What is cohousing?
Living in community can be a better housing choice. Among the benefits frequently mentioned are that it is healthier because it combats loneliness, and that it provides an opportunity to share resources. Cohousing is a successful model for sustainable community building & living. But what is it?
History of Cohousing
The theory is that cohousing originated in Denmark, Scandinavia, in the 1960s by groups of families who felt that existing housing choices did not meet their needs. A newspaper article titled “Children should have one hundred parents” written by Bodil Graae, resulted in a group of 50 families developing what is know as the oldest modern cohousing community: Saettedammen. A second gr0up formed inspired by an article “The missing link between Utopia and the dated single family house” written in 1968 by Jan Gudman Hoyer who had studied architecture at Harvard.
The Danish term bofællesskab (living community) was introduced to North America as cohousing by two American architects, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, who visited several cohousing communities, wrote a book about it, and have been instrumental in the development and construction of dozens of communities, predominantly in the US and Canada. Their work provides inspiration for cohousing communities across the world.
Cohousing in Australia
There are a number of cohousing communities in Australia. Well known examples include Pinakarri Community (WA), Cascade Cohousing (TAS), and Murandaka Cohousing (VIC). The most recently completed community is probably Decohousing in Denmark (WA). Urban Coup’s ‘Near and Tall’, since teaming up with Nightingale is looking likely to be the next. The peak body, Cohousing Australia, promotes collective models of housing, housing diversity, and housing choice. Their mission is to create and expand the sector, network and conditions necessary to make cohousing an option for all interested.
What is cohousing?
According to Wikepedia, Cohousing is an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space. Each attached or single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen. Shared spaces typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry, and recreational spaces.
Cohousing can by in urban and suburban areas, and cover a diverse range of legal or financial structures. Homes can be owner-occupied or rented and are often smaller in size and clustered together to allow for more shared open space.
For cohousing communities, size is important. Cohousing neighbourhoods are typically designed for 12 to 35 households. The Danes are known for their scientific approach and restricting cohousing to 50 adults; they believe that otherwise the social structure of the community won’t work.
I believe it is the size, common house, residents’ involvement in the ongoing management of the project, and most importantly the shared meals, that set cohousing apart from other co-living models.
The future of cohousing
Cohousing communities are predicted to expand rapidly in the next few decades as individuals and families seek to live more sustainably, and in community with neighbours. They are regarded as part of the new cooperative economy which is experiencing growing interest around the world. It begs the question, what is the future of cohousing cohousing in Australia? What does it take to get more communities built here?
In 2018 I was fortunate to be selected from a competitive field of applicants as one of the participants in the 500 Communities Program. This program is an initiative of cohousing guru Katie McCamant to train the next waive of cohousing professionals, people who can be instrumental in getting the next generation of cohousing communities built. As part of the program, in September 2018 I visited Nevada City (CA) in the US. At the end of May 2019 I will return. This time the destination is Portland (Oregon) where the National Cohousing conference will take place. I have been invited as a speaker representing Australia. The conference theme is build it – live it – sustain it. I look forward to learning more about the experience from cohousing professionals and residents in the US, and touring some of the cohousing projects. I look forward to be infected by the cohousing bug, if I haven’t been already.
Sharing the cohousing story
On Tuesday 6 August, I will host an event about Cohousing at the Bodhi Tree, in Mt Hawthorn (Perth, WA). I will share what I have learned from my recent visits to the US and pose the question to attendees: what does it take to get more cohousing communities built in Australia. For more info and to register – click here.
Further resources & links