From Communes to Cohousing

Posted on May 7, 2012


For those Boomers who were too young in the hippie era to have grabbed their love beads, leapt into a VW van and headed to the nearest commune, or, for those Boomers who were intrigued with the idea of communes but not the reality, take heart: There is a housing revolution in the making, spearheaded by Boomers in their 50s and 60s.

If the notion of staying in your big house until you fall down the stairs and end up in a nursing home is your idea of life planning, or, if you see yourself moving from home to condo to a small room in an assisted living facility to a furnished walnut shell, you might not be interested in this.  But if you like your own space, and, if you love your grandchildren but would rather be surrounded by people who travel on something other than skateboards, listen up: The era of cohousing is upon us.

There is a movie that opened on Friday.  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Take a crumbling, grand hotel in Jaipur, India. Populate it with a group of fabulous, slightly (or more-than-slightly) eccentric older English actors who came from the UK to inhabit the place, sharing dining space, friendship, joys, sorrows, and love. Make no mistake. Clean the place up, bring it to the US, substitute Judi Dench with Ethel from Ohio, and this is one form of cohousing, plain and simple.

Cohousing communities offer some combination of independent living space and communal living.  The communal area can be a full kitchen/dining room or just a family room where people can gather when they please.  Sometimes, people who know each other already will create a cohousing community.  Other times, people buy into cohousing without knowing much about anyone else, other than that their neighbors will most likely appreciate NPR, Spanx, and face-to-face conversations.

One version of cohousing, the pocket community, is especially popular in the Pacific Northwest.  A developer buys land suitable for four homes and creates eight.  Homes are usually vintage-style, have front porches, low fences, and small front yards. Each house is separate but all homes lead to a common outdoor area. Access to each home is through the common space. The plan brings people together, encouraging both friendship and safety.

In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel film, all the residents of the hotel had to do was step outside the front door and would be in the middle of a large, teeming city. While most cohousing isn’t in areas as dense as New York, Chicago, or Jaipur, many are set in walking neighborhoods in urban areas, as opposed to suburbs. Most things you could want would be within easy walking distance, and, unlike The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel film, the area surrounding your residence would have sidewalks, traffic lights and Starbucks on every corner. So you can have your little enclave, yet walk to shops, restaurants, and entertainment.

Take a couple minutes and research cohousing.  Then take a couple hours and go see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  You’ll enjoy both.