Cohousing Communities Bring Generations Together Separately

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Common House – Ithaca, New York

The cohousing premise is many people living independently but together. Unlike the stereotypical commune of the 1960s, today’s group living has grown up.

While each community is unique, they all follow the same tenents. Overall, the cohousing model intentionally balances the intergenerational ratio of those who reside within the community close enough to enjoy others of diverse generations living together but separately.

Individuals live in their own apartment or home near the common grounds and buildings. Adults are expected to take part in decision making for the community, and attend resident functions and meals.

During the design process, the community members are asked for their input about the appearance and functionality of the common areas. Suggestions are considered and a vote is taken. However, the majority does not win, everyone must be in agreement to move forward.

Cohousing is growing in popularity for uncountable reasons. Each person, couple, or family have their own conception of their desired outcome as a community member.

Perhaps they feel being part of a small community will make one feel safer. Maybe a person tends to isolate and believes this type of environment will help them become more social. An older person may want to be around younger generations to ward off loneliness.

Sociologists Support Intergenerational Interaction

Sociologists have long contended the idea of old and young people living together is not only healthy but beneficial mentally for both. One example would be the day centers that are combined for seniors and youngsters.

Gentog in Tigard, Oregon, is an intergenerational day care program. The building is designed with three suites, one for the kids, and another for the seniors. Between the two is an activity room they call a family room. Co-owner Marcie Jones explains the mutual benefit each group gains:

The kids, after they leave our program, they’re not afraid of people with wheelchairs or canes or gray hair. They learn that you’re gentle with an older person. They learn you’re a little bit quieter when you’re around the grandmas and the grandpas.

It’s helping the seniors recapture something that they used to do and still enjoy. All that movement and mental stimulation is good for someone with dementia.

PBS “NewsHour Weekend” host, Saskia de Melker shares Harvard University professor Lisa Berkman’s thoughts: “cohousing harkens back to the kinds of communities that used to naturally dominates our societies.”

The late 1800s and early 1900s apartment buildings were designed to allow families to reside in the same building on separate floors. Multi-generational families living in one home has lost its appeal for many.

Cohousing in America

A theory is that a version of a modern-day cohousing community was established in Denmark in 1972. Coho|US website has a directory of established and forming communities in the United States. According to their records, the Common Place Cooperative, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts was established in 1973.

There are communities in 35 states and the District of Columbia. Coho|US indicates there 165 established communities, 148 in the completed phase, 17 in the process of building, and 140 are forming. Of those forming 35 have purchased properties to begin development.

Cohousing seems to be the choice for those seeking a greater interpersonal connection with others while maintaining their sense of freedom and individualism.

Written by Cathy Milne


Coho|US: What is Cohousing?
Coho|US: The Cohousing Directory
AARP: Cohousing: A Growing Concept in Communal Living
PBS: Cohousing communities help prevent social isolation
Angie’s List: Intergenerational Day Care Combines Services for Children, Seniors

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Diego Galli’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License


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