From Cohousing Australia’s website:
Cohousing and ecovillages are a significant part of the solution to Australia’s housing crisis, addressing the crucial issues of affordability, ecological impact and community building.
Cohousing and ecovillages are small, mainstream, residential projects facilitating an intentional way of living together and doing it better. They include the following features:
- individual, private homes, space and ownership
- community relationships and generous, multi-use common facilities
- a healthy balance between community and privacy
- elements of self-management, trust and familiarity
- stronger sense of neighbourhood
These communities are often in higher density residential contexts and can be designed by residents. They use less resources, whether they are completely new construction or retrofits of existing buildings. It is a way to maintain liveability on a smaller, tighter, physical place.
What is cohousing?
Cohousing aims to design a neighbourhood which is more like the village of the past. A place where neighbours know and trust each other. This is achieved by greater cooperation between the neighbours. This cooperation begins when the project is conceived and continues once it is completed. As mentioned below there are many benefits of this cooperation.
Benefits of cohousing can include:
- Mix of residents from rural, suburbanites/inner urban dwellers, old & young, professional & blue collar.
- Single parents can rely on and trust neighbours to watch their children.
- Older folk receive much-needed company and a little help around the house.
- Everyone feels more secure against crime.
- Car pools can be organised.
- Positive environmental impact on the community.
- Imagine not having to worry about the evening meal after a busy day’s work, but relax and join in the community meal whenever you like!
There are some other benefits such as security. If you know your neighbours you are less likely to steal from them. In addition, neighbours can watch each others house if somebody is out. If a stranger enters the development neighbours will notice and will watch to see they are not burglars.
History of Cohousing
Cohousing began in Denmark (see video) in the early 1970s. People were looking for an environment with more community than the suburban neighbourhoods being offered at the time. It was a reaction to the suburban neighbourhoods we all know where each household lives on its own island, many people do not know their neighbours and the motor car is king.
The first cohousing developments were public housing developments. Denmark had built tower blocks of flats for public housing just has most European countries did. These developments were designed around the philosophies and ideas of early 20th century. The result of these projects were large tower buildings containing many, often hundreds, of flats. These developments were also build in Victoria and many of them still remain. There are examples of this type of architecture in Carlton, Collingwood and Abbortsford.
The tower buildings were not a success. People found them isolating and they had an institutional feel to them. Living in one is like living in a shoebox in a big stack of other shoeboxes. These factors as well as some of the other issues surrounding public housing led to these buildings becoming undesirable places to live. There were crime problems which contributed to the bad public image of these places. In Melbourne they are sometimes described as “vertical slums”.
The experience in Denmark was similar. Therefore, in the 60s the Danish authorities held meetings with those who were to live in new public housing developments. They asked people what they would like in a house and the surrounding neighbourhood. The future residents then became involved in the design process.
There were two positive outcomes from the Danish initiative. The first was a new way of designing neighbourhoods to create more community. The other was that involving people in the design process helped to create a sense of community which continued once the development was completed. The model they created is now known as cohousing.
What do cohousing developments look like?
Pittwater suburbs are dominated by the street. We approach our neighbourhood, usually by car, via the road. The road extends all the way to our house. At the house the road becomes a driveway. Once we are in the driveway we can get out of the car. By the time we do this we are already at home. As a result a huge portion of our suburbs consist of roads and driveways. In addition the road occupies the central position in the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood has been designed for cars not people.
Cohousing turns suburbia inside out. Car parking is at the edge of the neighbourhood and the centre is open space, a pedestrian walkway or the common house. Cohousing does not have to be this way but when people design their neighbourhoods this is overwhelmingly what they choose.
There are a number of other features which cohousing groups have come up with to improve their neighbourhood. These include post boxes in the common house. This means that people need to come to the common house to collect their mail. When they do this they often meet and interact with neighbours.
Other strategies include placing the kitchen at the front of the house, facing the other houses. People spend a lot of time in the kitchen. If the kitchen faces the public area and all the other kitchens, there will be greater opportunities for people to interact. The kitchen then becomes a semi-private space. There is then a graduation from public space at the front of the house, through semi-private spaces such as the kitchen through to private spaces such as bedrooms. The bedrooms are placed at the back of the house to ensure privacy and because there are no opportunities for social interacting with sleeping people.
Examples of Cohousing in Australia:
- Illabunda Village in Winston Hills, Sydney, NSW
- The Ecovillage at Currumbin, Queensland
- Miller’s Corner, Mt Barker, South Australia
- Pinakarri, Western Australia
- Summerville Covillage, Western Australia
- Aldinga Arts Ecovillage (SA)
- Crystal Waters (QLD)
- Narara Ecovillage (NSW)
- The Eco-Hamlet, Greenmount (WA)
- Tasman Ecovillage (TAS)
- Witchcliffe Ecovillage (WA)
- Murundaka Cohousing (VIC)
More information is available from the websites and books listed below.
- Wikipedia article on cohousing – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cohousing
- Cohousing Association of the US – www.cohousing.org
- UK Cohousing Network – www.cohousing.org.uk
- International Fellowship of Intentional Communities – www.ic.org