RE: Definition of CoHousing, Christian CoHo, etc. . .
From: The CoHousing Company (
Date: Wed, 10 Sep 1997 20:35:36 -0500
I have been trying to follow COHOUSING-L as of late, but seems that by the
time I've read it, the discussion has moved on anyway. But alas, I can no
longer stay quiet with the recent discussion regarding a national
organization and then this Christian CoHousing discussion.

Chuck and I feel strongly about the need to clearly define the term
"cohousing." Cohousing is one form of community--not better or worst than
the many other types of communities. But it does mean something
specific--otherwise we certainly didn't need to make up a new word.

With a decade of cohousing work in North America behind us, we have a few
refinements to our original definition in the book. This is how we define

1. Participatory Process: Resident participate in the planning and design
of the development so that it directly responds to their needs. (Developer
initiated/driven projects are in no way a threat to this. In most cases
developer initiation may actualy make it easier for more people to
participate in the process--but a well designed, pedestrian-oriented
community with no resident involvement in the planning might be "cohousing
inspired" but not a cohousing community.)

2. Design: The physical design encourages a sense of community. (This one
is harder to define exactly what constitutes "encouraging a sense of
community," but rather than saying the cars MUST be at the periphery, I
would say residents must be involved in the decision (see above) and the
intent must be to create a "strong sense of community" with design as one
of the facilitators. Getting together to afford your private golf club does
not do it.)

3. Private homes--each with private kitchens--are supplemented by extensive
common facilities. Common facilities are designed for daily use--an
intergral part the community and supplement to the private homes.
(Cohousing is not a shared house. A shared house could be included in a
cohousing community but they are different community/housing types.)

4. Resident management after move-in.

5. Non-hierachial structure and decision-making: There are leadership
roles, but not leaders. The community is not dependent on any one person,
even though there is often  a "burning soul" that got the community off the
ground, and another that pulled together the financing, and another that
made sure you the group had babysitters for meetings, and another. . . . .
If your community has a leader that sets policy or establishes standards
unilaterally, it is not cohousing.

6. The community is not a primary income source for residents: there is no
shared community economy (ala Twin Oaks): If the community also provides
residents with their primary income, this is a significant change to the
dynamic between neighbors and defines another level of community beyond the
scope of cohousing.

I, for one, don't want to touch the question of exclusiveness as part of
the basic definition. When does a group become exclusive? When you are not
allowed to cook a steak in the common house? When I'm not allowed to smoke
on my own patio? When we encourage some and discourage others? When many
people can not afford the base costs to get in? Or when we state that one
of the community's core values is sustainbility or Christianity or Judism
or  . . . .? While I personally am interested in encouraging diversity in
my community I am not convinced that has to be part of the definition. I
can imagine an African-American cohousing community that is based on
creating a safe place to raise children with a strong cultural identity
that is generally lost and undervalued in our larger multicultural society.

I think that pretty well sums up the definition of cohousing. If you create
a community that fits all of the above and in addition has a emphasis on
Christian values, or living lightly on the land, or is age specific (i.e.
senior cohousing), while that may not be my specific interest and may not
be the "norm" for cohousing, I think it qualifies as a cohousing community.

On the otherhand, if you create a great community based on supporting
yourselves by giving workshops on sustainable living, or running a retreat
center as the primary source of income for residents, I fully support you
but it--by definition--is not a cohousing community. If the term cohousing
begins to be used for all types of communities it will lose its meaning and
the ability of groups to more clearly define what type of community they
are creating.

If we are to going to create a national organization--I think we need to be
very clear about our purpose and definitions. Do we want to create an
organization that encourages all types of communities--then let's NOT call
it The Cohousing whatever. . . call it The Community whatever. Or if we are
primarily interested in supporting, educating, etc. . . about cohousing,
while at the same time, supporting people to find/create community in
whatever way is best for them, then perhaps it is The Cohousing whatever. .

We welcome your comments . . . .I'm sure they will come . . .

In community,

Katie McCamant with input from Chuck Durrett

"Inventors" of the word "cohousing"
Doyle Street CoHousing Residents and founders of

The CoHousing Company
"Architectural Design and Consulting Services towards the formation of
CoHousing Communities"
email: coho [at]
web site:
tel. 510-549-9980, fax 510-549-2140
1250 Addison St. #113
Berkeley, CA 94702

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