25 July, 2017
Around the world
Sharing communities, houses, lives and joy

Co-housing encourages people to share houses or communities to enhance social interaction and connection. In 1969, a group of Danish families wanted to try a new way of living incorporating more direct engagement and contact with neighbours. With such an aim in mind, they developed the world's first co-housing project: Sætterdammen, which remains an active and close-knit co-housing community to this day.

How it is today
Co-housing communities are developed in different forms across the world:

Denmark, where the concept was conceived, houses the world's largest co-housing community as nearly 8% of their population live in one. Private residences are built on a cooperatively owned land. People there share large common area and a common house building to foster closer ties between people. Regular activities include group dinners and meetings, where costs are covered by pooled communal financing contributed by each unit that lives there. According to the UK Cohousing Network, there are 200 senior co-housing schemes in the Netherlands alone. When members of the Older Women’s Co-housing group (Owch) move into their properties in the UK next year, they will become Britain’s first co-housing scheme specifically designed for and by older people. Similar projects in UK include London Countryside Housing Group (LoCo) , which is open to both men and women.

United States:
Similar co-housing prototype can be found in the US. Muir Commons in Davis, California is America's oldest co-housing community. It houses 26 private houses in a variety of family structures. Neighbours share a common house, garden and orchard where they can host different activities.

In Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, the concept exists in a slightly different form. Chronic land supply shortage has pushed up real estates price to a point where they are now amongst the world's highest, along with downtown London and New York City. The difficulty of building private houses stands alone, so rather than having individual residence buildings, co-housing complexes' rooms are rented and shared by a few different people, typically young students and professionals looking to save on rent. Common facilities such as theatres, dining area and reading rooms are present in such places. Currently at an experimental stage,Tai Tung Co-housing is Hong Kong's first co-housing project initiated by a non-governmental organization.

In South Africa, a Memel community in the Drakensberg Mountains with a strong emphasis on sustainability and environmental harmony. Steven Ablondi is a national board member of Co-housing Association who was in charge of building the Memel community. According to his interview with Meetup, the houses in the Memel community collect rainwater, generate their own electricity, treat their own waste so that they will be of almost no burden for the municipality. This is to be done to lesson or eliminate utility bills in the future. Apart from the houses with eco-designs, there is a permaculture garden which does not use municipal water nor electricity to produce organic vegetables. People who live in Memel can spend time in the garden and orchard with bird-watching opportunities as an ornithologist carries out his birding research on this land. Residents can even benefit from the ornithologist's knowledge should they wish to volunteer for the research programme.

"Everything that can possibly be designed to prevent individual loneliness will be incorporated," said Ablondi.

Why co-housing should be celebrated
As co-housing encourages social harmony, mutual support and sustainable housing, it may be the answer to many social problems such as social isolation, unaffordable housing and solitary elderly people.

As individuals or families in the community or co-housing complexes hang out in the common facilities, there is more room and opportunity for creative exchange. Emotional support through developing strong bonds with neighbours can also address the problem of widespread social isolation in this era where individualism and change in familial and social structure is seemingly making people grow more distant from one-another. Ageing population is also a worrisome issue but a co-housing community can offer the elderly stronger social support and healthier lives physically and mentally. Apart from that, with the Hong Kong prototype which individuals rent and share rooms, the financial difficulty of finding affordable housing in a decent environment could be alleviated.

Sustainable housing does not only mean financial sustainability, but also mental and psychological well-being. The concept of co-housing revert the trend of atomization to focusing more on sharing, unity and mutual support.

By: Angela Ng


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