Natural Life Magazine

Cohousing Comes to Canada

Cohousing Comes to Canada
By Wendy Priesnitz

Cohousing is a relatively new type of co-operative housing that is just gaining a foothold in the U.S. and Canada. The term describes a type of community that involves resident-developed cooperative neighborhoods. In a cohousing project, individual households are clustered around a common house with shared facilities such as a dining room, an area for childcare, workshops, and laundry. Each home is self-sufficient with a complete kitchen, but dinners are often available in the common house for those who wish to participate.

Cohousing is commonly said to have (at least) six distinguishing if not defining characteristics, first articulated by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durret in their book CoHousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing
These are:
• The participatory process whereby residents organize and participate in the design and development of the project
• Neighborhood design where site planning encourages and facilitates social interaction between residents
• Common facilities containing at least a kitchen and dining room large enough to allow common meals to be held regularly, as well as a shared laundry, multi-purpose social space and workshop
• Self-management of the project by residents once it is completed and occupied
• Absence of hierarchy and consensus decision-making
• No pooling of capital or financial resources
These developments are also unique in that they are organized, planned, and managed by the residents themselves. By re-defining the neighborhood concept to better address contemporary lifestyles, cohousing communities can create cross-generational neighborhoods for singles, families and the elderly.

Some cluster housing developments are located in inner-city neighborhoods where they revitalize and reorganize existing housing and become a neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood. Others are located in rural areas.

Cohousing was born in Denmark in the 1970s out of a desire to create cooperative housing that satisfied the needs of changing lifestyles. Cohousing developments in Europe range in size from six to 80 households, with the majority between 15 and 30. It was brought to the United States in 1988 by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durret, a wife-husband design team based in Berkeley, California. They wrote a book entitled CoHousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, thus coining the word and introducing the concept.

They also registered the term as a service mark to prevent its exploitation, and have recently relinquished their registration, feeling that the concept is now well enough understood not to be abused. There are now over 120 groups in the United States in various stages of development, including the one in which the couple lives. They now provide architectural design and consulting services for cohousing groups.

According to McCamant and Durret, these projects are based on democratic principles that espouse no ideology other than the desire for a more practical and social home environment. However, most projects seem to involve people who share certain values such as a concern for the environment, and who display a social conscience.

And now, the cohousing concept is spreading to Canada. A group in Langley, British Columbia claims to be the first group in Canada to get a cohousing project started. The WindSong CoHousing group has been planning its project for over two years. They are working with the Cascadia CoHousing Society, a non-profit umbrella organization that promotes and facilitates the creation of cohousing communities in B.C.

The Canadian group's intention is to build 30 homes, clustered around a common house, on its five-acre rural site. Move-in is planned for 1995.

Update: This article was first published in Natural Life Magazine in 1993. Here is a more comprehensive article about cohousing. And here is information about how WindSong evolved.)

Wendy Priesnitz is the cofounder and editor of Natural Life Magazine.


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