Cohousing is an innovative strategy to create a sense of community among neighborhoods [1]. It firstly appeared in the 1960s in Denmark (known as Bofaellesskaber) and gradually spread to the northern of Europe. Since 1990s, it has extended to more countries and regions like North America, Australia, Britain, New Zealand and Japan. Which produced more and more widely influence on the world.

Close relationship in neighborhood, favorable affordability and ecological design under the strategy of sustainable development are the core characteristics of Cohousing. This blog will take these features as the main perspective to analyze the specific expressions in terms of design and lifestyle, as well as to illustrate the complementary and inseparable relationship between them in such communities.

Social-neighborhood of Cohousing
The core goal of Cohousing is to create a close social-neighborhood relationship. In fact, the deep motivation of the first Cohousing community was to create a strong social network for the core family [2]. That is to say, a stable, warm and sincere atmosphere, as well as the feeling that every member is needed and expected is the root cause of Cohousing [3]. This type of community is normally composed by 20~30 household, and the layout of whole site meets both social and privacy requirements. The main building within Cohousing is divided into two parts which are private houses and public facilities respectively. The private houses are basically same as traditional house mode, and the public facilities are shared by all the community residents, such as outdoor space, courtyards, squares and public housing, etc. (see picture 1, 2)

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Picture 1: Creekside Commons (from: http://creeksidecommons.net/)

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Picture 2: Yulupa Cohousing (from: http://www.yulupacoho.com/Welcome.html)

At the same time, Cohousing provides lots of opportunities of social interaction for residents, which allows people to communicate frequently without loss of privacy and personality. Community members will regularly organize some public activities, such as common meals, community concerts and so on. These activities are very important in creating social interaction within neighborhood. And because of the similar living concept and life goals, residents who live together communicating with each other, sharing the community resources, and then forming a harmonious community of mutual cooperation. (see picture 3, 4)

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Picture 3: Neighbors enjoy sharing a summer evening at Bellingham Cohousing (from: http://www.bellcoho.com/community/community.htm)

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Picture 4: Common Meals in Cohousing communities (from: http://www.cohousing.org/meals-2001)

Affordability of Cohousing
Actually, Cohousing has been developed into a mixed residential pattern which is suitable for various group with different income in many countries. And even became an effective solution to solve the housing problems of low-income groups. Which is mainly reflected in:
1. Compact residential form: with the continuous success of practice, residents gradually adapt to the common use of children’s room, audio-visual room, tools room and other public space in their community. Thus allowing the private unit to reduce the individual area significantly under the premise that household does not have any functional loss. (see picture 5)

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Picture 5: A compact plan of Gainesville Cohousing (from: http://www.gainesvillecohousing.org/gainesville-cohousing-has-hired-a-builder/)

2. Sharing community resource: residents often lend each other with camping equipment, books, video tapes, lawn mowing, etc. Which can reduce the number of repeated consumption and shopping. Furthermore, residents also have opportunities to use more infrastructure, such as garden, workshop, craft room, lounge and dining-room through sharing resources in the community [4]. Which can greatly improve the affordability in Cohusing because ordinary family is difficult to bear the burden of these facilities alone. (see picture 6)

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Picture 6: People use common garden equipment (Photograph by Christopher Thomond/Guardian)

3. Intensive lifestyle and routine: Cohousing model adopts intensive lifestyle to reduce the cost of living. Through the centralized procurement of goods, public meals, sharing the housework and child care and other common way, community residents can reduce costs and save time. (see picture 7)

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Picture 7: Children are taken care of by a particular person in Nevada City Cohousing (from: http://www.nccoho.org/community.html)

Sustainability of Cohousing
The design of Cohousing not only has the community consciousness, but also has the ecological consciousness. As a whole aggregation with residential demand and social relationship, the use of sustainable measures allows Cohousing to carry out more appropriate and effective energy saving measures as a community-based unit. Thus developing into the construction of “Future Sustainable Society”. [5] Which is mainly expressed in:
1. Sustainability of construction and maintenance: some Cohousing schemes solve the consumption of resources and reduce the waste through renovation of existing buildings (such as N Street community, Puget ridge community, Washington Swan ‘s market community in California of American), and recycling of waste building materials. Furthermore, the construction of Cohousing tries to choose some simple building measures so that residents can complete the work of their own landscape and house maintenance. (see picture 8)

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Picture 8: Pedestrian uses the passive solar technology in WindSong Cohousing Community (from: http://windsong.bc.ca/)

2. Recycling and multi-function building: under the mode of Cohousing life, the recycling use becomes much easier as a community-based unit. Most of them have composting bins and recycling bins, recycling bins, and many communities even have main box or free box to collect the waste goods from household. At the same time, the pattern of division and cooperation usually enables the person or organization to be responsible for the promotion of sustainable utilization program. Which greatly improved the recirculation system in terms of popularization. In addition, public areas are often designed to meet multiple uses and can be changed at the time when residents need. Like the multi-function room can be used for meetings, learning or other purposes. (see picture 9)

Picture 9: Re-usable area in Lancaster Cohousing (Photograph by the author)

3. Sustainable agricultural landscape: for the aspect of landscape design, Cohousing scheme often follows the principle of sustainable agriculture to grow some organic and edible plants. It can provide the beautification of environment as well as saving the living expenses, which possesses double benefits environmentally and economically. (see picture 10)

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Picture 10: The Rooftop Farm at Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing (from: http://capitolhillurbancohousing.org/rooftop-farm/)

4. Reducing usage of motor vehicle: in most Cohousing Scheme, it is a common habit to use public transport. Furthermore, almost all of the residents have the habit of sharing cars. Some of them take the way of share one car by two or more households. (see picture 11)

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Picture 11: Cycling is a favorable choice in Lancaster Cohousing (Photograph by the author)

Cohosing combines the management mechanism of traditional community with the new concept of urbanism, which attempts to form a new type of community with friendly neighborhood relationship, strong sense of community, sustainable living environment and high quality living standards. The characteristics of social-neighborhood, affordability and sustainability constitute an integral whole. They contain and complement each other, which is embodied in the fact that the close relationship among neighborhoods and the community-based design are the prerequisite for achieving affordability and sustainability, as well as the carrier of implementing latter two. And the process of promoting the affordability and sustainability stimulates much deeper communication among residents in a large extent. Therefore, the interaction between these three elements forms a complete and sustainable model — Cohousing.


Reference:
[1] Franck K, Ahrentzen S. New Households, New Housing [M]. New York: VanNostrand Reinhold, 1989.
[2] Fromm D. Collaborative Communities: Cohousing, Central Living, and OtherNew Forms of Housing with Shared Facilities [M]. New York:Van NostrandReinhold, 1991.
[3] Shey T H. Why Communes Fail: A Comparative Analysis of the Viability ofDanish and American Communes [J]. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1977,39(3):612.
[4] Scotthanson C, Scotthanson K. The Cohousing Handbook: Building a Placefor Community [M]. New Society Publishers, 2005:15.
[5] Coldham B. A Green Lesson from Europe: Cohousing as an Important Steptoward Sustainable Society [EB/OL]. http://www.coldhamandhartman.com/upload/documents/GreenLesson.pdf, 2016-05-07.


A video from TED: Co-housing—Community at its Best | Erica Elliott