Cohousing playground next to Common House

A cohousing[1] community is a type of intentional community composed of private homes supplemented by shared facilities. The community is planned, owned and managed by the residents – who also share activities which may include cooking, dining, child care, gardening, and governance of the community. Common facilities may include a kitchen, dining room, laundry, child care facilities, offices, internet access, guest rooms, and recreational features.

Cohousing facilitates interaction among neighbors for social, practical benefits, economic and environmental benefit.[2][3]

In describing New York City's first co-housing project, a recent New York Times article said co-housing "speaks to people who want to own an apartment but not feel shut off by it, lost in an impersonal city."[4]


Origins of cohousing

The modern theory of cohousing originated in Denmark in the 1960s among groups of families who were dissatisfied with existing housing and communities that they felt did not meet their needs. Bodil Graae wrote a newspaper article titled "Children Should Have One Hundred Parents,"[5] spurring a group of 50 families to organize around a community project in 1967. This group developed the cohousing project Sættedammen, which is the oldest known modern cohousing community in the world. Another key organizer was Jan Gudmand Høyer who drew inspiration from his architectural studies at Harvard and interaction with experimental U.S. communities of the era. He published the article "The Missing Link between Utopia and the Dated Single Family House" [6] in 1968, converging a second group.

The Danish term bofællesskab (living community) was introduced to North America as cohousing by two American architects, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, who visited several cohousing communities and wrote a book about it.[2] The book resonated with some existing and forming communities, such as Sharingwood in Washington state and N Street in California, who embraced the cohousing concept as a crystallization of what they were already about. Though most cohousing groups seek to develop multi-generational communities, some focus on creating senior communities. Charles Durrett later wrote a handbook on creating senior cohousing.[3] The first community in the United States to be designed, constructed and occupied specifically for cohousing is Muir Commons in Davis, California.[7][8] Architects, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett were responsible for the programming and the design of the site plan, common house and private houses.

There are precedents for cohousing in the 1920s in New York with the cooperative apartment housing with shared facilities and good social interaction.

Growth of cohousing

Hundreds of cohousing communities exist in Denmark and other countries in northern Europe. There are more than 113 operating communities in the United States with more than 100 others in the planning phases. In Canada, there are 9 completed communities, and approximately 15 in the planning/construction process. There are more than 300 cohousing communities in the Netherlands (73 mixed-generation and 231 senior cohousing), with about 60 others in planning or construction phases. [9] There are also communities in Australia, the United Kingdom (see UK Cohousing Network for information, Threshold Centre Cohousing Community offers training), and other parts of the world.


Because each cohousing community is planned in its context, a key feature of this model is its flexibility to the needs and values of its residents and the characteristics of the site. Cohousing can be urban, suburban or rural. The physical form is typically compact but varies from low-rise apartments to townhouses to clustered detached houses. They tend to keep cars to the periphery which promotes walking through the community and interacting with neighbors as well as increasing safety for children at play within the community. Shared green space is another characteristic, whether for gardening, play, or places to gather. When more land is available than is needed for the physical structures, the structures are usually clustered closely together, leaving as much of the land as possible "open" for shared use. This aspect of cohousing directly addresses the growing problem of suburban sprawl.

The Sunward Cohousing community illustrating greenspace preservation, tightly clustered housing, and parking on periphery, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2003.

In addition to "from-scratch" new-built communities (including those physically retrofitting/re-using existing structures), there are also "retrofit" (aka "organic") communities in which neighbors create "intentional neighborhoods" by buying adjacent properties and removing fences. Often, they create common amenities such as Common Houses after the fact, while living there. N Street Cohousing in Davis, CA, is the canonical example of this type; it came together before the term Cohousing was popularized here.

Cohousing differs from some types of intentional communities in that the residents do not have a shared economy or a common set of beliefs or religion, but instead invest in creating a socially rich and interconnected community. A non-hierarchical structure employing a consensus decision-making model is common in managing cohousing. Individuals do take on leadership roles, such as being responsible for coordinating a garden or facilitating a meeting.

Ownership form

Cohousing communities in the U.S. typically rely on one of three existing legal forms of real estate ownership: individually titled houses with common areas owned by a homeowner association, condominiums or a housing co-operative. Condo ownership is most common because it fits financial institutions' and cities' models for multi-unit owner-occupied housing development. U.S. banks lend more readily on single-family homes and condominiums than housing cooperatives.

Cohousing differs from standard condominium development and master-planned subdivisions because the development is designed by, or with considerable input from, its future residents. The design process invariably emphasizes consciously fostering social relationships among its residents. Common facilities are based on the actual needs of the residents, rather than on what a developer thinks will help sell units. Turnover in cohousing developments is typically very low, and there is usually a waiting list for units to become available.

Further reading

  • McCamant, Kathryn; Durrett, Charles. Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities, New Society Publishers, 2011, ISBN 9780865716728.
  • McCamant, Kathryn; Durrett, Charles. Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves (2nd Edition), Ten Speed Press, 1994, ISBN 0898155398.
  • Meltzer, Graham S. "Sustainable Community: Learning from the Cohousing Model." Victoria, B.C.: Trafford Press, 2005, ISBN 1412049946.
  • ScottHanson, Chris; ScottHanson, Kelly. The Cohousing Handbook: Building a Place for Community (2nd Edition). Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 2005 ISBN 0-86571-517-3.
  • Williams, Jo. Designing neighbourhoods for social interaction: The case of cohousing, " Journal of Urban Design," 2005, Vol.10, No. 2, 195-227.
  • Diggers and Dreamers

See also


  1. ^ Cohousing definition (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin 2000).
  2. ^ a b McCamant, Kathryn; Durrett, Charles. "Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves." Berkeley, Ca.: Ten Speed Press, 1994.
  3. ^ a b Durrett, Charles. "Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living." Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 2009.
  4. ^ "The Real Park Slope Co-op". The New York Times, Robert Sullivan, 1, 2009. 
  5. ^ Graae, Bodil. "Børn skal have Hundrede Foraeldre", "Politiken" [Copenhagen], April 1967.
  6. ^ Gudmand-Høyer, Jan. "Det manglende led mellem utopi og det foraeldede en familiehus." "Information" 26 June 1968
  7. ^ McCamant, Kathryn; Charles Durrett and Ellen Hertzman (1994). Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves (2nd ed.). Ten Speed Press. p. 208. ISBN 0-89815-539-8. "Muir Commons is the first cohousing community to be built in the United States." 
  8. ^ Norwood, Ken; Kathleen Smith (1995). Rebuilding Community in America: Housing for Ecological Living, Personal Empowerment, and the New Extended Family. Shared Living Resource Center. p. 111. ISBN 0-9641346-2-4. "Muir Commons was the first CoHousing community to be built entirely new in the United States." 
  9. ^ "Community Addresses in The Netherlands". Federatie Gemeenschappelijk Wonen. 

External links


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • cohousing — A type of collaborative living arrangement in which residents share in the design of their community. Generally, cohousing means that each resident or family has a private space, and the cohousing community also shares common space and facilities …   Law dictionary

  • Cohousing — Eine Cohousing Siedlung ist eine geplante Gemeinschaft, die aus privaten Wohnungen oder Häusern besteht, die durch umfangreiche Gemeinschaftseinrichtungen ergänzt werden. Eine Cohousing Siedlung ist Eigentum der Bewohner und wird gemeinsam… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • cohousing — noun Usage: often attributive Date: 1988 semi communal housing consisting of a cluster of private homes and a shared community space (as for cooking or laundry facilities) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • cohousing — /koh how zing/, n. 1. a cooperative living arrangement in which people build a cluster of single family houses around a common building for shared meals, child care, guest rooms, etc. 2. the cluster of houses with the common building. [1985 90] * …   Universalium

  • cohousing — noun Housing in which the residents private space is supplemented by communal facilities such as a shared kitchen and/or dining room …   Wiktionary

  • cohousing — co·housing …   English syllables

  • cohousing — cvb co•hous•ing [[t]koʊˈhaʊ zɪŋ[/t]] n. 1) a cooperative living arrangement in which people build a cluster of single family houses around a common building for shared meals, child care, guest rooms, etc 2) the cluster of houses with the common… …   From formal English to slang

  • cohousing — ¦kōˌ noun Usage: often attributive Etymology: co + housing (I) : semi communal housing consisting of a cluster of private homes and a shared community space (as for cooking or laundry facilities) * * * /koh how zing/, n. 1. a cooperative living… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Cohousing in Tasmania — currently consists of four groups. Cascade Cohousing is the oldest established community, a strata title private equity development, while the Cohousing Co operative Ltd is a partly government funded Community Housing Project. Both these… …   Wikipedia

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