Cohousing a Model for Australia Essay

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Cohousing: A Model for Australia

The roots of cohousing can be traced in Denmark in the early 1960s, expanding independently and simultaneously in Holland and Sweden where it grew into an established housing model. This term is a direct translation of a Dutch word meaning living together. In the model of cohousing, residents of a community rent or own their own homes while at the same time, share the ownership of communal space and the common house that hosts community activities. The level at which members participate in activities is voluntary although the model encourages community participation. The different income resource enables household preservation and autonomy of privacy within the community (Cooper-Marcus, 2010).

In the cohousing model, common houses make the heart of the community and members share meals sometimes as a means of bringing the community together. The financial contribution of residents of at least fifteen percent of their total budget allocated to the community enables the expansion of common facilities. This study reveals how cohousing has become increasingly popular in the UK and success can be replicated in Australia. It will discuss the history, varieties within cohousing models, and the factors that have influenced its development in Europe. The factors that may increase or hamper its development within Australia are also identified.

Cohousing defined

Cohousing is almost like collaborative housing; a form of the international community inclusive of eco-villages, community land trusts, student co-ops, communes and urban housing cooperatives. Therefore, cohousing is a living environment where doors do not need to be locked, where the norm is significant relationships with neighbors and where everyone has a role in the community. This term refers to a group of persons who organize with the aim of creating, building, and living in a community. This empowers people to live their way and enhance their well being and lifestyles (Durrett, 2005).

Cohousing is attributed to characteristics such as intentional neighborhood design, participatory process, full-resident management, awareness of environmental concerns, and common facilities. Since these features are not exclusive to cohousing and can be attributed to various intentional communities, cohousing is set apart based on three characters; separate income, shared ownership of communal resources, and non-hierarchical structure (McCamant & Charles, 1994).

Design and Social Structure of Cohousing

Cohousing design is very complex just as the concept is difficult to understand: it is also difficult to operate. The process of operation and production requires many discussions, efforts, legal agreements, liability, and decision making among the members and the entity. In most cases, cohousing is outside someone's experience setting up development structures with members allocated voluntary grounds in different committees. The structures ensure that community members take part in the process. The lack of a hierarchy in cohousing fosters the adoption of consensus in a decision-making process (McCamant & Charles, 1994).

These techniques discourage many from making important decisions. To improve and resolve the process of decision-making, cohousing communities seek various models of governance, which can help them design a more efficient working system. Currently, a recent form of governance known as Sociocracy or dynamic governance has been broadly explored and engaged as a decision making a device that helps groups operate their meetings in an efficient manner. Sociocracy as adopted from the corporate arena simplifies the decision- making process by adopting a circular structure: a semi-autonomous unit (Durrett, 2005). This structure makes the policy decisions under its domain and delegates the measuring, doing, and leading functions to group members.

The greatest challenge of a group is addressing conflicts that arise while working and living together. Nonviolent communication and conflict resolution include mediation, negotiation, and diplomacy. This does not only cover the members' relationships but also relationship with the parties involved. The nonviolent communication design was adopted as a way of addressing conflict. It insists on the principle of being generous and kind to others with the intent to love them (McCamant & Charles, 1994).

Cohousing - the Affordable / Sustainable Question

For the future of cohousing, affordability and sustainability are imperative for creating successful communities. Cohousing communities must decide on how far they will be willing to go to enhance their affordability and sustainability. Sustainability is a process where the current needs of a society are satisfied without affecting the ability of future generations to fulfill theirs. Affordability refers to the ability of people to pay their housing (Cooper-Marcus, 2010). This is a complex issue affected by the local labor and housing markets and social, environmental, and economic forces. Researchers have described it as housing affordability stress. It can be defined as housing costs being lower than thirty percent of household income and the occupants being under forty percent of the household income (Durrett, 2005).

Affordable housing is paramount. In its absence, people will be impoverished: communities and families will be eroded, and jobs will be lost leading to a weak economy. Affordability is at its worst level ever. Prices have almost doubled: the issue of affordability is not only confined to homebuyers. Some of its deepest impacts are currently low-income renters in public or private housing (Durrett, 2005). Rent rates are increasing relative to incomes for lower income households. An absence of housing affordability means a lack of a long-term choice or tenure, undermining equity, social diversity hence undermining sustainability. Therefore, cohousing communities will be an avenue for acclimating to all these challenges people face today and for changing their lifestyles (McCamant & Charles, 1994).

In terms of cohousing, affordability is understood as a long-term prospect of enhancing people's quality of well-being and life. People invest in raising their children with the hopes that they will be confident, considerate, happy, and healthy individuals. Community members hope that they will grow and age in a place surrounded by people and memories they love and cherish. This translates into a better future unlike previously where the elder lived in loneliness and isolation (Durrett, 2005).

European Cohousing

In Europe, collaborative living and central living characterize the development of cohousing. Denmark was the first country to adopt this concept followed by Spain, France, Italy, UK, and Belgium.

In Europe, cohousing as increasingly benefited because of two forms of cohousing organizations, which have emerged in the recent past and mass-media marketing. The Cohousing Venture, which was the first organization, is almost similar to a U.S. consultancy firm dealing with cohousing. The other is cohousing organizations made up of non-profit companies. All give guidance and resources to families wishing to participate in creating a community. One example is La Commune di Bagnaia Group, which seeks living alternatives outside towns (McCamant & Charles, 1994). There are many deserted farms and small villages providing great platforms for redevelopment to fulfill the demands of these communities. In La Commune di Bagnaia, members pool their resources enabling them to operate various agricultural activities. This case is interesting as it demonstrates the flexibility with which cohousing works; it can be adapted to people's needs, desires, and financial means (Durrett, 2005).

In Europe, living communities emerged because of the frustration related to limited housing alternatives. In a way, it is similar to many housing problems pushing people to seek solutions for social problems in the current century and industrial society. After the construction of the first cohousing generated massive skepticism, it has now gained the support of different governments and financial bodies. This has made the concept part of the mainstream housing alternative and currently, approximately forty percent of the European population lives in cohousing. In its form, European cohousing comprises of single-family houses, low density and attached dwellings of two storeys high with a separate common house (McCamant & Charles, 1994). McCamant and Charles (1994) wrote,

"The buildings themselves reflect this evolutionary process. Cohousing residents have chosen to cluster their dwellings closer and closer together, as is especially evident in the new communities the connect ground-level dwellings and common facilities under one roof." (p.147).

The common house is situated at the entrance or the center of the site. In most cases, the architecture takes the layout, neo-vernacular character, and materials obtained from rural building traditions. Communities vary in size with a range of ten to one hundred households (Cooper-Marcus, 2010).

Cohousing in America

The concept of cohousing made its way in the United States in 1988. In the U.S., this concept has been viewed by many as a means of bringing daily amenities closer to home. In fact, cohousing has seen a slow take off in the U.S. because individuals fund the project exclusively. Studies reveal that many developers are pursuing to either build cohousing communities or collaborate with homeowners (Cooper-Marcus, 2010).

In the U.S., cohousing comprises of private living units (flats or houses), with shared spaces like office space, gym, laundry facilities, cafes and workshops. People residing in cohouses consume almost seventy percent less energy in their homes because they operate recycling and car sharing schemes, which greatly reduce pollution arising from landfill and travel. Having facilities like gym, workshops, and office space within the community similarly reduces travel and related emissions. The…

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