What is cohousing?

Each cohousing community is unique. It’s a custom neighborhood after all! Some start with missions that are focused for their particular residents and all evolve to reflect the specific group’s growth in social connectivity and resolution process. Senior cohousing naturally has a different vibe than intergenerational cohousing. Urban and rural cohousing neighborhoods deal with different constraints and opportunities in design and membership outreach. Core resident groups may be started in a Unitarian Church, an LGBTQ community center, or an urban meetup of homeschoolers.  Each of these offer a distinct perspective on how their residents agree to live in each community. 

There are, however, common features of cohousing, which have worked well for decades and that people keep gravitating towards this style of living:

 
• Cohousing is designed, owned, and managed by the residents.
• The greater good of the community is valued more than individual needs.
• Sustainability is inherent in cohousing design and development, as well as most residents' lifestyle choices.
• The common house and other amenities are integral to the daily lives of the residents and become an extension of the private homes. The private units are full residences with kitchen and bath(s).
• Cars are kept at the perimeter of the site and pedestrian paths promote health and spontaneous interaction.
• Participation is key to a thriving cohousing community, from the design process through everyday life in the neighborhood: regular common meals, essential committee work, and lots of playful times too.
• The decision-making process is non-hierarchical. Some communities practice consensus resolution; some use sociocracy. All try to hone their processes to fit their members, so that they are efficient, effective, and fair.
• Oh and it's NOT a commune. There is no shared economy.
 

Where can you find cohousing neighborhoods?

United States has 165 established cohousing communities with another 140 in formation.  Only the Netherlands and Denmark has more with 8% of Danish households live in cohousing.  Architects Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett lived in and studied cohousing in Denmark before they wrote the book on it in 1987 and started designing and developing them back home in the US, starting on the west coast.  There was an east coast contingency too with an early hub in Massachusetts, designed by Kraus Fitch Architects.  Here are some wonderful examples to peruse:

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  1. Pioneer Valley – North Amherst, MA
    Architect: Kraus Fitch Architects 
    Established 1994
    Learn more »

  2. Nevada City Cohousing – Nevada City, CA
    Architect: McCamant and Durrett Architects
    Established 2005
    Learn more »

  3. Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage – Belfast, ME
    Architect: GO Logic Architecture
    Established in 2012
    Learn more »

  4. Capital Hill Urban Cohousing – Seattle, WA
    Architect: Schemata Workshop
    Established 2016
    Learn more » 

  5. PDX Commons – Portland, OR
    Architect: Works Progress Architecture
    Established 2017
    Learn more »

  6. Rocky Corner Cohousing – Bethany, CT
    Architect: Centerbrook Architects
    Under construction (units still available)
    Learn more »

  7. Bay State Commons – Malden, MA
    Architect: French 2D Architects
    Starting construction in 2019 (units still available)
    Learn more »


How do cohousing projects get developed? What’s the process like?

While the various steps within the cohousing development may vary and do not always occur in the same sequence, the main phases and milestones are consistent:

  • Establishing the resident group and the professional team

  • Site research and acquisition

  • Design workshops, documentation, and submittals to the municipality

  • Construction and sales

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In each phase, the resident group’s participation is essential for outreach, marketing, social community strengthening, design participation, and investment. Cohousing Opportunities Group and Lynn Gaffney Architect work in collaboration with the residents—educating, gather, facilitation, researching, designing, presenting, and bringing in consultants and developers. There is a lot to do; let us provide guidance and expertise.


What additional resources do you recommend?

On the web:

Books:

Videos:

  • Check out Grace Kim’s awesome 2017 Ted Talk, which features her firm Schemata’s cohousing community Capital Hill Urban Cohousing.

  • This is an adorable video that gets to the point of community: “What is Home?”, produced in 2012 to promote a Belterra Cohousing on Bowen Island in Canada.

Consultants: Lynn Gaffney and Cohousing Opportunity Group plan to collaborate with the following consultants and welcomes the occasion to meet others in the field.