Defining Cohousing

The characteristics of cohousing as originally defined by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett in their landmark 1988 book, Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, on collaborative housing in Denmark were participatory decision-making process, intentional neighborhood design, extensive common facilities, and complete resident management.

While not all cohousing communities have all these characteristics, they share most of them.

1. Participatory Design Process Members of a forming group participate in designing their community according to their needs and interests. Early groups developed their own communities, contracting with architects and builders. Now there are companies that specialize in developing cohousing communities working with future residents on design and construction. In some areas traditional developers have become interested in working with communities.

2. Intentionally Designed Neighborhood Private residences are clustered around a shared open space. Attached dwellings typically face each other across a pedestrian street, an open green, or a courtyard. Single family homes are joined by a pedestrian path and typically have a public side facing the center of the community and a private side facing away. Parking is on the periphery, placed to encourage residents to walk through the community on their way home to greet other residents.

3. Green Architecture and Sustainable Design Unlike many conventional homes where the suface design receives more attention from developers than the infrastructure, cohousing communities are designed to be long lasting and environmentally sustainable. As many green materials and as much passive energy design as is practical and affordable are used.

4. Shared Common House and Grounds A centrally placed common house, designed for daily use, supplements private residences and is an integral part of community life. The common house normally includes a large kitchen and dining area, a children’s playroom, a laundry, and one or two guest rooms. It may also contain a workshop, a library, exercise room, and crafts room. Where possible the grounds will include commonly owned outdoor spaces including greens, piazzas, playgrounds, woods, and gardens. Most communities have at least one or two evening meals together each week; some have four plus a Saturday or Sunday brunch.

5. Child-friendly, Multi-Generational, and Diverse Cohousing communities were originally designed to be child-friendly and to include residents that might range from newborn to 95. Adults will typically be both single and partnered and ethnically and culturally diverse, reflecting the local population. Now, senior cohousing communities are beginning to form for residents over 55.

6. Self-Management and Maintenance Residents manage community affairs and do most of the work required to maintain the common house spaces and the landscape. Some communities hire maintenance and financial services, but the residents retain control. All residents and their time are considered equal. Hours spent on financial tasks are not considered more valuable than those of the dishwasher.

7. Inclusive Governance, Non-Hierarchical Decision-Making All residents meet regularly to develop the policies that govern the community and address any community issues. Leadership roles develop according to skills and the interests of the community, but the responsibilities normally granted to a board of directors are retained by the community as a whole and decisions are made by consensus. Some groups have a procedure for back-up voting but it is rarely if ever used.

8. Economic and Social Independence. Economies of group purchases and shared common facilities are maximized but each household is economically independent. There are no requirements that residents share a common religious or political belief. Diversity of opinion is valued and respected.

“The primary objective of cohousing is to create neighborhoods that are child-friendly, multi-generational”

This is ONE objective but not THE objective of cohousing. The objective of cohousing is to be communities of people who know and care about each other whether multi generational, age targeted, organized around a church or some interest.

“They are not based on any ideology, political or religious, other than the commitment to a more practical, inclusive, and social neighborhoods.”

This is now becoming far less true as groups are organizing around religious beliefs e.g. Muslims, Catholics, vegans, etc. And you will notice this is non ideology is NOT one of the Defining Characteristics.