At a time when more people are turning to high-density housing in Greater Vancouver, cohousing is gaining recognition as an alternative to traditional housing. Cohousing is a housing model that aims to build intentional communities.
“Traditional low-density housing is unaffordable for many, but most higher density housing often sacrifices public spaces in favour of more units,” says Marta Carlucci, a partner at Hive & House, a consulting group that works with cohousing communities. “In cohousing, there’s a nice balance. It’s built in such a way that when we want to, we can spend time with people. When we want to retreat, we can do that as well.”
The difference with traditional housing
With cohousing, design is essential. “In urban cohousing, you’re typically going to be living in a smaller space,” says Carlucci. “The idea is that a lot of your living can spill out into those common areas.”
While individual units have private kitchens and private outdoor spaces in the form of balconies, cohousing communities also invest in a large common kitchen, dining room and a playroom. This means that a member throwing a party could entertain in the larger common space and children in the community can play in the common playroom.
“You’re building a community and you’re the developer for the housing project,” she explains. “Your money is going into different aspects of living and there is typically more of a community piece.”
Because community members are also the developers, there could be details in their building design that professional developers may not have considered. For example, many cohousing projects will invest in additional sound proofing for their building.
“We believe that the process of real people building their future homes and falling into the role of the developer changes the way that housing can be built,” says Carlucci.
Cohousing designs encourage neighbours to interact in their daily lives. For example, in a traditional condo, the elevator goes directly from the garage to individual units. In cohousing, the elevator is designed to open up to common areas. Mail rooms are often placed next to the common dining area. There are open hallways on the outside of the building that allow people passing to pause and talk to a neighbour sitting outside with a cup of coffee.
Project time commitments
For those interested in cohousing, one of the biggest concerns is the time commitment required to see a project to fruition. Much time is spent on community building, legal work, financial planning, housing development and a range of other details. Typical projects take more than five years to go from the initial stages of forming a group to finally moving in.
Yet it is precisely this long process that makes cohousing successful. Working on a complex project together reveals individual strengths and skills. Participation encourages engagement with other community members.
Some aspects of cohousing projects are also more time consuming by design. For example, communities generally come to decisions through consensus decision making. It is a slower process but it incorporates diverse opinions and needs.
“It forces you to address somebody who isn’t in favour of a decision, to understand that person’s perspective,” says Carlucci.
Carlucci is part of Driftwood Village Cohousing, a North Vancouver community that has recently been granted rezoning approval. Her family has been part of the group for four years and although they have not moved into their units yet, she already considers other members as her neighbours. Through the process of decision making, she feels that she has already gotten to know them and that, in many ways, they have already built their community.
“We forget that time is what’s required in order to build your community, to make those social bonds stronger and to build that social fabric,” she says. In cohousing, the journey is as important as the destination.
For more information on cohousing, visit www.hiveandhouse.ca.