February 14, 2018 — The front edge of baby boomers turns 72 years old this year. By now many are well into retirement. Experts are curious – will this revolutionary generation stick to the patterns of their parents in retirement, or will they break new ground, just like they did in music, the arts, and lifestyles? We think the answer will be yes – to both questions.
Most things won’t change. Millions will move to 55+ and active adult communities in their 60s and 70s, searching for non-stop activities and a social setting where making friends fast is easy. The vast majority of boomers will be like their parents in that they won’t move anywhere – they will either stay where they live now as long as they can, or move to a downsized home in the same area. But we can also be assured that many millions of boomers will blaze new housing paths in their retirement, and for a small segment, one of those options will be living in a cohousing community.
Cohousing – an option for a small but significant segment
For all the retirees who dream of living in their own home and beholding to no one, or heaven forbid, an HOA, there are others are where having a big sense of community is a primary concern, even more important than economics. A recent New York Times feature, There’s Community and Consensus, but No Commune, provides an excellent overview of how cohousing began and continues to grow as a retirement choice. According to the Cohousing Association of the United States there are 165 cohousing communities in the U.S. A term they like to use is “intentional communities”, which means the residents choose to live together in a village of their own making, sharing some resources on purpose. Living together reflects their shared values.
Intentional Communities come in many shapes and sizes, and go by many names. This includes cohousing, ecovillages, cooperative houses, communes, etc.
Typically members of the community own their own homes and pay fees to share some facilities, such as common areas and infrastructure. The homes are usually fairly small and clustered, facing each other to create a sense of community. Cars, roads, and driveways are on the outside, with homes opening to one another for neighborhood. In some communities members are expected to share a common meal daily or weekly. Decisions on how to operate the community are collectively agreed upon. Occasionally these communities are open to all ages, often with families with children, but more times than not they are just for people 55+. Besides providing community, another benefit is economic, since sharing resources is more efficient than paying for everything yourself.
An idea from Denmark
The popularity of the cohousing movement is traced to Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant, who noticed an all-ages community while students at the University of Copenhagen. Durrett recalled what struck them in The Times: “People in this one development were always out there talking to each other, sitting at picnic tables drinking tea. There were children running from house to house, and people coming and going to… the common house, where nobody lived and apparently everybody lived.”
The couple published a book about cohousing in 1988. Shortly after that they built Muir Commons, which became America’s first cohousing community. Since then McCamant & Durrett Architects/The Cohousing Company, has designed 55 cohousing communities across the United States. At Topretirements we have 40 communities that claim to be cohousing developments in our database.
Cohousing communities come in all types.
Although every cohousing community has some degree of uniqueness, there are some common threads.
– The properties are usually quite compact with small yards
– The number of housing units is quite small compared to other types of developments, usually less than 50.
– They are usually environmentally friendly and use sustainable energy sources
– Some have an urban setting, while others are in the countryside
– Obviously, they attract people who like to be around other people
– They offer an excellent counter to the isolation that old age often brings. Having close neighbors whose lives are intertwined provides companionship, resources, and support that are not found for people living alone in the suburbs.
– Some are designed for certain groups of people. Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California. It is an intentional CCRC community for retirees from the clergy and non-profit world. Residents share in intellectual stimulation while enjoying extensive recreational and other activities. Silver Sage Village in Boulder (CO) though very small, is one of America’s most known cohousing communities. It consists of 16 single-story attached homes that promote Creative Aging, along with a 5000 sq.ft community center.
Another interesting community for artists is the Louisville Artists Cohousing in Boulder, CO, which is currently in development. According to their website, you don’t have to consider yourself an artist to live in this community. Members with art interests of all types are welcome: such as music, dance, literary, media, visual arts, sculpture and crafts. Singles, couples and families of all ages building this cohousing community.
40 cohousing communities in the Topretirements Database
To give you a flavor of what the diversity that these cohousing communities have to offer, here is a random sample of some developments in our database.
Mountain View Cohousing Community in Mountain View, California, northwest of San Jose, was designed to be a neighborhood of upscale energy-efficient condominiums, and is within walking distance to restaurants, parks, the library and a performing arts center. Residents share common meals a couple of times a week while developing a camaraderie. The community features 6,000 square feet of common space for socializing, entertainment, dining, and exercise. Other amenities include community gardens and fruit trees, along with underground parking and storage, and guest rooms. Mountain View is governed by a Home Owners Association.
Muir Commons. This, the first cohousing community in America is now home to approximately 45 adults and 35 children. Households include a variety of family structures. Most homes are owner-occupied. Muir Commons is made up of 26 homes on just under three acres. Each individual house includes complete kitchens and private yards. Houses come in three models ranging from 808 to 1381 square feet. The clustered homes face a central pedestrian pathway while the backyards face the outer edges of the site. Outdoor features at Muir Commons include a garden, an orchard, children’s playground, lawns, and “nodes” to facilitate socializing. The extensive landscaping includes many drought-tolerant and native species. The 3,668 square foot Common House is the heart of the community and includes a large kitchen and dining area to accommodate community gatherings including shared meals.
Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm in Peterborough, NH. It is an inter-generational and green co-housing community that offers super energy-efficient homes with low monthly costs. The homes are clustered along pedestrian ways adjacent to our farm fields and the Nubanusit River. There is a spacious Common House; professional office and studio space in the renovated historic farmstead; and an organic farm.
Burbank Senior Artists Colony in Burbank, CA. This established community for retired artists represents a downtown version of cooperative community.
Durham Central Park Cohousing/strong>. A group of individuals, couples and families live here in an urban, intentional community in downtown Durham, North Carolina. Known as Durham Coho, it features shared community space for group gatherings, occasional shared meals, music, laundry, community garden, and a roof-top terrace. There are twenty-four private condominiums with balconies.
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