Two New Cohousing Books
A Community Approach to Independent Living—The Handbookby Charles Durrett. Published by Habitat Press, Berkeley, California; distributed by Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California; 2005. Softcover, 249 pages, $29.95.
Learning from the Cohousing Modelby Graham Meltzer, Ph.D. Trafford Publishing, Victoria, British Columbia, 2005. Softcover, 180 pages, $22.50.
Two new books, written by the nearest the cohousing movement comes to celebrities, present the current state of this community-centered development model and shed light on the path ahead, showing how we can expand the increasingly popular housing model and borrow lessons from it to meet changing needs. (For more on cohousing, see
Charles Durrett and his wife, Kathryn McCamant, brought the cohousing model from Denmark to America with the 1988 publication of
Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves (see review in
Senior Cohousing, Durrett translates the cohousing model to the unique needs of seniors.Senior Cohousing, designed to match the 1994 revision of
Cohousing, begins with the all-too-apparent observation that “traditional forms of housing no longer address the needs of many older Americans.” This predicament was also the genesis of the book, as Durrett struggled to find a comfortable, respectful, and engaging living situation for his own mother.
Senior Cohousing describes one solution to America’s largely failing attempts to care for its aging population. In senior (or elder) cohousing communities, “seniors live among people with whom they share a common bond of age, experience, and community—a community they themselves built to specifically meet their own needs.”
Senior Cohousing is accessible, engaging, and illustrated with plenty of diagrams and color photographs. It provides an introduction to cohousing generally, but also addresses the particulars of applying the model to communities of seniors. It explains unique design considerations, such as wheelchair-accessible showers, as well as unique operational considerations, such as dealing with dementia and employing professional, live-in caregivers.
Durrett relies heavily on case studies.
Senior Cohousing describes three communities in Denmark, where this model has already seen success, and it also describes two emerging communities in the U.S.—ElderSpirit in Abingdon, Virginia, and Silver Sage in Boulder, Colorado—proving that senior cohousing can fit within an American context. The book goes beyond explaining and acclaiming the idea; it serves as a springboard for those who want to give the model a try, offering step-by-step advice for getting started.
Sustainable Community, written by Australian architect, scholar, and architectural photographer Graham Meltzer, Ph.D., is the fruit of a decade of studying and living in cohousing communities around the world. Beginning with the premise that social and environmental sustainability are inseparable, Meltzer proposes that community is the missing link to sustainability. “The quality of our social relationships and our ‘sense of community’ are major determinants of our capacity for pro-environmental behavioral change,” he says.
After describing the cohousing concept and outlining its history, Meltzer describes in great detail a dozen cohousing communities in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. He then quantifies the information gleaned from these communities, establishing, in his words, the “why, how, and by how much” of cohousing. Less user-friendly than
Sustainable Community will be most useful to readers who are interested in a more academic treatment of the topic. Informed by Meltzer’s experiences abroad,
Sustainable Community also offers a more international perspective than other cohousing resources.
Sustainable Community’s final two chapters move beyond the minutiae of case studies to describe why cohousing should matter to broader society. The first describes how community can lead to empowerment, which in turn can lead to social change. “The influence of cohousing will ultimately not be limited to that of the communities that get built,” posits Meltzer. “It has the potential to inform future human settlement way beyond the fuzzy edges of the cohousing movement itself.” The final chapter draws a “utopian vision” of a sustainable society based on the examples laid out in the book. “Ultimately,” says Meltzer, “the vast majority of human beings will either choose, learn, or
be forced to live radically differently in order to survive with others in a civilized manner.” Cohousing, he believes, will lead the way.
Published March 1, 2006