Cohousing is a concept that came to North America in 1988 from Denmark where it had emerged in the early 1960s. It describes neighbourhoods that combine the autonomy of private dwellings with the advantages of shared resources and community living.
In 1989, the first North American cohousing community arrived in Davis, California. In North America at present, approximately 160 cohousing communities have been completed since 1991. Currently, there are more than 100 new communities in various stages of development. The level of social interaction and shared resources varies among communities.
Cohousing is an intentional community for individuals who decide to live in privately owned homes yet share common indoor and outdoor spaces, activities and various aspects of their lives. Many boomers looking for alternative living arrangements are looking for innovation, freedom from isolation and assurances of personal safety. Accordingly, these individuals prefer to live in communities that support aging in place.
In a cohousing community, each resident’s home has a kitchen and other typical amenities. The community’s common house usually has a large kitchen, dining area, recreational space, a laundry room and guest suite. Part of a growing movement, residents find it an efficient way to live; they own real estate in common, benefit from economies of scale and share appliances, tools, bikes, guest suite etc so that each household owns less stuff.
Cohousing provides smaller dwellings, collective decision making and equitable access to community-owned property. As a result, it’s fun, eco-friendly and sociable, providing opportunities for lifelong relationships, shared activities, mutual support, co-care and safety.
The spirit of giving back and reciprocity are primary with cohousing communities. Daily, weekly and monthly chores are shared, enriching community life for all. Moreover, recruiting younger seniors into cohousing is encouraged to diminish the likelihood that most residents may need assistance simultaneously and to have an intergenerational sharing of work responsibilities.
What makes cohousing work for many is the fact that residents participate in the planning, design, ongoing management and maintenance of their community, meeting frequently to address each of these processes. Cohousing neighbourhoods tend to offer environmentally sensitive design with a pedestrian orientation.
They typically range from 10 to 35 households and can be comprised of older adults and seniors starting at age 50, or a multi-generational mix of singles, couples, families with children, older adults and seniors. A cohousing development seems limited only by the imagination, desire and resources of the group of people who are actively creating their own neighbourhood.
Some may find the prospect daunting. However, as author Stephen Covey says,
“One of the worse things you can do to your own well being and growth is to stereotype yourself, ‘Oh, that’s not for me,’ or ‘I couldn’t do that’.”
Fear of change and self-imposed social restraints keep many from considering cohousing as an alternative to traditional housing models. However, traditional models (retirement residence, condo, apartment, staying in one’s own home) can be restrictive and/or isolating over time.
Alternatively, cohousing designed for older adults and seniors offers opportunities for aging together not normally seen in senior housing, including the ability to respond more effectively to the evolving needs and desires of older persons.