Sustainable communities, being the approach to tackling new-age housing and shelter, consider various prime dimensions of lifestyle and environment, making it a credible strategy to battle prevailing resource-oriented issues. It thrives in the coming together of like-minded people/groups wanting similar aspects of an enhanced lifestyle. Access to clean resources such as water and air, a sense of community, scope for reliable economic, social and personal development, and community participation are among the few necessities upon which sustainable communities are based, such as the booming concept of cohousing.
Cohousing, as the term originated in the 1960s from Denmark suggests, is an approach to creating an intentional, shared community. Establishing a careful balance between privacy and the shared association, embodying common values linked to an agreed purpose, is consciously undertaken.
Tracing the Cohousing Concept
The environmentally conscious solution for sustainable urbanism found its modern roots in Danish Architect Jan Gudmand-Hoyer in 1964. But the fundamental idea of coliving transformed into cohousing is quite organically illustrated through history, from the time of hunter-gatherers.
Palaeolithic and Neolithic ancestors lived in large communes, benefitting from social connections, shared information, pooled food resources, and protection from predators. The Middle Ages saw a considerable divergence in shared living spaces but successfully retained the communal places meant for families and friends. The Industrial Revolution further accelerated this, resulting in a massive shift in living arrangements, especially in the urban scenario taking shape as the nuclear family concept.
Ultimately in redemption since the 1970s, Denmark is credited as the catalyst in the sustainably-alert social movement. Unlike its earlier iterations, a productive, knowledge-sharing social setup formed the basis for such communities. Fueled with an economically and environment-friendly dimension, has led to the cohousing communities of today, as demonstrated by Common Coliving, launched in 2015 in New York. Recently, the USA, Japan, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia have displayed a mainstream re-emergence of this type of community development.
General principles of planning for a cohousing community involve choosing an ecologically stable location, considering a site-specific development, planning with a low-impact layout benefiting the environment, and a design encouraging extensive community participation. Keeping in mind the environmental, social, economic, and spiritual needs of the users, aligned with the natural ecosystem cycle is deemed necessary.
Private, single-family units are relatively designed, with extensive amenities such as open space, courtyards, and a Common house. These social spaces, tied-up with shared amenities, including a kitchen, dining space, general parking areas, and well-designed gardens, comprise the general space framework. Equal significance to private, semi-private, and public spaces form the basis for the elaborate cohousing setup.
Often, residential units of varying sizes and layouts (studio, single-family, and even row houses), are surrounded by ample outdoor spaces like specified gardens, children’s parks, lush lawns, and other open interaction zones. These add the value of prioritizing physical and mental health for its intended users, as proven statistically.
Cohousing collaborative community designs thus help significantly reduce wastage, improve quality of life, and are often economically feasible. Sustainably structured to conserve energy by sharing and managing resources, if strategically planned to utilize the available human, natural, and financial capital, the idea gives way to a much greener, consistent development.
Types of cohousing are classified based on who and where it is designed to cater to, in the following categories – Urban Communities, Suburban and Rural Communities, Mixed Use Communities, and Senior Communities.
Benefits of a Green Cohousing Development
A harmonic social and production organization owing to a dynamic self-governance is the foundation upon which cohousing developments thrive. Intentionality, being the first step towards this form of community development, helps easily nurture available help and resources. In turn, this leads to several key highlights. Safety and security, as contributed by a reliable neighbourhood, fostering mutual aid and wellness is an advantage. Intergenerational existence among residents has also shown increased mutual support. Carefully employed material resources that are healthy, recyclable, durable, and non-toxic, and conservation of trees and plants with a comparatively higher ratio of open and landscaped spaces are notable points. Shared services help reduce maintenance costs and also help produce one of the most successful urban environments, an ecologically sound residential system. The ability to learn and adapt greener skills, save energy, and employ learned skills to grow local produce is an allied outcome.
Research indicates the desirable architectural layout model as the primary reason for the shift towards cohousing. The ability to self-manage and decide for oneself and their community being, the opportunities to promote social inclusivity in urban development, and enhanced sustainability practices follow this well-appreciated motive.
Case Studies to Learn From
Cohabitat Québec is a sustainable, well-developed cohousing community housing with about 100 residents of different age groups and income ranges. Marmalade Lane Cohousing, UK, is another example of a multi-generational community designed with 42 award-winning homes. Lange Eng Cohousing Community, Denmark, and its unique design prioritizing shared garden spaces is a must-study example.
Citations for websites:
Institute for Sustainable Communities (2019). What is a Sustainable Community? – Institute for Sustainable Communities. [online] Institute for Sustainable Communities. Available at: https://sustain.org/about/what-is-a-sustainable-community/.
Community Led Homes. (n.d.). What is cohousing? [online] Available at: https://www.communityledhomes.org.uk/what-cohousing.
Coliving.com. (2020). The History of the Coliving Movement. [online] Available at: https://coliving.com/blog/what-is-behind-the-coliving-movement.
Carrere, J., Reyes, A., Oliveras, L., Fernández, A., Peralta, A., Novoa, A.M., Pérez, K. and Borrell, C. (2020). The effects of cohousing model on people’s health and wellbeing: a scoping review. Public Health Reviews, 41(1). doi:10.1186/s40985-020-00138-1.