Re: Best size for Cohousing Community
From: Kay Argyle (
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2000 12:59:54 -0600 (MDT)
> 1.  How many households are in your present community?  How did you
decide upon that number?

Wasatch Commons has 26 households on 4.6 acres.  Personally I'd prefer more
space.  I wasn't a member when size was decided.

Regardless of the number and size of units you plan, the mix of household
types you succeed in recruiting is going to influence your community size. 
Most of our members bought a bigger unit than they "needed" based on family
size, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was true of most communities.  We
* eight single childless adults, 
* two pairs of roommates, 
* nine single parents, 
* four couples with kids, and 
* three childless or empty-nest couples;
* making thirteen households with kids (half the total), 
* of whom eight are only-children (to change soon in one case); and
* about 20 "bedrooms" being used for offices, etc.

Proportionally more households with children than without bailed out during
the planning stages.

> 2.  What do you believe would be the optimal number of households for a
cohousing community?

>From my experience of decision-making both in community meetings of 20 to
30 people, most of them wishy-washy about most issues, and in committee
meetings of four or five strong-minded enthusiasts, the dynamics are
different, but one isn't always easier than the other.

Decisions are faster in a smaller group.  Less time gets wasted by people
who didn't  read or understand the proposal.  On the other hand I think in
large groups people "go along" more -- it's easier to stick to your guns
when you only have to convince three people than when twenty don't see the
point of your objection (I seem to stand aside on more proposals than I
consense on, recently).  That's good when you're "the cheese" (as in "the
cheese stands alone"; my thanks to Gretchen Westlight of Cascadia for that
concept), not so good when it's someone else digging in their heels on your
proposal for no reason you understand or agree with.

Given experience with 26 households, if I had a choice between bigger or
smaller by, say, 6 households (20 or 32), I'd choose 20, or 32 split into
two subcommunities.

In a large community, communication has to be much more deliberate and
formal.  Word of mouth doesn't work above a small number.

There are people I interact with daily and there are people I hardly
interact with at all.  This is both good and bad -- some people I'd like to
know better, some people I'm just as happy not to have to deal with.

Layout can affect whether a community is "too large," "too small," or "just

Some of our community's teething problems can be set down to lack of
privacy.  Our design has fully common and fully private (inadequately set
off from fully public in some cases) and little intermediate -- interface
zones where people can feel they are on their household's territory yet
visible and available.  The depth of the front yard is important -- enough
but not too much (there've been studies on this).  EVERY unit needs a porch
big enough for a table and chairs where you can invite somebody to sit down
without inviting them into your house.  Our yard is too shallow, and the
porch is barely big enough for one chair.

The book "A Pattern Language" discusses intimacy gradients of public to
private space in architecture -- for instance, sidewalk, porch, front room,
kitchen, bedroom: you let people into one whom you don't invite into the
next, matching the intimacy of the relationship to the location.

Our long S-curve layout (with street access at either end) contributes to a
physical north vs. south division. (Plus we are currently concerned that
the residents of a new subdivision will use our community as a throughway
to get to the schools on the other side.)  I've wondered if a big square,
or cloverleafs of four to five households with a commons (a picnic table on
a lawn or patio) in each center, and the common house at the stem, would
have advantages.

Personally I think it's unnatural to expect someone to associate equally
with twenty or thirty other families.  I'd be interested to see an approach
that recognizes smaller groups as instinctive and allows for them (like the
cloverleaf configuration), while fostering interconnections of each subunit
into the larger group through, for instance, committee membership, rotating
work teams, and mutual interests (parenting, gardening).

Kay Argyle
Wasatch Commons

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