Communal Living

For the last few years, I’ve grown increasingly interested in a budding trend toward what I’ll call communal living, though it’s called by a number of other names including co-housing,

The concept is that groups of individuals or families live together in a community of private dwellings (whether single-family homes or apartment-style units), supplemented by common shared facilities like kitchens, dining areas, recreational areas, laundries, guest quarters, etc.   It is more than just a way to share expenses, it is a way to create and sustain social cohesion.  I see it as the “modern” equivalent of an extended family living under the same roof, or at least in the same tiny neighborhood.

I’ve been following a local group’s Facebook page (Dallas Cohousing/Ecovillage) for some time, as they attempt to create their “ecovillage.”  This morning, I read about collective efforts to deal with the absurdly high cost of housing in the San Francisco Bay area.  From there, I went on to read about a 50+ housing project called Elderberry Commons, located within the Yarrow Ecovillage site in Chilliwack, British Columbia.

The concept of co-housing is extremely attractive to me.  Cost-savings is not the most attractive part and, in fact, I can imagine there may be no cost-saving if a community were built to provide more amenities than one would except in one’s own private, non-communal home.

A couple of years ago, we hosted (through for one night a couple from Vermont.  They live in a village called Island Pond and they belong to a religious community called Twelve Tribes.  The members of the Twelve Tribes community own everything communally; while our guests said they live in a house by themselves, it is owned by Twelve Tribes, as is everything else.  They spoke in highly positive terms of the value of communal living. While the idea of living in a religious community is anathema to me, the non-religious aspects of the community they described was highly appealing.

The more I have explored the idea of co-housing, the more appealing it has become.  The Elderberry Commons, mentioned above, is especially intriguing.  A community of like-minded people in the same age cohort, living together and sharing certain community assets is appealing to me.

Here’s what I envision for a network of co-housing communities in which I would be comfortable and happy:

  • Homes would be clusters of stand-alone private residence cottages and/or multi-unit buildings with private residences;
  • Private residences would be small–they would have kitchens and eating areas, but those would be small because most meals would be taken in house-cluster group meal areas;
  • These clusters would be served by connected, communal parking structures that would also have both shared and private storage areas;
  • Multiple housing clusters would face on public squares/parks that would include retail/restaurant/commercial space and garden/natural areas;
  • Roadways would be limited; within housing clusters and between housing clusters, there would be footpaths, but cars and trucks would be restricted to the limited roadways, except for emergency vehicles which could enter the “squares;”
  • Each housing cluster would have a public building that would include laundry facilities, large kitchen, group eating areas, community rooms for socializing, and perhaps exercise facilities.

As I envision it, the homes would be private property (to satisfy the practicalities of modern life), however each piece of private property would be linked to shared ownership of community property.  No one could buy a private home without accepting the obligations attendant with living in the community.  This concept is similar in many respects to condominium ownership, I suppose, except for the “forced” social cohesion aspect.

From my perspective, co-housing is far more attractive than the typical “buy your house and stay away from neighbors” lifestyle.  Though there are additional responsibilities and obligations, the benefits outweigh them, I think.

I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to live in a co-housing community, but I wish I would.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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5 Responses to Communal Living

  1. Larry Zuckerman says:

    I’m in.

  2. I love the Pecos Bill video! I don’t know, Juan, I don’t think you need a farm or a ranch, you just need sufficient space for people to be who they are and an adequate amount of committed hope. I write this as if I knew whereof I spoke; I don’t! But I have wishes and dreams and I’d love to see this idea transformed from intellectual fantasy to real-world experience. But how? How?

  3. Juan says:

    This is something to really think about. I have a kinda of “sharing commune” — laborers who work under the radar of license and tax! We share in what we can give or forage for each other with disregard to law or police.

    I would need a large trek of land for this to work ……. but now we’re back to ranching or farming communities.

    Remember the story of Pecos Bill, John? The reason his father picked up wife, kids, and “wagoned” further into Texas is because people moved near them … ……200 miles away.

    “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being cramped by squatters.” said his father.

  4. Robin, the unwritten part of my comments here is that I would envision having or developing those deep friendships within the community. The only way such an “experiment” would work for me would be with the existence of close ties and deep friendships. For me, it really would be like the extended family experience I never had. So, so appealing.

  5. robin andrea says:

    I have wanted to live communally all of my adult life. I think we miss something so integral to our human species by living in such crazy separate ways. I think the thing that makes me not attracted to co-housing is that it is a community of strangers. I long for a community of family and deep friendships. Separate and private dwellings with large spacious community areas; it’s truly the stuff of dreams for me too, John.

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