By Rayni Joan

Cohousing is a form of intentional community begun in Denmark in the 1970's and now popular worldwide. What makes cohousing different from typical housing developments is the collaborative planning of those who intend to live there, the clustered nature of the private homes, and the addition of centrally located common-space for shared meals and other group activities. In cohousing, residents feel a return to the same kind of old-fashioned sense of community in which quilting bees, barn-raisings, and holiday gatherings were once the norm.

Of course, today cohousing residents are more likely to have bake sales, community gardens, and fund-raising car washes than any of those outdated activities. But the feeling of living in a "village" is what still comes through.

To form a new cohousing community, interested individuals begin by reaching out to the greater community through advertisements, posters, and other publicity. Early meetings involve chatting about goals and values with the intention of developing a core group of families and individuals who share common goals and values, and who have the financial wherewithal to purchase land and build homes. Cohousing communities tend to attract people who care about the environment, want to know their neighbors, live sustainably, use cars sparingly, and grow organic food. Families enjoy knowing their children can play outdoors safely under the watchful eyes of neighbors who care.

Once a core group forms, outreach continues until there's a sense of cohesiveness. Separate committees form to carry out necessary functions like exploring available sites, architects, builders, and financing. Members may organize field trips to visit existing cohousing communities, or do other forms of research to get ideas about what they like and dislike, and to learn from others' cohousing experiences.

In Oceano, California, for instance, some members of the Tierra Nueva Cohousing community are quick to share that their original plan for small living rooms in the private homes didn't work out as well as expected. They accepted designs with small living rooms specifically because they thought most people would spend lots of time in the common spaces, and thus have no need of a large living room at home. But it turned out that in-home gatherings also became popular among cohousers, and this pasttime is hampered by the close quarters.

In the United States, many scores of successful cohousing communities are up and running in many different parts of the country. With lower than normal turnover, units in existing cohousing are rarely available, but when they do come on the market, they are quickly snapped up. People seeking to get into cohousing pore over the listings on, a site with a treasure of varied information about cohousing.

{Rayni Joan is a member of Santa Monica Cohousing. For more info, email her at or go to the website}