Dramatic demographic and economic changes have taken place in our society, leaving a mismatch between today’s households and conventional housing. Single-family houses were designed for a 1950s model family with “a bread-winning father and a full-time housewife.” Contemporary households— characterized by smaller families, women working outside the home, and growing numbers of single parents, elders, and singles living alone—face a child care crisis, social isolation, and a chronic time crunch, in part, because they are living in housing which no longer suits them. At the same time, an increasingly mobile population has distanced many Americans from their extended families who traditionally provided social and economic support. Things that people once took for granted—family, community, and a sense of belonging—must now be actively sought out. Few options address these needs.
Cohousing communities respond to the basic needs of today’s households—child and elder care, social contact and economic efficiency—by combining the autonomy of private dwellings with the advantages of community living. Over 120 communities have been built in the United States since 1991. Over one hundred more communities are in the planning or construction stages.
Like other cohousing communities, the Oakleigh Meadow development will be owned as self-contained condominiums with extensive community facilities and managed by a Homeowners Association. Although individual homes are designed to be self-sufficient, each with its own kitchen, the common facilities are an important aspect of community life, both for social and practical reasons. In many respects, the cohousing model is not new. Many of us remember places where people knew their neighbors and were familiar with each other’s families over time. Cohousing communities offer a contemporary model for recreating neighborhoods with a sense of place, and the security and sense of belonging that accompanies it.
The potential homebuyers participate in the planning and design of cohousing communities, ensuring that the development responds to their needs and priorities. In most cases, many of the eventual residents are significant investors in the community from the very beginning so that they are both co-developers and eventually buyers of the Project.
The cohousing model incorporates ideas that have already proven very successful. Planned retirement communities often include shared dining and other common facilities. Resident involvement is recognized as a critical aspect in increasing buyer satisfaction and reducing housing management costs. Utilizing conventional forms of ownership such as condominiums, cohousing builds on accepted legal and financial structures. Yet, cohousing communities are unique in combining a participatory planning process, neighborhood design, shared facilities, and resident management to attract all ages and household types. As a result, cohousing communities become cross-generational neighborhoods that support traditional values of family and community.
Cohousing was initially pioneered in Denmark and the Netherlands, where this type of housing has flourished in the last 30 years. Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett introduced the cohousing concept in the United States with their book Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves (Ten Speed Press; 1988, 1994). Since the book was first published, their work has attracted national attention, including coverage on ABC’s World News Tonight, and articles in Architecture, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times among many others. In 2005, Charles Durrett published Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living (Ten Speed Press). In 2011, the couple published Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities (New Society Press).
To learn more, visit cohousing.org, an invaluable resource to those interested in cohousing communities.
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