Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Co-Housing, Part 4: Matters of Sharing

If less is more, than what can the co-housing dweller shed in the way of individually-controlled amenities? Take this inventory: How would you survive, if you had to share some of these with your neighbors, while getting something of value in return? Imagine sacrificing exclusive control of these items of luxury:

Swimming pool

Recreation room

3-Vehicle Garage

Boundary walls

Storage closet

Front lawn


Any reason an owner has to have a 20 X 40 foot pool all his/her own? Surely it isn’t a burning desire to sweep/brush/resurface cool deck/chemically treat the soup. Of course, privacy is lost when you have to share, unless you alone among the inhabitants swims at middle of the night-type hours. But who in a conventional single family subdivision demands, or feels comfortable, skinny-dipping in their private yards today? Common green spaces save on gas or electricity (grass/shrubbery maintenance power), water and perhaps fertilizer, compared to segregating their use on a per-unit basis. Cement driveways leading to each garage or dwelling entrance add little to the aesthetic experience of a development. Garages have become storage units in their own right, and they add building mass in a project – so consider this: does every owner need a 2-3 car garage? If storage units can be aggregated in a single building in a co-housing project, garages can resume the scale they occupied in the 1950s – a “side” building, rather than a bookend rivaling the mass of the main structure. In fact, the need for multi-car garages may be impacted by aggregating parking areas in co-housing development.

What kind of recreation facilities can be aggregated in co-housing environments? This hardly is new from the perspective of multifamily or attached housing developments, but why does the concept need to be uniquely a trait of attached housing? A multi-purpose building, with flexible design and ample storage space incorporated in its design, can be used alternatively for meetings, receptions and parties, card games, physical workouts, crafts, fire – pits and barbeque islands, and manual-arts workshops – even, perhaps, day-care/child-sitting (why would you prefer leaving your child at the school campus instead of inside your community, unless you don’t like the folks in your community?). The roof of the structure could be incorporated into the community garden space or solar power collection points for the project, and the structure, like the pool and the storage unit building (and so on) could be maintained by a single owner with the accompanying economies of scale.

I suspect most Americans today use much of our interior living space for storage of personal effects, or “stuff.” Achieving efficiencies in living space invites adoption of an attitude of inventorying our personal property requirements, and possibly shedding some less useful trappings of our affluence. My hunch is that this is related to reducing our familial carbon footprint.


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