I had to giggle when I read that phrase “sort of like being in college” in the following review of what co-housing is. Nevertheless, David Wann makes a great case for living collectively:

What’s currently happening in cohousing, new urbanism, ecovillages, intentional communities, and transit-oriented developments is simply the mainstream rerouting itself, giving itself more options. Try thinking of the word “collaborative” if the word “cooperative” bothers you. When people collaborate, they are often business partners—as are cohousing residents, in a sense. Cohousing residents own their own houses (or rent in private houses), but they also own shares of open space, buildings, and other property that belongs to the community at large. The advantage is that each resident actively participates in the neighborhood. To manage these common interests, cohousing residents collaborate with each other, building bonds of trust in the process.

Still, in my eleven years of experience, cohousing neighborhoods are not dramatically different than conventional neighborhoods—certainly not different enough to be intimidating. They’re simply friendly, sustainable neighborhoods-by-design. Says Judy Baxter of Monterey Cohousing near Minneapolis, “I tell people it’s like a condo complex—though it may be single-family homes, townhomes, apartments, whatever—with a lot more common facilities and the intention to be involved with your neighbors.”

Whenever I show college students my slide show about cohousing, they comment, “It’s sort of like being in college.” In a way, it is, with the open spaces, certain shared facilities, lifelong learning, and lots of activities going on (except that in college, there’s probably more beer consumed per capita and less organic produce).

In cohousing, you know who lives six houses down because you eat common meals with them once or more a week, decide how to allocate homeowners’ dues, and gratefully accept a ride from them when your car’s in the shop. As the years go by, you come to trust them because you’ve seen them move through life’s ups and downs. You trust them enough to let them take care of your four-year-old, or to lend them a thousand bucks for a month or two. You listen to what they have to say, even if you don’t agree with them at first, because you’ve learned (the truth hurts) that you’re not always right, especially regarding the greatest good for the whole group.

Because people have different skills and aptitudes, some of your neighbors will be better at carpentry, cooking, or speaking a foreign language than you are—this all makes for great learning opportunities, rather than cause for feeling insecure. Any given neighborhood also includes various personality types: extroverts and introverts; rational thinkers and intuitive thinkers; neatness nuts and those whose priorities are elsewhere. I believe it was our ability to tap into these many styles and skills that made Harmony Village a reality. We had the full mix of personalities, and step-by-step, we grew from a vacant parcel of land into a vibrant, colorful, living neighborhood.

Along the way I learned that a person doesn’t have to be wildly social to live in cohousing. In my presentations about cohousing and sustainable neighborhoods, I usually get questions about the loss of privacy and individuality. I believe that privacy remains at the level a person chooses, and that individuality actually increases because the support of a group enhances personal growth.

In my neighborhood, when I’m not feeling especially sociable, I just keep walking past a lingering group of chatters with a wave and a smile, often into the community garden. But on the other hand, a person is typically welcome to join most casual conversations in common areas, a luxury and comfort not available in many fenced-off neighborhoods.

read more at: http://www.cohousing.org/rc/labs

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