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Housing For The Soul: Cambridge co-housing

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Co-housing communities have been forming in Denmark since the 1970's. Unlike communes, these groups stressed the importance of each family having a private home. Co-housers want community and frequent group meals, but they also value diverse beliefs. In the United States, co-housing began to take root in the late 80's as a reaction against suburban living, which left many people too busy and isolated to get acquainted. co-housing taps into very deep needs Americans have for community, for interaction with neighbors and for a richer public and social life.

For young families, it provides lots of practical support: help with child care, with cooking, playmates for the kids and safe pedestrian areas. It relieves a lot of the stress young parents feel. For singles, it provides a much larger circle of people with whom to interact. Retired people find that it provides community living among a wide range of ages. People have these unmet needs, and that's why the movement is steadily growing. Today, people are struggling to regain a meaningful connection with others in this rush-rush world. More and more of our lives are dedicated to work and home. co-housing can be a vital middle ground.

The first urban co-housing project on the East Coast was completed in the summer of 1998. The co-housers worked to include all ages, races, and lifestyles in their community. The 10 million dollar project houses a diverse group of people, with 3 Asian families, 1 African-American family, a variety of religions and sexual orientations, and 2 of it's 41 units were set aside for moderate income tenants. Each family has a townhouse and they share their lives and space around the dwellings with about 40 other families that own apartments in the same development. The community meets for group dinners in a beautiful "common house" that includes a kitchen, dinning room, library, playroom, exercise room and guest rooms. They also have an organic vegetable garden for meals. Units ranged from $75,000 for a studio to $390,000 for a four-bedroom townhouse.

The 1.5 acre development was built as modules in a factory and then lowered into place by crane. This reduced on-site construction pollution and resulted in more tightly-built structures that should use 60% less energy and emit 40% less pollution than conventional townhouses. The development also features electric stoves to avoid respiratory irritants, high-efficiency catalytic converter fireplaces, recycled newsprint insulation, recycled glass tiles, dual-flush toilets and nontoxic building materials, paint and carpeting.

Co-housing brings people together who have a deep commitment to living cooperatively as friends. co-housing feels like home to a growing number of people in the US. There are forty co-housing communities in the country, a dozen under construction and at least one hundred more being planned. co-housing is especially popular in California, Colorado, New England, and the Northwest. It's also growing in North Carolina, Florida, the Midwest, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Co-housers agreed on every aspect of these innovations by consensus. During countless meetings, they held up colored cards to register opinions: red for disapproval, green for approval, orange for a question, blue for a comment. Even before they had chosen a site, members attended workshops on group dynamics and interpersonal communication. One thing very common in people who join co-housing is that they're looking to grow and develop, learning how difficult it is to really put yourself in someone else's shoes and understand their differences. Perhaps the future of the American community looks bright after all!


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Other resources on co-housing:

EcoVillages - co-housing - co-housingco


(parts of this article are from New Age Jan/Feb 99)



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