Designated, organised cohousing is still marginal; it certainly isn’t how the majority of the western world lives. What’s interesting about this article from Curbed is the insight into why there is a reluctance to organise communities like this in certain cultures. Is there a fear that a shared and varied influence on a child’s upbringing dilutes a parent’s legacy? Regardless of the desire to adopt the lifestyle, there could be some important ideas here about reimagining the essential learning that goes on at home.
When Jessie Durrett was just starting to toddle, architects McCamant and Charles Durrett were putting the finishing touches on the first distinct cohousing community in America: Muir Commons, in Davis, California. McCamant and Durrett became interested in cohousing while studying in Copenhagen in the ’80s and played a key role in spreading it across America over the next couple of decades. Katie, as she’s known, and Charles lived in two different cohousing communities while they were raising Jessie, one in Emeryville, California, and another in Nevada City, California.
The archetypical cohousing community is made up of a couple dozen private households that are built to face one another around a central courtyard. They share common spaces, like a kitchen and eating area, a garden, tool shed, and laundry facilities, as well as a belief in the value of intergenerational interdependence. In practical terms, this usually means shared meals and communal workdays on the land. In spiritual terms, it means “you’ve got my back, I’ve got yours.” Today, there are more than 160 cohousing communities in 25 states across the country, according to the Cohousing Association of America.
When I asked Durrett, now 27 and studying public policy and international relations at Princeton, whether she ever rebelled against the family business, as it were, she shook her head and answered: “Look, they did all the hard work. They brought cohousing across an ocean, and got so many people to care about it, and convinced planning commissions that didn’t get it that it was a good idea, and actually found the financing, and built these communities. I just got to soak up all the benefits!”
Durrett is part of the first generation—potentially 1,000 strong—to spend its formative childhood years in cohousing communities. Twenty-five years into this grand experiment, what are the benefits to the kids who grew up in and among them? An informal survey and a handful of in-depth interviews reveal that coming of age in a cohousing community has wide-ranging and long-term impacts.