Simple Living

Published on December 10th, 2009 | by Guest Contributor


Green Community Models: Cohousing

Do you know your neighbors well? Do you often eat together, or share tools, equipment, or transportation? Does the neighborhood often gather for celebrations or social events? If you’re like most Americans, you probably answered “no” to one or more of these questions. Our lack of interaction isn’t just socially isolating; it also has an environmental impact, because we all tend to consume as individual people or families, rather than as small communities.

photo by qwrrtySharing a meal at Mosaic Commons in Massachusetts

Sharing a meal at Mosaic Commons in Massachusetts

The cohousing model is out to change all of that… one neighborhood at a time. Rather than groupings of individual residences with little interaction, cohousing communities create a balance of between private living space and shared resources. You may want space to get away… but does every homeowner on the block really need their own lawnmower?

What is cohousing?

According to The Cohousing Association of the United States, “Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods.” The Association notes that the following six characteristics tend to define cohousing communities:

  • Participatory process — residents are directly involved in the design and operation of the community.
  • Neighborhood design — the physical community reflects the values shared by its residents.
  • Common facilities — while residents have their private living space, shared facilities ranging from kitchens and dining areas to playgrounds contribute to a sense of community.
  • Resident management — residents manage day-to-day operations of the community.
  • Non-hierarchical structure and decision-making — residents participate in democratic and/or consensus-based governance of the community.
  • No shared community economy — this is the characteristic that separates cohousing communities from ecovillages: the latter model tends to incorporate residential and commercial activity; cohousing groups are more like “bedroom communities.”

This sounds a bit like a commune…

Only in the broadest sense. Residents do share some resources, and have events like meals together regularly (though not always). However, the model generally does not involve total income sharing, and residents have their private space. The phrase “intentional community” likely summarizes the concept better than “commune”: members of the community come together around common living goals and expectations, but there’s a large degree of individual autonomy

photo by qwrrtyBuildings under construction at Mosaic Commons

Cohousing buildings under construction at Mosaic Commons.

So, what makes cohousing “green?”

Some cohousing communities are very focused on sustainable living. Portland, Oregon’s OnGoing Community, for instance, was founded on ecological principles, and features renewable energy use, community gardens and livestock, and a single lawnmower and truck for the community. OnGoing is also an example of “retrofit cohousing“: they created their community with existing housing stock. Skyhouse, a part of the Dancing Rabbit Eco Village, operates within the sustainability covenants of that community.

Even if a cohousing community isn’t sustainability-focused, though, the sharing of resources among residents certainly lightens its environmental impact.

Isn’t cohousing associated with eldercare?

It can be… a larger movement within the eldercare community has focused on making care facilities more like homes and communities (rather than hospitals). Some of these new facilities work on a cohousing model, giving their residents more of a sense of control over their day-to-day lives. Some of these communities also have a green focus.

Where can I find out more about cohousing?

The Cohousing Association of the United States has a ton of information on its website. Also check out:

Live in a cohousing community? Or, spent time at one? Share your stories with us…

Other green community posts: This post is a part of a multiblog series on green community models. I’ll link to new posts as I get them written and published:

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