Cohousing and Sustainability- Natural Partners
PORTLAND, Ore., June 03, 2010
Living in a sustainable community may have as much to do with collective lifestyle choices, as it has to do with green building. Sustainable community standards address neighborhood design, but generally only begin to address the social and economic impacts of residents. Cohousing is one approach to residential development that emphasizes community building while encouraging residents to reduce their resource consumption. For this reason, cohousing and sustainability are natural allies.
Cohousing has been defined as "a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods" (Cohousing Association of the United States). A tour of multiple cohousing projects leaves visitors with an appreciation for sustainability. Shared gardens combined with composting and recycling facilities make it easier for residents to reduce the amount of waste that they generate. Energy efficient homes and shared vehicles are common, helping to reduce resident dependence on natural resources.
The formal concept of cohousing is often credited with originating in Denmark. Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett helped to popularize the idea in the United States in the mid-1980s with their book, Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves (Belk, 2006). Cohousing projects normally include a common house with community cooking and dining facilities and may also include outdoor amenities, such as a community garden. There are currently more than 100 cohousing communities in North America (McCamant & Durrett Architects).
Daybreak Cohousing in Portland, Oregon, opened in the fall of 2009. In the world of cohousing, Daybreak set something of a speed record, finding property and substantially completing development in less than 3 years. Kristin Wells played an important role in the establishment of Daybreak Cohousing, joining as a founding member in 2006. In a recent interview, Wells provided substantial examples of how cohousing supports a sustainable lifestyle. Daybreak articulated its founding sustainability principles to include earth friendly action, as well as social and economic sustainability. In selecting a development team, Daybreak founders looked for professionals who shared the commitment to design and build a truly sustainable project. The organization also sought professionals who would be able to work well together.
All of the homes within Daybreak are south facing, have radiant floor heating, and include passive cooling achieved through massing. Cohousing teams typically build homes to be smaller than the average U.S. home since families take advantage of common areas and shared resources, such as communal lawn care equipment. This also results in reduced energy consumption. According to Wells, some of the greatest aspects of living in cohousing are the intangible benefits that come from being able to share the work of regular tasks and taking advantage of spontaneous social gatherings. She may ask a neighbor to provide childcare or join a friend for a meal in the common house.
That kind of social interaction also helps to reinforce behaviors that support resource conservation. Author Graham Meltzer surveyed 350 cohousing households and visited multiple developments across the United States in 1996. He reported a high level of mutual support among residents. This includes the kind of job sharing enjoyed by Wells, as well as the simple sharing of ideas about how best to cook, clean, and travel in ways consistent with personal sustainability goals. According to recent surveys by Abraham, Paiss, and Associates, cohousing residents pay 50 percent less in utility bills, use 40 percent less water and drive 30 percent less than the average American (Cohousing Association of the United States).
Residents in cohousing projects make an effort to support their local economy in a variety of ways. Two common approaches include purchasing common items from local sources and hiring neighborhood businesses for service contracts or the design and construction of the residential buildings. In the case of Daybreak, founding residents selected a Portland builder who shared their sustainability values. In some cases, a cohousing project may reserve a portion of its units to serve low-income residents.
Any multifamily project, regardless of whether it's a cohousing development, would benefit from following the lead of projects such as Daybreak Cohousing. Design features that encourage resident interaction, the creation of systems that allow residents to share resources (such as lawn mowers), and common areas are all excellent examples. For more information, visit the Web sites listed in the reference section.
Earth Advantage® Community - A Valuable Tool for Designing Cohousing
Earth Advantage Community is a certification for sustainable residential projects. The Earth Advantage standard gives development teams a guiding framework to enhance their projects and meet their sustainability goals.
For more information contact
Belk, U.C. Davis Extension. (2006). Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://extension.ucdavis.edu/unit/green_building_and_sustainability/pdf/resources/co_housing.pdf.
McCamant and Durrett Architects. Retrieved May 5, 2010, from http://www.mccamant-durrett.com/project-type.cfm?cat=cohousing.
Meltzer, Graham. "Creating Sustainable Neighborhoods." Cohousing Association of the United States. Retrieved May 3, 2010, from http://www.cohousing.org/node/3239.
Meltzer, Graham. "How Does Cohousing Create Sustainability?" Cohousing Association of the United States. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from http://www.cohousing.org/taxonomy/term/8.