- Cohousing communities are residential living arrangements organised around common space, shared meals, and group activities.
- Neighbours help each other with everything from childcare to home maintenance.
- Each unit is self-contained, so you can balance your need for solitary time with the joy of group experiences.
- Author Laura McCamy has lived in cohousing for 14 years – here’s why she plans to stay.
When construction finished on a new apartment building on our block, one of my neighbour’s kids asked when we were going to meet the people who had moved in.
She had lived her whole life in cohousing, where she was always welcome to knock on any door. She couldn’t imagine new neighbours who didn’t become friends, but that’s exactly what happened with the people who moved into those new apartments.
In fact, we never see them. Each night, they drive into the garage under their building and disappear into their apartments, only coming out on the street to smoke or walk their dogs.
At our condo complex, we live a completely different lifestyle. It’s common for neighbours to bring dinner to a table on the patio and eat together. We often pop into each other’s homes to borrow something, to ask a question, or just to say hi.
Our relationships extend beyond civility: My cohousing mates and I attend each other’s parties, graduation ceremonies, and recitals. We celebrate new spouses, babies, and businesses, and offer comfort after the loss of a job or a loved one.
This is cohousing. I’ve lived here for 14 years, and I hope I never live anywhere else.
A community organised around common space
The concept of cohousing originated in Denmark over 40 years ago, according to theCohousing Association of America.
In my cohousing community, the units are built around a central outside patio and a common space inside, including playspace for the kids and a workroom stocked with shared tools. We each own our units (they are condos) and have our own kitchens, but big windows and outdoor tables and lounge chairs invite residents to interact with each other rather than live in isolation.
One feature shared by most cohousing communities is a centrally locatedcommon housewith a kitchen and dining room where residents take turns cooking shared meals. My community eats three dinners together each week – not counting informal patio potlucks.
Some cohousing developments aredesignedand built from scratch. Others are regular buildingsretrofittedto be cohousing by tearing down backyard fences and knitting a block of free-standing homes into a community.
In Davis, California, the first Danish-style cohousing in the US,Muir Commons, was designed and built around a central walkway with car parking relegated to the outer edges.N Street Cohousing, also in Davis, is a retrofit cohousing community, where neighbours tore down backyard fences and added existing houses to the community until most houses on the block had joined.
In the US, cohousing communities are often organised as condo associations. The only difference in my community is that every adult is on the HOA board, and we all contribute to running and maintaining the community.
Cohousing units can be more expensivethan comparable condos. Over time, however, I have found that cohousing is an economical way to live. One example: Since our complex was built around the concept of sharing, we have two central water heaters for 12 units. This means I don’t have to give up space in my unit for a water heater and my portion of the shared water bill is less than I would pay on my own.
We support each other
As manager of the community’s kitchen supplies, I can get cranky at my neighbours, especially when someone leaves an empty bottle of salad dressing in the fridge instead of throwing it out.
But small irritations like that are outweighed by all the times someone has offered to pick something up for me at the grocery store, helped me move furniture, or taken care of my cat when I was out of town.
Once I drove a neighbour who wasn’t feeling well to urgent care, and another time I moved onto another neighbour’s couch to care for her after a surgery. When my wife and I were able to legally marry in 2008, my neighbours helped organise the ceremony, and their kids made decorations.
We often take turns babysitting so parents can have a night out, and kids know that they can go to any adult for anything, whether it’s advice or to borrow a deck of cards. These little kindnesses are what binds cohousing communities together, according toThe New York Times.
When I come into the common house on a dinner night, the babble of voices lifts my heart. If I’ve had a bad day, I know I’ll feel better after a home-cooked meal and dinner table conversation with my neighbours.
Every so often, we have what we call a cohousing moment: a delightful confluence that could only happen in cohousing.
For example, at the end of major building repairs last year, we invited the family-run construction company to join us for a potluck. They came with extended family and a roast pig and entertained everyone with traditional Samoan drumming, dance, and song.
A friend from down the block walked in halfway through the performance. He sat for a while, watching the dancers and the enthusiastic audience that filled our common room. “What is happening?” he asked me, and I could only shrug. It was a cohousing moment.
A surge in cohousing construction
TheCohousing Association of the United Stateslists 165 active cohousing communities (148 built and another 17 under construction), and there are 140 in some stage of development.
Part of this growth is a recent boom in senior cohousing, according toThe New York Times. As of August 2017, theCohousing Association of the United Statesreported 13 completed senior cohousing developments, with two more being built and another 13 coming together, in the US.
Many seniors have embraced this form of community living, and it’s on the rise in the US. Cohousing is a beautiful way to build meaningful social connections, and I couldn’t imagine living any other way.
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