Right-side up, upside down -It depends on which way you’re facing. I think most neighborhood developers face the same direction: The Suburbs, and the route used to get there looks like this:
1. Developer finds an architect. They design a neighborhood based on a formula that produces the most profit in the least amount of time.
2. Build Spec homes to attract buyers.
3. Advertise glittery incentive packages luring people away from the urban core.
4. Sell units as fast as they can, and then start the process over again on another tract of land.
This method results in the creation of places infused with mediocrity. Urban sprawl, the environment sterile to the imaginations of children, and where the garage is more prominent than the front porch. If an alien were to observe this from outer space it would probably get confused thinking cars lived there, not people.
Cohousing takes this model and turns it on it’s head. Instead of starting with the developer and the architect it starts with the people:
1. People who already want to live together form a group and invite others into it.
2. Using consensus type models for decision making they come up with a vision of what living together might look like. (example: shared meals, designed for walk-ability, and highly developed common spaces. Often times the legal structure for Cohousing is a condominium regime which allows individual units to be bought and sold using conventional financing methods.)
3. The group designs and builds their neighborhood with the aid of architects and other industry professionals.
4. Finally they move in. But the act of moving in, more than anything else, is an expression of what having built trusting relationships naturally leads to.
This results in the creation of places where people share life together. In this place of trust and care a habitat is formed that welcomes creativity of all kinds, and cultivates a sense of belonging.
This is the proposed common area of a Cohousing project in Austin: www.KVAustin.org
KV Austin Cohousing Project
So why doesn’t everyone do this?
I think it has to do with the amount of time, and emotional energy it takes to make decisions as a group, and handle the conflict. Most Cohousing groups spend anywhere from 3 to 10 years planning. In our culture of hyper-mobility and quick decisions, this is not reasonable. The former model is what’s reasonable. It fits into the mobility machine.
If you’ve been questioning this method though, as have I, there are alternatives. They just might require a lot more upfront energy and cooperation with others. But totally worth it.
If Cohousing interests you check out the Austin Cohousing Website: http://www.KVAustin.org.
Also, I’m currently reading the book: Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves by Kathryn M. Mccamant, Charles Durrett, Ellen Hertzman, and Charles W. Moore