Cohousing is the daily experience of thousands of people around the world who have chosen to live in residential communities with shared services and facilities. The cohousing movement started in Denmark in the Sixties and now is spreading in Sweden, Holland, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. Cohousing communities combine the autonomy of private dwellings at a lower cost with great economic benefits with the benefits of shared services, resources and spaces like gardens, workshops, gyms, libraries, meeting and guest rooms and leisure areas. One of the main reasons that leads cohousers to live in these cooperative neighbourhoods is the desire to restore their social life while maintaining the absolute independence of their living spaces; to benefit from good-neighbourly mutual help and to reduce the complexity of life and the stress caused by managing daily activities.
The intergenerational benefits are considerably great as cohousing provides a model of social life in which the perceived advantages are the creation of informal relationships within the community and the involvement of children, adults and elderly. Each member of the community contributes their abilities and skills, increasing opportunities and reducing relational loneliness. For example children can run from one house to another without the supervision of their parents because every adult is interested in the protection and benefit of every child and their growth is not supported just by the persons confined to their households but by the whole community. Elderly people can feel included and valued and therefore are not always dependent on someone willing to help them but can be assisted by the community without the need to be moved elsewhere. Older people can also serve as a role model for younger generations and to mentor them.
In the UK there is an increasing interest in cohousing. At the moment there are eight fully-established cohousing communities from which one can learn firsthand of the potential benefits to intergenerational relationships.
The UK’s economic downturn requires a radical approach. These solutions need to be inspired by concepts like the reduction of consumption and costs for individual and society and maybe the answer could be seen to be the use of innovative technologies and bio-architecture to save energy and to allow sustainable development. Cohousing communities may be an answer, providing an environment that enables one to care for their neighbours and make decisions that consider the impact of the community. The advantages of cohousing for improving intergenerational relationships should be noted and observed as lessons that could give very useful input to the sought after “Lifetime Neighbourhoods” concept.
Noreen Siba and Valentina Serra