Does the following description appeal to you? “Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods. Cohousing residents are consciously committed to living as a community. The physical design encourages both social contact and individual space. Private homes contain all the features of conventional homes, but residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as open space, courtyards, a playground and a common house.” This quote, from www.cohousing.org, reflects a lifestyle choice in the United States, Canada, and many other countries. Starting in Denmark in the 1960s, cohousing became popular here in the 1980s when architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, in the journal In Context, described characteristics of cohousing:

1. Participatory process: Residents organize and participate in the planning and design process for the community and are responsible as a group for all final decisions.

2. Intentional neighborhood design. The physical design itself encourages a strong sense of community.

3. Extensive common facilities. The common areas (such as play areas for children, libraries, dining areas, the laundry) are designed for daily use and supplement private living space.

4. Complete and equal resident management: Residents – renters and owners alike – manage and do much of the work in the community, and make decisions about common concerns at community meetings. Work performed by residents is usually considered a contribution, rather than a paid activity.

Who might consider this type of lifestyle? (Note that cohousing is very different from the communes popularized by the press in the mid-1960s.) The average cohousing community is fairly small, often comprised of approximately 10 – 50 residences. Thus, close-knit living would obviously have to be an attraction for you. In addition, if you enjoy sharing activities such as dining and laundry, really want to get to know your neighbors, and like the idea of being strongly involved in the decision-making process of shaping your community, cohousing might be for you. People who are highly conscious of protecting the environment are also often attracted to this lifestyle. New cohousing communities, for active adults 55 and older, are starting to appear in the United States.

There are more than 200 cohousing communities in the United States that are in the process of forming, under construction, completed, or being retrofitted (creatively converting existing homes and their land to fit the cohousing ideal).

Check out www.cohousing.org to explore cohousing communities, subscribe to the free online magazine, Cohousing, and investigate how to become a member of a cohousing community. Long hair and love beads not required!

Jan Cullinane is the co-author of The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale, 2007). She gives seminars on the (primarily) non-financial aspects of retirement through her company, "Retirement Living from A to Z."