Two obvious things distinguish cohousing from a typical subdivision. One is charm. Cars don’t enter the core and parking lots are located away from the houses. Front porches, nooks, human scale. The other is the neighborhood dining hall. A resident has the option of eating dinner there any evening he or she feels like it, perhaps to socialize or perhaps to save time.
Except for the front porches, the houses are no different from houses anywhere else. They, of course, have their own kitchens. Some residents will choose to eat most of their dinners at home. The advantage of the dining hall is the residents get to know each other. Judging by the low turnover in existing cohousing communities, it’s safe to say people enjoy social connection.
Don’t be misled by that word “cohousing”. It’s not a commune, not a dormitory, not a cult. It’s a normal neighborhood of houses owned or rented by the residents. The difference is subtle — they are designed so the residents enjoy more happenstance social interaction: big front porches, pocket parks, sidewalks close to the porches, etc. Most important, there’s the dining hall where residents can eat dinner when they want to. Do residents like the results? Below are comments from residents of three existing communities.
- Hearthstone Cohousing. Denver, CO. https://hearthstonecohousing.com/
- Nevada City Cohousing. Nevada City, CA. https://www.nccoho.org/
- Spokane, WA. https://www.spokanecohousing.com/
Charles Durrett discovered cohousing in Denmark and has led the creation of more than 50 in the United States, Europe and Canada. They’ve proved immensely popular. We’re lucky Charles will lead us in Ramona. It will be the first cohousing in southern California.
Dinners at the dining hall cost about the same, perhaps slightly less, as dining at home – there are no servants to pay. Every adult resident joins a dinner-prep team at least once a month. Residents just must remember to reserve space at least two days in advance. Cost per meal will be around $3 or $4. You residents decide the price.
The dining hall is the biggest room in a building that’s kind of like a super clubhouse. The building is substantially bigger, busier, more interesting and socially active than the normal (almost always empty) clubhouse in a standard residential subdivision. Charles Durrett calls the building that’s in his cohousing communities a “common house”. It’s a minimum of 4,000 square feet and includes, along with a dining hall (and naturally, a large kitchen), whatever other rooms a majority of residents want.
Kids’ room? Teen room? Art room? Music room? Guest bedrooms for out-of-town visitors? TV room? The future residents confer and then vote to decide.
The residents’ creative control goes way past the common house.
This brings us to another important characteristic about cohousing: the future residents design the entire neighborhood.
Not just their own homes and common house, they design the streets, parks, benches, parking lot, gardens, etc. A developer doesn’t design it, they do. They are the developers.
Above are two photographs of future residents designing their neighborhood. The other photograph is the grand moment when they break ground. Those people holding shovels are not public officials or development executives. They are the future residents of a community they designed called Village Hearth in North Carolina.
Why Ramona? A natural fit. Ramona has an exceptionally neighborly spirit. Talking with neighbors is something everyone in town enjoys. Second, Ramonans enjoy their freedom, avoiding the confines of city life. With cohousing, they enjoy neighborliness and the freedom to design their own neighborhood.
“If it doesn’t work socially, why bother?” – Charles Durrett, President of The Cohousing Company, speaking about residential real estate.
Charles is the author of a half dozen books about cohousing and is, without question, the world’s leading authority on the subject. His company’s website is http://www.cohousingco.com
Three cohousing books by Charles Durrett:
Creating Cohousing by Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant
Cohousing Communities: Designing for High-Functioning Neighborhoods by Charles Durrett, Architect Emeritus, AIA. With Jinglin Yang, Spencer Nash and Nadthachai Kongkhajornkidsuk
The Senior Cohousing Handbook: A Community Approach to Independent Living by Charles Durrett