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Jo Williams argues these are structurally distinct. In continental Europe, for example, cohousing communities almost always combine rented and privately owned homes and some are all-rented. This is less common in North America, where some communities do not contain any rented homes. Some contain a few, none are all-rented and almost all are owner-occupied. In Europe, some cohousing communities are state-financed forming part of state social housing policy.

This is not the case in the USA or Canada. The American expansion means that cohousing has gained a new lease of life over the last twenty years.

My research suggests that this new wave of cohousing is different from its European predecessor in culture as well as structure. Crucially influential in making these claims have been two American architects, Katherine McCamant and Charles Durrett.

Each of these statements makes a different and significant set of claims about what cohousing is and what it is not. Demographic and economic changes are taking place in our society and most of us feel the effects of these trends in our own lives. Things that people once took for granted — family, community, a sense of belonging — must now be actively sought out.


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Many people are mishoused, ill-housed or unhoused because of the lack of appropriate options. These chapters introduce a new housing model which addresses such changes. Pioneered in Denmark and now being adapted in other countries, the cohousing concept reestablishes many of the advantages of traditional villages within the context of late twentieth century life. It outlines the key defining features of cohousing and it is cited throughout contemporary cohousing literature31 and repeated on the websites of most extant groups.

The common house is designed for daily use and supplements private living areas. Facilities often extend beyond the common house to include children's play areas, vegetable gardens, and the like. The first begins from what is wrong with the present inadequate and anachronistic models of housing and gestures toward something better, which contrasts with the dominant model. The second on the typical characteristics of cohousing communities provides a more detailed picture of the model offered by cohousing; a form of autonomous and designed neighborhood in which architectural and social design are intended to enable and enhance a desired way of life.

Again, this is not inconsistent with utopianism and could be taken as the description of the content of a particular form of utopian experiment - an intentional community; bound by shared intent and practices, which form two of the three key elements of accepted definitions of this phenomenon.


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  • However, in a third defining statement that appears in several of their publications , McCamant and Durrett insist that cohousing communities differ from intentional communities. Most intentional communities function as educational or spiritual centers. Cohousing, on the other hand, offers a new approach to housing rather than a way of life.

    Based on democratic principles, cohousing developments espouse no ideology other than the desire for a more practical and social home environment. In contrast, McCamant and Durrett stress non-ideological and pragmatic nature of cohousing. This work contains some significantly contestable claims. Firstly, it makes inaccurate empirical claims about other forms of collective living. This is also inaccurate: cohousing does involve a changed way of life, for its practitioners.

    But this work does have foundational status in the modern cohousing movement and its influence is ubiquitous. Employment and business endeavors are privately organised. Common ideologies and charismatic leaders are generally not a part of cohousing. They do this by establishing a false dichotomy between utopianism and pragmatism and aligning cohousing with the latter. Secondly, by insisting that cohousing is non-ideological, they attempt to distance themselves from radicalism and extremism.

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    It represented cohousing as part of this. But this contrast can be overstated. In the following sections, I explore the attitudes of second-wave cohousers. I ask, do they articulate a shared criticism of the present? Do they have common intent? I identify a set of shared practices and ask, do these practices aim to realise a collectively-held desire for change? Do these groups express a core of shared values? Are they, in other words, collective attempts to criticize and change their present?

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    As a consequence, people retreat into cocooned private spaces. These statements from contemporary cohousing groups and organizations connect modern urban culture to housing and suggest this to a causal factor in social malaise. They appear to desire a changed way of life. In order to test this further, more data are necessary and so in I conducted a survey of fifty North American cohousing groups. Samples were selected from the ninety-nine existing communities belonging to the Cohousing Association of the United States.

    The selection criteria sought to include examples from each State with random selection within each State. The survey involved a simple form of content analysis, beginning with a close reading of the self-descriptions by each of the fifty groups on the National Association website. So the charts below tell us if the terms are used in North American cohousing community self descriptions: nothing more, nothing less.

    This yielded some interesting results, which are supplemented below by discussions from qualitative primary sources. The Cohousing Alternative: i Shared Structures and Practices The survey revealed a core set of shared and practices, designed in order to facilitate better communities. Table 1: Common Structural Features of Cohousing Communities Cohousing communities combine private and collective ownership.

    Typically, the site is owned in common and residents hold leases or condominium-type tenancies over their own homes, which belong to them as private individuals. The collective ownership and management of property lies at the heart of cohousing. There are two significant aspects to this: firstly the process through which the community is designed and secondly the outcomes of this process. The design process typically involves all founding members of cohousing groups.

    Bonded by a common desire to create better communities in which to live, members collaborate with an architect to plan their communal and private living spaces and also the rules that govern these spaces. In interview, people described this as both daunting and empowering. Cohousing groups usually employ specialist architects but all members participate in the design process: over a series of months and sometimes years they visit and select sites, plan the layout and choose building materials.

    Cohousing design has consequential outcomes, which shape a significant part of the cohousing experience. This includes factors such as the layout of roads, paths and outdoor space gardens, orchards, play areas ; the location of parking areas, homes, community buildings and other premises; and the construction of the actual buildings from materials such as wood, straw-bale, rammed earth or brick , layout how many floors per building?

    Because the center of the community is a pedestrian area, kids have a safe place to play away from cars. Shadowlake Cohousing. I cannot discuss this fully here because cohousing architecture is a vast topic: meticulous, detailed and complex, but I will note a few points by way of illustration. New-build cohousing communities share certain physical and architectural features and traits, for example, homes are often clustered around common spaces, which are overlooked by all homes.

    It also permits casual surveillance of this space by all neighbors. A second common feature is the size of domestic units houses and flats , which tend to be small in most cohousing settlements. This is because cohousing settlements contain higher proportions of common outdoor and indoor space than conventional housing schemes and so individual households require less private space.

    For example, if a community has shared guesthouse, there is no need for each home to contain a guestroom and if the community has a shared laundry facility, there is no need for each home to contain a laundry room. And the fact of having less private space is supposed to encourage residents to make use of common areas. The idea is that people will walk to and from the parking areas and meet each other along the way: One of the appeals of the cohousing model of intentional community is the balance of community and personal privacy.

    We designed the community layout and our homes with the concept of a privacy gradient: privacy increases as you go toward the back of the house. If you are sitting on your front porch, you are letting people know that you are available to socialize. If you are sitting on your back porch, it is assumed you may be seeking privacy, and not want to socialize so people walking are being respectful rather than rude when they do not shout out greetings to you.

    Living in such close quarters, we need to be aware of, and respect these boundaries.

    While the inside of homes remain private spaces, it's important to be aware that one's life at Sunward affords less privacy than living outside of community. Notwithstanding the claims of McCamant and Durrett, I suggest that these are intentional communities; groups of people who share a common vision of the good life and who live and act together in order to try to realise this. Shared ownership of a semi-public space i.

    (PDF) Cohousing: a modern utopia? | Lucy Sargisson - hingamotopme.cf

    However, this is not a radical utopianism. It does contain a shared vision of a better life, but it does not, for example, challenge or seek to overthrow existing property regimes or the nuclear family. As with architectural design of physical space, social design is a large topic: complex and varied and I will consider just two illustrative examples: interpersonal processes such as decision- making and conflict resolution and labor commitments.

    In order to co-govern, members need to learn to discuss, decide and act together. Consensus is based on the belief that each person has some part of the truth and that no one has all of it. When people come together to try to reach consensus, they are open to hearing new ideas and to changing the way they thought about an issue before discussion. The process of arriving at consensus is one where the input of everyone is carefully considered and an outcome is crafted that best meets the needs of the group.

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    At the same time, the group strives wherever possible and appropriate to meet the myriad needs of the individuals in it. Brooklyn Cohousing 53 Consensus decision-making is challenging and requires time, patience and commitment. It is particularly challenging in this context because it occurs within what, for many members, is a new property relationship. Collective ownership can generate increased greater neighborliness, but it can also produce conflict. Cohousing practitioners are aware of this and conflict resolution is an important part of decision-making: Like most if not all cohousing groups, we're also committed to inclusive decision- making.

    Our consensus-based decision process is designed to ensure that all viewpoints are heard - and all conflicts resolved - before a final decision is made. Cambridge Cohousing 57 Being able to communicate and work things out with each other is key to Sunward's success. Living in community gives us the opportunity to develop the relationships that are helpful in addressing inevitable problems that come up. Some things get worked out one on one with a conversation, over a walk in the woods, or a series of chats. Finally, we have agreed to mediation to solve interpersonal problems that are not finding solutions in other ways.