What is a Cohousing Community?

David Oesper
 

In this posting, I’d like to focus on what a cohousing community is, structurally, and how that model might be beneficial to the development of Mirador Astronomy Village.

A cohousing community consists of multiple housing units oriented around a common open area and a central building known as the common house. A walkway usually connects the individual homes. Often, the houses have front porches at least 7 ft. deep and 9 ft. wide, so people will actually use the space.

The kitchen and especially the kitchen sink is oriented towards the commons. This allows residents cooking or washing dishes to see people coming and going.

The more private areas of the house such as the living room, bedrooms, and bathrooms face the rear, or private side, of the house.

Most cohousing communities have attached dwellings clustered around pedestrian streets or courtyards, although a few communities consist of detached single-family houses. Some communities mix attached dwellings with detached single-family structures.

Charles Durrett lists six common themes in cohousing communities. Here I will list each of them verbatim from his book, followed by comments pertaining to Mirador Astronomy Village.

Six Components of Cohousing

1. Participatory Process: Residents help organize and participate in the planning and design process for the housing development, and they are responsible as a group for final decisions.

Absolutely! Everyone who plans to live in Mirador Astronomy Village will participate in the community design process.

2. Deliberate Neighborhood Design: The physical design encourages a strong sense of community.

Yes, Mirador will be a planned community, structured in a way that encourages, rather than discourages, interaction between its residents.

3. Extensive Common Facilities: Common areas are an integral part of the community, designed for daily use and to supplement private living areas.

Mirador will have a common house, plenty of open space, trails for walking and biking, and a community observatory. Residents will have access to a variety of equipment they won’t need to personally own or house.

4. Complete Resident Management: Residents manage the development, making decisions of common concern at community meetings.

Mirador will be a self-managed community. All residents who live there will have a say in how the community operates.

5. Non-Hierarchical Structure: There are not really leadership roles.  The responsibilities for the decisions are shared by the community’s adults.

There is no one Mirador community member who is “the leader”. Everyone shares an equal role in planning and operating the community. Mirador will be governed by following co-active leadership principles.

6. Separate Income Sources: Residents have their own primary incomes; the community does not generate income.

Though residents will each have their own incomes as in any traditional residential community, the community itself will generate income and residents will have the opportunity to participate in those income-producing activities. Income produced by the community will be invested back into the community. Not only will these income-producing activities lower the cost of living at Mirador for all residents, but each resident will have the opportunity to work a certain number of hours each week in exchange for a reduction in monthly rent. The income-producing aspect of Mirador is what sets it apart from traditional cohousing communities.


In the U.S., cohousing residences average about 60% the size of a typical new house, and a cohousing community requires 30% as much land (or less) of a typical new subdivision with the same number of houses.

Private houses in cohousing can be smaller than typical houses, because the following can be excluded:

  • workshop - located in the common house
  • garage - located in the community parking structure
  • equipment in the garage - located in the common house
  • guest rooms - located in the common house, or in the case of Mirador, the visitor campus
  • laundry - located in the common house; even though some residents will prefer to have their own washer and dryer, they might be able to get by with smaller units because for larger items or loads, the facilities in the common house could be used
  • any larger-scale entertainment can take place in the common house

Think of the common house as an extension of each private residence. The common house usually contains a large kitchen and dining room, a sitting room, a laundry room, and activity rooms depending on the group’s desires and interests.

The location of the common house is important. Optimally, residents can see the common house from most, if not all, of the houses. If it can be seen from the residences, and if you pass by it walking from the parking structure to your residence, it will get used more often.

The motor vehicle parking structure is usually placed at the edge of the site, allowing the rest of the development to be pedestrian-oriented. Even senior cohousing communities usually have perimeter parking rather than each residence having a garage, and the residents love it.

In addition to stand-alone houses, duplexes, and apartments, some cohousing communities have businesses, including lodging, restaurants, shops, and offices. These are known as mixed-use communities, and Mirador will certainly be following this approach.

References

The Senior Cohousing Handbook, Second Edition, by Charles Durrett (2009): Chapters 1 & 2, Appendix C

Communal Living & Cohousing – Types & Benefits of Intentional Communities by Amy Livingston https://www.moneycrashers.com/communal-living-cohousing-types-benefits-intentional-communities/

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