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The Hot New Millennial Housing Trend Is a Repeat of the Middle Ages

(Source: theatlantic.com)

Developers are starting to see how appealing cohousing is to some people. Commonspace, for instance, is a company that designs and runs apartments consisting of about 20 small units around a common area occupied mostly by young and single people, sort of like a dorm for adults. The first distinctive cohousing setup in the U.S. was built by developers 25 years ago, but the concept hasn’t gained much traction, as there are now only 160 American cohousing communities built from scratch. Perhaps that will change as developers court young people who envision a lifestyle different than the one they’ve inherited from the 20th century.

Among other things, many residents are drawn to the company that cohousing offers, which DePaulo says is the main reason people choose to live like this. Cohousing can feel a bit like summer camp, with people always around to talk to and spend time with. But it also provides deep support systems. “If someone is hospitalized, cohousing friends are there to visit,” writes DePaulo. “When a cohouser is ailing at home, neighbors show up with chicken soup and the latest news from the community.”

One anthropologist DePaulo interviewed decided to live with more people after being unhappy on her own, even though her boyfriend lived nearby and she had some friends in her building. “I would come home and cry,” Leanna Wolfe, the anthropologist, told DePaulo. “I was just so lonely.” She wasn’t the only one: Americans have fewer close friends than they used to. Since 1985, the number of Americans who have no friends to confide in has tripled, reported a 2006 American Sociological Review study.

In addition to the sense of community it builds, there’s an obvious upside to shared living: saving time and money. In a typical American house or apartment, individuals or small families are in charge of each meal themselves. But cohousing communities can divide up cooking schedules. Many residents only cook once a week and come home to cooked meals everyday.

One of cohousing’s biggest draws is that it eases the burdens of child-rearing. It takes a village to raise a child, as the saying goes, and most modern-day parents could use the help. Among the Efe, a group of hunter-gatherers in the Congo, some infants more than three weeks old spend 80 percent of their time with someone other than their mothers. By comparison, the majority of American communities are designed to keep people apart. “I like to think of dwellings as people: If a group of people wanted to get to know each other, they would not line up facing each other in two straight, rigid rows, too far apart to really see anyone else clearly,” writes DePaulo. “That’s how houses are arranged on many conventional streets.” Under other housing models, a village really could raise a child.

DePaulo argues that it would be particularly helpful to integrate cohousing into public-housing policy. “People who work on housing for the poor have to deal with people’s whole lives,” she argues in her book. “They can’t just give them a place to live and forget about them.” Keeping rent affordable is the foremost concern for people in charge of managing public housing, but cohousing can fill in other difficulties of living without much money: Splitting cooking, childcare, and household expenses can save lots of time and money. For these reasons and others, Danish and Swedish governments have long supported cohousing. American governments (especially local ones) could do the same, perhaps by converting abandoned hotels into mixed-income cohousing, building affordable shared-living buildings, or even just by connecting interested locals and helping them refashion their neighborhoods into something that better fosters community.

More Info: theatlantic.com

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