Cohousing Comes to Canada
By Wendy Priesnitz
Cohousing is a relatively new type of co-operative
housing that is just gaining a foothold in the U.S. and Canada. The term
describes a type of community that involves resident-developed cooperative
neighborhoods. In a cohousing project, individual households are clustered
around a common house with shared facilities such as a dining room, an area
for childcare, workshops, and laundry. Each home is self-sufficient with a
complete kitchen, but dinners are often available in the common house for
those who wish to participate.
These developments are also unique in that they are organized, planned, and
managed by the residents themselves. By re-defining the neighborhood concept
to better address contemporary lifestyles, cohousing communities can create
cross-generational neighborhoods for singles, families and the elderly.
commonly said to have (at least) six distinguishing if not defining
characteristics, first articulated by Kathryn McCamant and Charles
Durret in their book CoHousing:
A Contemporary Approach to Housing
The participatory process whereby residents organize and participate
in the design and development of the project
• Neighborhood design where site planning
encourages and facilitates social interaction between residents
• Common facilities containing at least a
kitchen and dining room large enough to allow common meals to be
held regularly, as well as a shared laundry, multi-purpose social
space and workshop
• Self-management of the project by
residents once it is completed and occupied
• Absence of hierarchy and consensus
• No pooling of capital or financial
Some cluster housing developments are located in
inner-city neighborhoods where they revitalize and reorganize existing
housing and become a neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood. Others are located
in rural areas.
Cohousing was born in Denmark in the 1970s out of a
desire to create cooperative housing that satisfied the needs of changing
lifestyles. Cohousing developments in Europe range in size from six to 80
households, with the majority between 15 and 30. It was brought to the
United States in 1988 by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durret, a wife-husband
design team based in Berkeley, California. They wrote a book entitled
CoHousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, thus coining
the word and introducing the concept.
They also registered the term as a service mark to
prevent its exploitation, and have recently relinquished their registration,
feeling that the concept is now well enough understood not to be abused.
There are now over 120 groups in the United States in various stages of
development, including the one in which the couple lives. They now provide
architectural design and consulting services for cohousing groups.
According to McCamant and Durret, these projects are
based on democratic principles that espouse no ideology other than the
desire for a more practical and social home environment. However, most
projects seem to involve people who share certain values such as a concern
for the environment, and who display a social conscience.
And now, the cohousing concept is spreading to
Canada. A group in Langley, British Columbia claims to be the first group in
Canada to get a cohousing project started. The WindSong CoHousing group has
been planning its project for over two years. They are working with the
Cascadia CoHousing Society, a non-profit umbrella organization that promotes
and facilitates the creation of cohousing communities in B.C.
The Canadian group's intention is to build 30 homes,
clustered around a common house, on its five-acre rural site. Move-in is
planned for 1995.
Update: This article was first
published in Natural Life Magazine in 1993. Here is a
more comprehensive article about
here is information about how WindSong evolved.)
Wendy Priesnitz is
the cofounder and editor of Natural Life Magazine.