When I moved to the Metro area I bought a house that sits on almost half an acre in a first ring suburb. I also bought a newer car to save on gas for my 30 minute commute to work in another suburban town. The longer I spent in my daily commute, the more I hated where I was living. I realized everything about my way of life was contrary to being an urban planner. Density and multi-modal transportation is what I preach, but I was living the complete opposite. I decided I needed to start living like a planner.
I took a job working in downtown Minneapolis where I now bike most days to work, but take the bus when it's raining too much (although I have chanced it many times and ended up soaked by the time I made it home). I feel better because I am not contributing to traffic congestion, release of greenhouse gases, and I am multitasking by getting my daily exercise in. In about a month I am moving to a house in the Northeast neighborhood of Minneapolis. The lot is only about 5,000 square feet which can be mowed with a manual push mower, the kind that was used before gas became so readily available (another built in work out each week).
While this is a step in the direction of practicing what I preach, other long time planners have taken it to the next level. A group in Portland, Oregon decided in 2005 that they were going to create a cohousing community to live out their retirement. I may be in an urban, bikeble, walkable neighborhood with higher density, but I have yet to jump into such a progressive planning idea.
Cohousing is not a new trend. Fifty Danish families led the way back in 1967 after being inspired by Bodil Graee's "Children Should Have One Hundred Parents." The first American instance of a cohousing community came in 1979 in Portland, Oregon followed in 1991 by the opening of Muir Commons in Davis, California. Today about 164 cohousing communities operate in the U.S. and about 132 are in the planning stage.
The concept of cohousing revolves around the idea of intentional communities and a supportive environment. Residents take part in the design and operation of their neighborhood. The homes are arranged around a central gathering space and residents share common facilities. Neighbors build relationships and help one another with day to day tasks. The cohousing community is an "innovative and sustainable answers to today’s environmental and social problems."
Not only do cohousing arrangements create better neighborhoods and community involvement, they also allow for more density. The Ankeny Row cohousing community in Portland has 5 two-story townhouses on a 12,00 square foot lot. That comes to about 18 units per acre. Most suburban neighborhoods achieve about 4 units per acre, a drastically lower density than a cohousing community.
The cohousing lifestyle is not for everyone. Some people may not like the limited privacy and frequent interaction (I could never picture my dad living in a cohousing community). Cohousing has many benefits though, which is why they are increasing in number throughout the U.S. There may even come a day when I decide its time to live like planner and create my own cohousing community in Minneapolis.