Security in Urban Cohousing
From: Joani Blank (
Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1999 12:47:46 -0600 (MDT)
>So my question for this email is:  what security systems, if any, do
>you have built into your community design?  Alarm systems?
>Shutters?  Fences?  Bars on windows and/or doors?

Ann and TVCers,

Liz Stevenson's suggestions are great (as usual).  But I think it is
important to also point out the ways in which cohousing intrinsically
provides security, so that you should need considerably fewer security
measures than you might need  in a conventional condominium complex of the
same size.  

1. Number one is "all eyes on the common area." You all know how cohousing
professionals urge us to maximize individual units being open toward the
common space as a way of facilitating our interaction with one another.
Well that same openness--e.g., glass doors, big windows toward the common
space, etc., lets bad guys (and gals) know that we are looking out at them,
Even at night when many lights are out, one gets that feeling.  

2.  Secondly, especially at TVC where you will have so many people, all of
whom know one another, strangers will be instantly identifiable and can be
asked, "may I help you/" to see if they are on your property legitimately
or not. I understand that even in neighborhoods where people hardly know
one another, neighborhood watches are quite effective in keeping the lid on
criminal activity. In cohousing you have a built-in high degree of
neighborhood watchfulness.

3. Because there are so many of you, you may think that you don't have any
energy left over to build community with your neighbors in the blocks
surrounding you. They will watch your place being built and will be curious
about who is moving in. You may have had conflict already with some of them
who are fearful about increased traffic, etc.  It would be good to post
something at your site for the neighbors explaining who you are, and
perhaps updating it every couple of weeks to inform them about your
progress.  As long as the weather is nice, you may want to have site visits
not just for yourselves but for the surrounding neighbors during
construction when you can do so safely and (obviously) when the
construction workers are not there--like on a Sunday afternoon.  And/or
have teams of two or three people go door to door with an informative
progress report in their back pockets, just to say hello, and to invite
questions. (Take some kids with you, if you've got 'em). Be sure to include
your local merchants. If there is a local neighborhood association, get
active in it now.

4. Lights, lights, lights!  Your place should have some outdoor lights on
all night, but I actually think that motion detecting bright lights are
even more important. They help you feel more secure coming home at night,
and they scare away people who shouldn't be there, again because they know
that they can now be seen, even though there may be no one actually looking
at the moment.  

5.  Start with as little obvious security as you can: fences, gates, bars,
big alarm boxes, alarm system stickers on windows, etc. Gates and fences
and bars on first floor windows send the wrong message, and they will never
come down, even if they are not necessary. But if you need to install them
later, you always can.  

Doyle Street Cohousing is in a not-very-nice neighborhood. As most of you
know from the pictures in "the book" we have huge windows and glass doors
in the common house as well as our units. We have a double-wide driveway
with a dramatic arbor over it,  into our parking lot/patio (our only
outdoor space), and no gate at all. Our medium-sized kids play out there,
sometimes supervised only by our dog.  Many of us do not lock our unit
doors when we go down to the common house or across the street to the cafe.
And I for, one  seldom lock my car when it is in the lot in the
daytime--often even at night.  In seven years, we have had only one
car-break in our lot, and it was into a van that obviously had lots of
tools and sporting goods in it.  I think there have been two broken-window
car break-ins when cars were parked on the street. A couple of years ago,
our common house was broken into (window) and the TV and VCR were stolen.
We had no window-covering then,  they were right near the huge window the
table lamp was on.  The stuff was yelling "steal me!" and somebody did.
We're still surprised that no one heard the window breaking.  We still
leave the table lamp on most nights and draw the shades when we remember.
Finally, I can tell you that as a single woman, known to her family and
friends to be quite a "scaredy cat," I would never live in this
neighborhood, (even less likely in downtown Oakland where I'm moving) in
conventional housing, but I feel perfectly safe in cohousing. 

Joani Blank
Doyle Street and Old Oakland Cohousing 
Board of Trustees, The Cohousing Network
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