Vertical cohousing in the city
From: Joani Blank (
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 1999 02:40:46 -0600
Hi Jose,

I've often imagined an urban cohousing community made in an urban apartment
building, but there would be two absolute requirements in my opinion. 

One is that the common house be on the ground floor, perhaps made out of
lobby space plus one or two units with one kitchen and all but bearing
walls removed and rearranged to suit uses decided on by the group.  If, by
chance the building had a good sized lobby like some former hotels, that
could be converted into the common house by the addition of a kitchen.
The point is that residents should be discouraged from going directly to
their apartments/condos without passing through the common space.  If the
elevator is right near the door, for example, you can put the mail boxes
deeper into the building to draw people into the common house at least once
a day.  Or you can serve appetizers in the common house that folks can grab
(and socialize a bit) on their way home from work, or after-school snacks
in the common house for kids. 

The second thing would be to find a way, if possible of opening up the
individual apartments onto the elevator lobby or corridor.  Unfortunately,
fire regulations will usually not allow operable windows to open onto
inside corridors, but non-operable ones  may be permitted with certain
restrictions. Dutch doors to the units would also be an option. Or doors
with glass in the top half or all the way. Of course the windows could be
covered sometimes for privacy, and the dutch door can be closed and secured
 at will, but residents would also have the option of being partially or
totally open (visually) to neighbors passing by. If none of this is
possible, you can establish an ethic of people keeping their unit doors
open when they are receptive to drop-ins from neighbors. Also, neighbors
can post kid's art work or indoor type decor like indoor plants or wall
decorations outside their units as well as inside.  And if there are nooks
and crannies or corners  in the corridors, there is an opportunity to place
a bookshelf with books to share, or a little table with a table lamp and a
couple of small chairs, or a small table fountain. 

Remember, you will know all the people who live there with you, so any
fears about being intruded on by strangers should be quickly allayed.
Common meals are indispensable in any cohousing community, in my opinion,
but are particularly so in a vertical urban community, partly because the
architecture is not (let's face it) ideal,  and partly because the group is
likely to be more scattered socially since there is so much other stuff
going on right at your feet, or very close by outside the walls of your

I'm interested to hear the response of others. 

Joani Blank
Doyle Street Cohousing and Old Oakland Cohousing (California)

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