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Can Boomers Make Cohousing Mainstream?

Can Boomers Make Cohousing Mainstream? - CityLab

Can Boomers Make Cohousing Mainstream? - CityLab

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Cohousing refers to a kind of shared housing in between that single-family world and the hippie communes (or hipster co-ops) it's often confused with. Danish architect Jan Gudmand-Høyer pioneered the model in the late '60s and early '70s, bringing together friends and like-minded utopians to co-design and develop multi-unit homes that would foster a sense of community among their residents. He talked about reintroducing "play" into daily life or, as he put it, "moving from Homo productivo to Homo ludens"—from worker drones to more joyful beings.

The idea has caught on in Europe, where somewhere between 1 and 8 percent of Danes live in a form of cohousing. (In the U.S., that figure is less than one hundreth of one percent of total housing units.) Gudmand-Høyer's Skråplanet and Trudeslund communities still thrive. But in the U.S. it has been a slow climb.


Alexander, 57, and her husband are residents of one of the nation's newest cohousing communities, or "cohos": Durham Central Park Cohousing.

Mostly empty-nesters, its members came together several years ago to plan a 24-unit cluster of condominiums with solar water heaters and shared resources, like a media room and performance space for the community's numerous artists and musicians. They successfully petitioned local authorities for a single electric meter, instead of 24.

That communal spirit extends beyond the utility bill. Alexander says daily life among her "true neighbors" is a stark contrast with the suburban subdivisions of her native northern Virginia, where she lived in single-family homes for decades before discovering cohousing.

"I did what everybody did. I was in commuter hell, I didn't know my neighbors, all that. There wasn't a choice, or we didn't know another choice existed," Alexander says. "Baby boomers are demanding a better way to live. We want to be sustainable; we want community, happiness."

As the cost of housing rises cohousing seems like a good solution.

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