Intentional Community, Sustainability, and Green Building

To continue the discussion about cultural shifts and ‘green’, I’ve been trolling the Internet for stories about alternative housing.  In doing so, I came across this article about cohousing in Massachusetts.

Cohousing is otherwise known as intentional communities, where residents live independently, but share common areas, tools and amenities (like lawnmowers, and washers and dryers, for instance), and meet intentionally to decide on issues that affect communal living.  Residents meet for communal meals as well for community building purposes. They even take care of each other’s children in a ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ style.

But, is this model scalable across North American culture?

In recent times, it seems that many occupants of cohousing communities  turned to intentional community models due to the economy’s downward spiral.  One advantage of this model is taking the pressure off the burden of losing money on a property in the midst of a buyer’s market. But, many others turn to this model out of a concern for sustainability issues and a movement away from consumerism.

The advantages when it comes to sustainability are significant, including less land use for more people, a small factor that has a large impact on consumption of resources.  Many models of cohousing incorporate eco-village characteristics, like on-site organic farming, work-from-home careers and onsite employment to cut down on transportation, and extensive embrace and use of energy-saving technology like heat recovery systems and photovoltaic panels.

Cohousing seems like a sort of hyper-condo strata council model, with a social element built right in. But, another aspect is a deliberate lifestyle aspect toward sharing resources rather than duplicating their consumption in different households.  This originated in Europe, and has established itself in certain areas of the United States and Canada, most notably in University towns where social experiments and progressive ideas (and ideals) tend to thrive.  But, the gap between a European lifestyle and a North American one is pretty wide.

Culturally, I think there are a number of challenges, not in the least of which is privacy.  The small town dynamic of knowing everyone’s business (and having one’s own being known in equal measure) exists on a significant scale I would imagine.  Also, decisions that affect everyone, where someone always loses out works against the individualism that tends to permeate North American culture, perhaps more so than it does in Europe, where cohousing was conceived.

What are your thoughts? How do our cultural tendencies balance off the drive toward sustainable living in this context? Is cohousing inevitable as natural resources become more depleted into the future?   Let me know in the comments section.

You can read about one cohousing project in Ithaca at  You can learn more about cohousing in general at



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