Cohousing is the term that describes a wide range of small communities achieved through participatory site planning and housing design.  These cohousing developments are thus ‘intentional’ communities and are popping up around the country like wildflowers.

The cohousing concept surfaced in Denmark during the 1960s particularly in their search for more creative senior-housing alternatives than nursing homes or assisted-living institutions.  The cohousing trend has since evolved here in the U.S.  These projects are often found near universities and throughout the East, Midwest, West and Pacific NW.

Typically, a community consists of between 15 and 40 housing units, with a wider range of housing choices than is normally found in a typical subdivision.  Single family homes, townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and other types of attached, stacked or multifamily units may be clustered around a common green, park or garden.  Dwelling units range in size from roughly 800 sf – 1800 sf, in many projects.  Housing densities tend to be higher than in nearby neighborhoods and often range from 10-20 units / acre.  

The smaller the dwelling unit size generally the more affordable the housing, which is important to help off-set the cost of a large common house and common grounds.  Some of the construction costs are thus shifted from an ‘all-on-each-lot’ approach to some-facilities-in-common. Housing is typically owner-occupied, but some include rental units. 

For the smaller units, with one or two bedrooms, an ‘extra’ bedroom or office is often located in a common house where friends and relatives can typically find guest rooms and a shared bathroom, which may sit unused for months if they were in a private home.

Brownstone Concept

One of the typical features within a common house is a large, utilitarian kitchen and dining area for informal potluck dinners, picnics, birthdays and community meals.  Some communities provide common recreation and play areas or even community gardens.

Another feature of cohousing communities is that large family rooms are often reduced in size (or eliminated) in favor of common rooms in a community building.  Many common houses have a library/study/TV room, crafts or workshop area, yoga and exercise room and other common areas which serve residents and neighborly interaction. 

Carports, one-car garages, and tandem parking is typical.  One-vehicle families, transit passes, shared vehicles, bicycles and walking shoes are also quite common.  Some communities develop around an old school, church, or other under-utilized building and any adjacent parking area or playground.  Others may begin with a donation of land or by a group who purchases and holds land or buildings for future cohousing purposes.

© 2011, Todd Liming, Planning Matters LLC, All Rights Reserved  (719) 355-6446