currently thirteen cohousing communities in Canada, with more than twenty projects under various stages of development. Communities range from rural settings where individual houses are spread over large swaths of land to highly urban developments in multi-story buildings in bustling downtown cores. Each of these communities is unique and reflects the specific vision of their members, but they all share some factors in common:
Community by design
- A participatory design process allows future residents to work closely with design professionals to craft their future home.
- Design features and neighborhood size (typically 20-40 homes) promote frequent interaction and close relationships.
- Cohousing neighborhoods are designed for privacy as well as community.
- Green outdoor spaces and children’s play spaces are high priorities.
Community through participation
- Decision making is participatory and often based on consensus.
- Communities are typically self-managed, fostering a sense of community engagement.
- Common meals and group activities are frequent.
- Cohousers tend to be actively engaged members of the larger community
- Neighbours who know each other, help each other – in good times and bad
A balance between autonomy and community
- Neighbors commit to balancing the needs of the community against their own personal needs.
- Residents own their own units, which are fully self-sufficient and can be bought and sold at market value.
- Residents are free to find their own balance by choosing their level of involvement.
Shared resources, shared values
- Shared amenities can include such things as cars, tools, gardening supplies, musical instruments, fitness equipment, and children’s toys.
- Residents support each other in cultivating shared values.
- Cohousers excel at helping each other live more sustainably.