shake n' bake cohousing
From: Buzz Harris (
Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2005 16:23:37 -0800 (PST)
Hi folks.

Here in eastern Massachusetts I have noticed several recent efforts at creating "cohousing without the pain" or what I have dubbed "shake n' bake' cohousing."

The idea, from what I have seen, is to jumpstart the process of creating a cohousing community by approaching the developer of an existing or almost-in-existence real estate development and prevailing upon him/her to morph the project into a cohousing community or a development with some aspects of a cohousing community. From my observations of three or four of these attempts in greater Boston and the North Shore of Massachusetts, it does not seem to work very well.

First, the design of the physical buildings in at least two of these cases made it clear that they were built as contemporary condo complexes rather than cohousing. I have seen - and loved - the designs of Jamaica Plain and Cambridge Cohousing, two urban cohousing communities here, and it is plain that they both designed their buildings with extensive, familiar cohousing common spaces. It would be necessary to engage in a fair amount of retrofitting to give such space to a typical condo complex. By no means impossible, but a bit of a pain and a fair expense, I am sure.

The harder thing to build, though, in a "shake n' bake" fashion, is a sense of community and trust among a group of people who want to live together. There is, yes, a lot of pain in the current process of building a cohousing group from the ground up, working things out with one another, hunting for land, designing, building, etc., but it does build community. I know; that is what we just started doing in Common Hearth Cohousing this last September, and my partner Noel and I used to be a part of Mosaic Commons.

Don't get me wrong - I like the idea of a simpler, less painful cohousing community creation process (sign me up!). I simply do not think that I have seen a successful approach to it yet, at least in my own part of the world. I remember reading in Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett's cohousing book about cohousing becoming a much more common type of housing in Denmark over time, with some public housing being created based on the model, etc. I am always inclined to learn from experience rather than reinventing things. Does anyone on the list know anything more substantive about an increase in cohousing's prevalence and, more to the point, any changes that have simplified the community creation process in countries where it has a longer history?

I do not expect magic formulae, but there are certainly institutional supports that would be useful: financial institutions and developers picking up the model themselves in thinking about community design and finance, governments shifting some public housing into a cohousing model, and perhaps others.


Common Hearth Cohousing
Eastern Massachusetts


Buzz Harris
Writer, activist, & political researcher

buzz [at] thesubnet [dot] net

'Market Macht Frei'


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