Cohousing: Creating Close-Knit, Sustainable Communities

Cohousing offers sustainable living and close-knit community, along with reduced energy consumption, smaller home size and shared spaces.

  • "Creating Cohousing" is an in-depth exploration of cohousing communities, a unique type of housing designed for more sustainable lifestyles.
    Photo Courtesy New Society Publishers

The following is an excerpt from Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett  (New Society Publishers, 2011). The excerpt is from Chapter 30: Cohousing and Community.

Cohousing communities succeed at being sustainable because they achieve sustainability in several facets: environmental, social, and economic. Their architecture often includes green buildings, renewable energy systems, water conservation measures, sustainably harvested wood, and non- or low-toxic materials. But just as important as the use of sustainable materials are the social aspects of cohousing: the placement of cohousing communities within existing neighborhoods, the sharing of resources, and the positive group education around sustainability. This type of development brings social benefits — being close to friends and neighbors — as well as reduced consumption, all of which make cohousing a more sustainable lifestyle. As such, cohousing is a regional, national, and international model for sustainable community development at large.

Cohousing residents are at the forefront of the green revolution. They include plans for optimizing energy efficiency when designing their communities (solar panels, rainwater capture, ventilation systems that reduce dependence on air conditioning). On a day-to-day basis they share cars and laundry facilities, champion recycling, and create a community-wide composting effort. The collaborative nature of both designing and living in cohousing facilitates a continual educational process around environmental awareness and green living. A cohousing community is the very definition of a sustainable neighborhood.

Cohousing as a Model for Efficient Sustainable Development

Institutionally, cohousing addresses development issues such as community building, proximity to services, energy conservation, and environmental stewardship, as well as key neighborhood design elements that include pedestrian-friendly, senior-friendly, and earth-friendly development. Cohousing communities include appropriately scaled houses in safe, car-free, walkable neighborhoods. Many cohousing sites are close to downtown and public transportation with easy access to services and are built on infill sites with greater density than their suburban counterparts.

Many cohousing communities have reintegrated work and housing by providing on-site office space and inserting work spaces and housing into livable city centers. FrogSong Cohousing in Cotati, California, for example, includes a row of commercial spaces that offer some basic amenities to the residents and augment the existing services near the site. Other cohousing communities have set aside space for residents to work within the common facilities. Such shared work space provides an alternative to commuting to an office and a social environment that is missing for individuals who telecommute or who work alone at home.

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