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Let’s Hear From An Expert: Kathryn McCamant, Cohousing Resident and Developer

Published on 01/28/2016

With your company, CoHousing Solutions, you help groups form collaborative neighborhoods. What does cohousing entail?

Cohousing neighborhoods are collaborative communities of 12-35 homes where you really know your neighbors and agree that together you can create more than you can alone.

By clustering the homes (complete homes, each with their own kitchens), building extensive common facilities, and keeping cars at the periphery, people have more opportunities to get to know each other and work together to support a more socially and environmentally sustainable lifestyle.

Cohousing neighborhoods are often started by homebuyers, who are working to create a custom neighborhood that meets their specific goals and priorities.

Cohousing communities are created in all types of environments. Some are 4-story urban condominiums, many are townhouse developments, and others are more rural with lots of land. Cohousing is great for families raising kids, singles and seniors…anyone who values being part of a caring community that also respects desire our individual privacy.

20121122TgivingCooks03

Wolf Creek Lodge residents share a toast as they prepare Thanksgiving Dinner in the common house

 

What benefits does cohousing provide for those entering midlife and beyond?

While most of us appreciate the independence and freedom of contemporary life, where women can have interesting careers, live independently, and generally have a wealth of options our mothers couldn’t even imagine, in that process we have also lost the community of proximity and the support of nearby extended family.

These days many of us have created our own community of choice—self-selected “tribes” to share holidays and special occasions with, rather than always depending on blood family—but we depend on our cars to connect us. When we suddenly find ourselves unable to drive, whether because of illness or aging, we can quickly go from a very busy life to immense isolation. Cohousing provides a way to create a strong community of proximity, right out your front door, while still allowing us to live active and independent lives in the city or region of our choice.

 

At Nevada City Cohousing, the 2-4 bedroom townhomes face each other across the walkway. By keeping cars at the periphery, there is more neighborly space for gardens and kids playing between the homes.

 

What are some examples of communities you’ve helped establish, that have a good number of midlife or older residents?

We now have two types of cohousing neighbors: intergenerational communities for people of all ages and communities designed for active adults to age in place.

I live in the first type, Nevada City Cohousing in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California, a 34-unit community of 2-4-bedroom townhomes. My neighbors range from 2 years old to 85. I know them all on a first name basis. We share community dinners in our common house several nights a week, as well as the work of maintaining the landscape and common buildings. Because we know each other so well, and live close by, it’s easy to offer support to a neighbor who needs help with childcare or needs a ride to the doctor.

I also developed Wolf Creek Lodge in Grass Valley, CA, a community of 30 single-story homes that were specifically designed for aging. Wolf Creek Lodge residents range in age from 56 to 90 years old. In addition to community dinners several nights a week, they have the 8 am coffee hour and generally support each other whether that might be going to the movies together or buying groceries for a neighbor rehabbing from surgery.

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Wolf Creek Lodge is a cohousing community of 30 small condominiums and extensive common facilities designed for active adults.

 

What makes a cohousing community work, and its residents thrive?

There is no staff in a cohousing community. As homebuyers, we actively participate in the management and upkeep of our community. By working together, we get to know each other and build close relationships. I don’t just have a wonderful home, but I am also part of a larger community that I can count on to celebrate the good times, share the rituals of life transitions, and be there when I might need help. The size of cohousing communities is also critical to their social functioning. Most cohousing communities are fewer than 35 homes so that it is possible to really know everyone.

To live in community, you need to value what you gain by collaborating with others. It requires the ability for give-and-take and a willingness to seek the best solution for the community as whole, not just one person’s brilliant idea. If you are someone who likes strict rules and hierarchy, you probably would not enjoy living in community.

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Nevada City Cohousing residents celebrate during their annual Harvest Festival with dancing for all ages.

 

How did you develop a passion for cohousing? What services do you provide to facilitate cohousing communities?

My husband and business partner, Charles Durrett, and I first came across cohousing when we were young architecture students studying in Denmark. We were both personally and professionally intrigued with the concept, and young and naïve enough to decide to write our first book: Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves Having lived most of the last twenty years in community—including raising our daughter in two communities, one very urban and now one in the small town of Nevada City—has only strengthened my passion for the many advantages of living this way.

My firm, CoHousing Solutions, offers consulting services to help develop and build these communities, leveraging the lessons garnered from the last three decades of cohousing development. I work with communities all over the country, often from the earliest stages of someone just thinking about launching a new community.

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For those interested in cohousing, what resources do you suggest?

If you’re interested in cohousing, I recommend you read the books, peruse the articles and videos on my website, and that of the cohousing association to find out if it might be a good housing option for you. A much simpler option than starting your own community is buying into an existing or already forming community; you can explore those options on the cohousing.org website, which has an excellent directory of all the communities in the country.

Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communitiess by Kathryn McCamant

The Senior Cohousing Handbook: A Community Approach to Independent Living, 2nd Edition by Charles Durrett

Not Your Mother’s Retirement; Secrets for Today’s Women to Live Fully During the Best Years of Lifeedited by Mark Chimsky

The Cohousing Association of the US

 

Contact Kathryn McCamant at Info@cohousing-solutions.com or 530-478-1970

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Katie leads the CoHousing Solutions team, bringing the depth and diversity of her experience as an architect, developer, and cohousing resident to assist all her clients. She is based in the Sierra Foothills in Nevada City, California.

“What drives me is the desire to develop neighborhood models where we can live a better “good life” while reducing our impact on the earth’s limited resources. Americans currently use 25% of the world’s energy while we make up only 5% of the world population. If we are to “save the world,” we must strive for more sustainable market-driven models that are attractive to the American middle class.”

A licensed architect and co-author of the book, Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, Katie founded McCamant & Durrett Architects and The CoHousing Company with her husband, Charles Durrett, in 1987. Since then, Katie has designed and developed dozens of cohousing communities. In addition to pioneering cohousing in North America, Kathryn has designed a variety of other building types, including a sustainably designed (LEED certified) church and numerous affordable housing communities. For the last decade, she has focused on development, working on all aspects of developing cohousing from project kick-off to facilitating planning approvals, from contractor selection and construction management to advising on marketing and community policies after move-in.

In 2011, Katie co-authored Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities, which documents the lessons of two decades of creating cohousing communities in North American. She has also authored articles and chapters for other books, including most recently a chapter for Not Your Mother’s Retirement; Secrets for Today’s Women to Live Fully During the Best Years of Life. She often lectures and gives workshops of various aspects of sustainable development. She was a founding board member of The Cohousing Association of the United States and co-chaired several of their national conferences. She has been recognized as a Dwell Leader by Dwell Magazine, and by The Cohousing Association. Her projects have won numerous awards.

Kathryn graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture at UC Berkeley and did her graduate work at the Royal Academy of Art and Architecture in Copenhagen, Denmark. After living in Doyle Street Cohousing in Emeryville, California for 12 years, she now lives at Nevada City Cohousing.

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8 Comments

  1. Helene Cohen Bludman

    What a fascinating concept! Ii wonder if any of these communities exist in my area (northeast USA). I can see many benefits to living in a cohousing community. My husband and I are happy where we are for now, but I have started to think about downsizing at some point.

    Reply
    • Hélène

      My husband’s dream is to set up a “compound” with our closest friends, where our kids and their kids could also come to visit. I am not as sure about it so we’ll see… Thanks for reading Helene!

      Reply
  2. Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com

    Hi Helene! Well great minds must think alike because I have just written an article about cohousing that will go live on my blog tomorrow. I think the idea is intriguing and offers so many benefits for people as they age. I’m planning to get around and tour as many as I can here in the western U.S. to see if it is an option for my husband and myself. Thanks for sharing this helpful interview.

    Reply
    • Hélène

      So intriguing, I agree. Love that you’re actually checking out these communities, should be a great exploration. Can’t wait to read your article, thanks for letting me know.

      Reply
  3. Carol Cassara

    That’s interesting. About 50 plus years ago a new California “religion” started. It was more on the secular side, although it really was a religion, and it called for many of these activities. It was called Creative Initiative and then morphed into a group called Beyond War.

    Reply
    • Hélène

      Fascinating! Had no idea… Thanks for reading Carol!

      Reply
  4. David York

    ‘you need to value what you gain by collaborating with others’ – so so true and so so cohousing! There are many people interested in cohousing around the world for whom the McCamant & Durrett book provided an inspirational beginning. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hélène

      Yes this movement definitely seems to have some traction, and you’re right in the thick of it yourself. Thanks for reading!

      Reply

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