Pleasant Hill Cohousing
(Central Contra Costa County, California)

What is Cohousing?

Cohousing is a form of collaborative housing that offers residents an old-fashioned sense of neighborhood. In cohousing, residents know their neighbors very well and there is a strong sense of community that is absent in contemporary cities and suburbs.

Cohousing communities consist of private, fully-equipped dwellings and extensive common amenities including a common house and recreation areas. These communities are designed and managed by the residents who have chosen to live in a close-knit neighborhood with a healthy blend of privacy and community.

How it Began

(from Jessica Boehland, "Cohousing: How Green is My Village?", Environmental Building News, September 2002)

"According to cohousing lore, 27 dedicated families near Copenhagen, Denmark became the first cohousing community in 1972. This bofcellesskaber or "living communities" model gained popularity and quickly spread throughout Denmark and Europe. In the 1980's, Americans Katheryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, seeking a supportive and vibrant environment in which to live and raise children, became intrigued by the Danish housing model. They shepherded the idea across the Atlantic and coined the term "cohousing" in 1988. While Denmark still leads the world in the popularity of cohousing (Durrett estimates that 1% of the Danish population lives in cohousing communities), other countries, including the United States, are experiencing growing interest in this alternative to conventional residental development. At Durrett's last count, 68 completed cohousing communities dotted the country, with many more in various phases of planning, design, or construction."

What are the Defining Characteristics of Cohousing?

(from McCamant & Durrett, CoHousing Solutions):

    Future residents participate in the design and development of the community so that it meets their needs. Some cohousing communities are initiated or driven by a developer, which may actually make it easier for residents to participate. However, a well designed, pedestrian-oriented community without resident participation in the planning may be “cohousing inspired,” but it is not a cohousing community.
    The physical layout and orientation of the buildings (the site plan) encourages a sense of community. For example, the private residences are clustered on the site leaving more shared open space, the dwellings typically face each other across a pedestrian street or courtyard, and/or cars are parked on the periphery. The common house is centrally located so that it is easy to pass through on your way home. But more important than any of these specifics is that the intent is to create a strong sense of community with design as one of the facilitators.
    Common facilities are designed for daily use. They are an integral part of the community, and are supplemental to the private residences. The common house typically includes a dining area with a high end kitchen, sitting area, children’s playroom and laundry and may also have a workshop, library, exercise room, crafts room and/or one or two guest rooms. Except on very tight urban sites, cohousing communities often have playground equipment, lawns, and gardens as well. Since the buildings are clustered, larger sites may retain several or many acres of undeveloped shared open space.
    Cohousing communities are managed by their residents. Residents also do most of the work required to maintain the property, participate in the preparation of common meals and meet regularly to develop policies and do problem-solving for the community.
    In cohousing communities there are leadership roles, but no one person or persons who has authority over others. Most groups start with one or two “burning souls” but as people join the group, each person takes on one or more roles consistent with his or her skills, abilities or interests. Most cohousing groups make decisions by consensus, and although groups typically have a policy for voting if consensus cannot be reached, it is rarely necessary to resort to voting.
    The community is not a source of income for its members. Occasionally, a cohousing community will pay one of its own members to do a specific (usually time limited) task, but more typically the task will simply be considered to be that member’s contribution to the shared responsibilities.

For more information, please see our cohousing links.

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