Cohousing, a true path to sustainable living

I recently met with Doris Chevron over coffee to talk cohousing.  Doris, a Sharon resident and former editor-at-large at Architectural Digest, is part of a growing group of local residents meeting with me monthly to discuss how cohousing could be a good housing option in our Northwest Corner. As an architect, I believe cohousing can address some of our current housing needs, while bringing social connections, shared resources, and caring support right outside the front door. 

Over the last year I’ve visited over a dozen cohousing neighborhoods across the country. Imagine neighborhoods that are custom designed, welcoming, and sustainable, where the intentional community shines strong. One of my main interests is how cohousing designs promote spontaneous interaction while respecting the residents’ need for solitude. The privately owned units are tightly arranged and smaller than typical houses but the generous common amenities become extensions of the home. A large common house is a main cohousing feature and always the active hub of the neighborhood. 

Two years ago, my dear friend, the late Cynthia Conklin of Sharon, asked me to help her introduce cohousing to the Northwest Corner. While Cynthia’s life was busy with many friends, she lived alone and wanted to live in community. Since her passing in August 2017, I’ve been speaking about cohousing to anyone who would listen — planners, housing advocates, farmers with extra acres to sell, realtors, and interested residents. 

This past August, I joined a select professional program called 500 Communities, led by Kathryn McCamant, an expert in cohousing development and one of the original architects who introduced this Danish housing model to North America in the late 1980s. Since then, 148 cohousing communities have been completed across the country and units within rarely become available. The Cohousing Association of the United States notes that 17 more are currently under construction, 35 groups have acquired land and 105 are in some stage of formation. In our area, Massachusetts is a hub for cohousing. I can share that over the course of one very long day, it’s possible to tour half of the state’s 14 established communities. My early morning started at Pioneer Valley Cohousing in North Amherst, established 1994, and traveling east, my last stop was Jamaica Plain Cohousing in Boston, established 2005. In all these visits, I’ve found the residents warm and informative on all the benefits of living in cohousing.  

Our Northwest Corner group has visited nearby cohousing communities under construction. Serena Granbery, an art teacher who lives in Salisbury, visited Village Hill Cohousing, a 28-unit neighborhood being built in Northampton, Mass. Serena was joined by Patricia Decker, a photographer from Salisbury and Gaye Parise, a gardener from Amenia, in a visit to Connecticut’s first cohousing community, a 30-unit neighborhood called Rocky Corner Cohousing being built outside New Haven. Gaye, Patricia and Serena reported back on Rocky Corner’s sustainably planned permaculture, the sociocracy decision process, and the affordable units achieved through state subsidies. While most of the country’s cohousing units are market rate, there are various methods to keep affordability a top priority. 

Since cohousing is designed, owned, and managed by the residents, the mission and vibe of the potential Northwest Corner neighborhood depends on the growth and makeup of the resident group.  Are you interested in a custom neighborhood of environmentally responsible homes and common spaces? Doris Chevron and her husband Juergen Kalwa, a video journalist, want to be part of the creative process for their future home and neighborhood. They, like many cohousers, are interested in sustainable design, which is inherent in cohousing with clustered buildings, small unit sizes and shared resources. 

Cohousing groups typically make “green” choices too with property selection, solar orientation, air-tight building envelopes, highly efficient mechanical systems and environmentally sound materials. Perhaps you are a senior, wanting to downsize and age in place with friends next door; or, a young parent, knowing it takes a village and looking for a neighborhood where people of all ages play and learn together. For both groups, cohousing has positive wide-ranging and long-term impacts.

I offer a brief cohousing introduction for newcomers Thursdays, once a month, 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Scoville Library in Salisbury, followed by relevant discussion. RSVP at www.cohousing.group or email me at lg@lynngaffney.com.


Lynn Gaffney is a former Sharon resident, an architect, a certified passive house designer, and a cohousing professional based in Brooklyn. Lynn’s new venture, Cohousing Opportunities Group, is a cohousing development resource, especially for Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.