When the physical design of a neighborhood supports the social interaction of its residents, the possibilities are endless. At the most basic level, it draws residents out of their homes and into common spaces such as parks or gardens where interaction happens. At a more complex level, it fosters weekly common meals, interest groups and systems of support between neighbors.
The social and physical design of this project follows the model of cohousing, a construct developed in Denmark and brought to the United States in the 1970s. Residents of cohousing communities don't just know their next door neighbor, but in a very short time, know the entire neighborhood. The children meet at the play area after school while parents prepare dinner. Spontaneous playdates are the norm with safe spaces for play nestled within the neighborhood away from busy streets. Moms swap childcare and elders become surrogate grandparents. Spontaneous backyard barbecues celebrate summer and dinner groups form in the fall. A common meal is served twice a week. The community garden works on Saturday mornings and provides the community fresh produce during the growing season. Guitar lessons are given. A volleyball game breaks out. A meditation group is formed. There is coffee and conversation every Friday morning at the common house. The social possibilities are only limited by the time and interests of the residents. And participation is always optional.
How neighbors interact and communicate with one another is crucial to the well-being of the community. The systems and processes for decision-making and group communication will be established by the resident group. Legal documents will be in place to guide decisions regarding physical space, but residents will look to existing communities to inform and create a decision-making process that works best for the community.
Living in close proximity presents opportunity for connection, but also for disagreement. Dealing with conflict effectively requires residents that are willing to work though issues directly and in non-threatening ways. Conflict will arise and can cause temporary rifts between neighbors, but it can also bring forth attention to long-standing issues left unresolved. Residents are of the mentality that conflict can create positive change and creative solutions that makes the neighborhood more cohesive and functional. Resident groups often have members trained in facilitation, non-violent communication and hold trainings for personal growth and awareness to provide a common language for moving through conflict effectively. These are skills beneficial not just to the neighborhood, but ripple out in our daily lives and our interaction out in the world.
The fear of losing privacy is a frequent question that arises about cohousing's general design. Despite the somewhat misleading name, homes are built to be autonomous with full kitchens and facilities and the residents who occupy those homes tend to be respectful and understanding of the privacy of their neighbors. Cohousing tends to attract residents who understand their own personal needs for privacy, can communicate those boundaries with others, and can hear and understand their neighbor's needs as well.
For more detail regarding the social design of the neighborhood, view the Mission Statement and Guiding Principles established by the current resident group.