This article first appeared on Cohousing USA’s blog here. By Charles Durrett.
The last nails are being hammered in. Fresh paint still clings to the damp air. In Port Townsend, Washington, residents of the newly-built Quimper Village Senior Cohousing eagerly await moving into the neighborhood that they co-designed. The neighborhood that not only symbolizes their desire to take an active role in their aging scenario, but also their commitment to supporting, listening to, and living in community with each other.
Communities like Quimper Village are cropping up around the world as older adults are discovering the value of taking control of their lives. Socially, financially, and environmentally it makes sense to live near people who care about you, but until you can work with others to create this scenario, it is just a good idea and nothing else. Senior cohousing communities, and groups inspired by cohousing, grow from that need to move things forward into a collective of organized and forward-thinking activists. The result far exceeds expectations, in many cases.
Oakcreek Community Senior Cohousing in Stillwater, OK is
a good example of a neighborhood where people spend more time on their front porch talking with their neighbors than in their private home. It happens naturally, because the group works together to design their community based on the values they create as a team.
Being organized is being in control. While senior living facilities are taking steps to support their residents more than ever before, they still cannot offer what senior cohousing groups can. One way to begin this process is by taking Study Group 1, or SG1, (discussed below and in Chapter 7 of The Senior Cohousing Handbook: A Community Approach to Independent Living ). Participants recognize that they actually have a lot of say in their aging scenario and only in community can they express what they want in a proactive way. In SG1, facilitators take groups through various aspects of their “getting older” scenarios. In a period of 10 weeks, the group discusses how they, as a consortium, can be the solution, planning for their years ahead so when the time comes, they are supported by people they know and trust.
After SG1, senior cohousing groups go through a series of workshops which develop cohesiveness and clarity within, along with setting expectations and later co-designing the community of their dreams. It is important to note at this point that none of this can happen without the group being on the same page and out of denial. Cohousing communities aren’t created by one visionary, but by many who share in the vision and, through consensus and being prepared, can decide what is best for all.
What is Senior Cohousing?
Senior cohousing communities like Quimper Village are being built across the U.S. The U.K., Europe, and Canada have also seen an upsurge in cohousing groups coming together, and other countries are not far behind. The concept originated in Denmark in the latter part of the 20th century as older adults began voicing their desire to live independently, in community.
Senior cohousing is a type of community for adults 55 and older that are:
1. Co-created and co-managed;
2. Physical design and orientation that encourages community interaction and supports aging in place including extensive common facilities and private homes;
3. Regular common meals;
4. Mutual support systems that include interdependence during illness and convalescence;
5. Continued “saging” and embracing the aging process;
6. Decisions based on consensus;
7. No shared income and community is not a source of income for members.
From the outside, senior cohousing has many different shapes. Some are suburban while others are in high-density cities. For example, Oakcreek Cohousing in Stillwater, Oklahoma consists of 24 private homes on 7.5 acres, whereas Mountain View Cohousing, in Mountain View, California has 19 units on 0.9 acres. Each has unique qualities within the neighborhood, but all adhere to the proven criteria that make up senior cohousing—and for good reason.
While “cohousing-like” developments are being erected (developer-designed senior housing with common amenities is a common example,) these projects tend not to work as efficiently as cohousing, from a community standpoint. The cohousing process is one that requires the input of the group from the start. It has been developed over decades and has proven to be effective in creating trust and dependability within the group. This topic has gained a lot of traction lately as more people are preferring community models over single-family homes, which is why it is more important than ever that people know what works and what doesn’t. It is important to clearly define what cohousing is instead of reinventing the wheel if it is to continue to have the same positive results generation after generation.
Some of the natural results of going through the design process are that seniors learn to work together, to identify and advocate for their needs, and to listen to one another. On several occasions, senior cohousing residents take more active roles in their larger community, once they’ve completed their own senior cohousing projects. Pat Darlington of Oakcreek Cohousing, for example, has taken up a position in the city council. Needless to say, senior cohousing not only takes care of providing homes for older adults, it also inspires senior cohousing members to live life to the fullest.
With the number of people over 65 projected to double in the next 20 years, it is more important than ever to think ahead and plan for one’s own aging scenario. In addition, the needs and wants of seniors are changing, and societies across the globe must respond in ways that will support their needs.
Working together: what’s in it for me?
The phrase, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” rings strong for many, especially in the U.S. From an early age, we are taught to be strong and that independence equals success. While this can be useful in some cases, the more appropriate (or perhaps sustainable) life lesson is to live among those who you care about, those who listen to and learn from, and those who inspire you to be a better person.
When creating a cohousing community, no doubt members run into disagreements. Through mediation and consensus-based decision-making (techniques learned early on in the cohousing process,) the result will not only be a community that functions physically but socially as well because neighbors have space to voice their needs and wants without being ridiculed. That’s why being organized from the start is so important. Working together is at the core of senior cohousing. From idea to reality, the process is very involved and requires that everyone is up for thinking like a community.
The result of having a community that responds in-line with the values of each individual is success from a macro and micro point-of-view. Residents know they can trust one-another and that their voice is being heard. Furthermore, being included in something bigger increases self-efficacy and inspires each member to live more fully.
Fears and misconceptions
Many people fear getting older because they equate it with being alone and being rendered useless. In senior cohousing, you have a good balance of social time and privacy. It’s like being in the college dorms again, without the shared bathroom and bad food. Together with your community you have fun, share experiences, plan outings, support each other, and give each other space when needed. Fears can paralyze us or cower us into giving up control, which is why entering into a collaborative evaluation like SG1 is the first step to getting the community of your dreams built.