For those who remember the rise of communal living in the 1960s and ’70s, they may associate it with hippies, free love and a back-to-nature idealism. But as communal-style living makes a comeback, while the spirit remains the same, the concept has evolved. And the appeal is growing.
It’s worth starting off with some distinctions. “Communal living” is a catch-all phrase used to describe a living situation in which people share common space, chores, and sometimes finances.
And while you can still find ’60s-style communes featuring a single, shared residence, the more common type of modern communal-living arrangement is referred to as an “intentional community,” a version of which is cohousing.
Cohousing arrangements typically combine the concepts of shared lifestyle and responsibilities with added privacy, and consist of individual residences built amongst shared public spaces.
There are urban, suburban, and rural cohousing communities all around the country. And they are growing in popularity.
So says Raines Cohen, an organizer with Cohousing California, a regional umbrella group that fosters the creation of green intentional neighborhoods throughout the state.
Cohen points to the 170 cohousing communities already up and running throughout the United States, with another 100 or so in development. Cohen also mentioned the largest ever turnout for the most recent National Cohousing Conference, held in June in Portland, Oregon, as evidence of the rise in interest in cohousing.
According to CoHousing.org, a non-profit network that supports cohousing communities, there are 288 listings in 37 states for cohousing communities in various stages of development.
The Foundation for Intentional Community, whose mission reads “to support and promote the development of intentional communities and the evolution of cooperative culture,” currently has 1,067 listings of cohousing communities either established or forming all over the world.
What is the appeal for people?
Cohen believes it’s in some ways connected to the movement from the ’60s but revolves around more modern questions of happiness and community.
Says Cohen: “People are now saying, ‘How can I be better connected to my neighbors? How can I live a better quality life wherever I am at whatever age? How can we find meaning in relation to nature and to other communities?’ ”
Cohen thinks it’s also a question of value.
For many, the recession of 2008 devalued their financial portfolios and property and was a wake-up call that forced folks to reassess what holds real value for them.
Cohen explains: “It’s not about buying and flipping. It’s not about remodeling in order to sell for more, it’s about, ‘How can I find value that I can enjoy that doesn’t come from the sticks and the bricks, but in the people and the relationships, the connection?’ ”
The human connection is a huge draw, especially among aging Americans whose skin crawls at the idea of a nursing home, but who clearly see the difficulty of staying engaged and avoiding isolation as they get older.
Retaining some autonomy within a supportive community that can help pick up the slack: That’s a hard needle to thread.
And Cohen thinks cohousing does just that, adding, “How can we make a home that’s not a castle, but instead connected to neighbors? We still keep our privacy but we just get so much more when we’re living in a connected way.”
Some folks have been living in some version of an intentional community since the ’60s. Many more have been drawn to it more recently, for its unique blend of community and sustainability.
It’s not for everyone, and it can be tricky to find the right community, but the concept itself is timeless in many ways.
So what, Considerable asked Cohen, should people consider if thinking about cohousing?
Cohen offered, “People have to sort of self-assess: How can we understand each other, take time to listen and make room to take care of one another?
“And so people have to look at themselves. Am I ready for that kind of growth? Will it work for me? Do I have a partner who’s willing to come along? And so we’re trying to create something that’s easy to access and worth it, so you get a different kind of value beyond the property values.”