CO-HOUSING A New Way of Living
By Jerry Brownstein
The world around us is changing so rapidly that many people feel less connection to the traditional societal structures of government, family and religion. They are looking for new sources of communal support that more accurately reflect their evolving values, and the concept of co-housing is in perfect synch with that trend. In this alternative style of living people come together to actively participate in the design, construction and operation of their own neighbourhoods. While every co-housing resident is an independent homeowner, they have each made the conscious commitment to promote harmony in their community through shared values, mutual assistance and lasting friendship.
The first of these “living communities” originated in Denmark in the late 1960’s, but until recently their spread through the Western world had been very gradual. It now appears that this is an idea whose time has arrived because the growth of co-housing has accelerated greatly in recent years with many new projects being started. The creation of a new co-housing development begins when an enthusiastic core group of residents sets out to find the perfect location for their dream community. The next step is to work together with architects and builders to design an overall plan for the project that respects and enhances the natural beauty of the property. Most co-housing groups share a high level of environmental consciousness, so green materials and building techniques are employed as much as possible, and the houses are constructed so as to provide sustainable eco-friendly living.
At the heart of every co-housing community is the Common House featuring a large dining room where optional group meals are offered once or twice a week. In addition, the common house will typically include a library, exercise room, play areas for children, guest rooms, a workshop, laundry facilities, and whatever else a particular community might desire. The entire complex is managed by the residents themselves who meet regularly to resolve problems and develop policy for the community.
They also do much of the actual work to maintain and administer the property as every homeowner volunteers several hours of their time each month to perform communal tasks that are suited to their age and abilities. For example, the younger residents might volunteer to do some of the physical work, while older residents handle administrative chores or child care. Working together in this way for the common good creates a bond of trust among the residents, and gives rise to a shared sense that each one belongs to something greater than themselves.
To get a feeling for how all of this fits together let’s take a stroll through “Pueblo Hermoso” which is Ibiza’s first co-housing development. The common house is a magnificent original finca that has been lovingly restored, modernized and expanded to include all of the desired facilities whilst retaining its original charm and style. The expansive dining room looks out onto a beautiful courtyard where 36 homes of varying sizes are carefully clustered to blend seamlessly with the natural environment of trees, plants and flowers. Each house is cleverly oriented so that it feels integrated within the communal areas yet still maintains its own privacy.
Leaving the courtyard we follow the main pathway which leads to a beautiful pond that is nestled within the woods. But wait… on closer inspection you can see that this is actually a large natural swimming pool for the community. Its clean clear water is filtered by a purification process that uses no chemicals. We continue on the main path as it meanders lazily through lush terraced fields, and finally brings us to a large organic garden that is managed by the residents. All of the vegetables and herbs for the communal meals are grown here, and there is a substantial surplus that the residents share amongst themselves. This is in addition to the marvellous profusion of orange, lemon, almond, fig and fruit trees that abound on the property.
Our path circles back toward the Common House, and on the way we see more evidence that the community is eco-friendly: an array of solar panels that powers all of the common areas and a machine to process waste water so that it can be re-used for the plants. Arriving back at the main living area we can see that every house also has solar panels for electricity and a solar-powered charging station for electric cars. All of the homes have similar basic architecture, but with the personal touches of colour and style that each owner has added.
If you are interested in visiting “Pueblo Hermoso” then… I’m afraid you are out of luck because for the moment it exists only in my imagination. But isn’t it intriguing to think of how well this idea might work on our beloved Magic Island. We are living in a time when the winds of change are urging us to seek new ways of living. Co-housing gives people the opportunity to create a place where lives are simplified, the earth is respected, diversity is welcomed, and living in harmony with one’s neighbours comes naturally. That certainly sounds like a way of life that would resonate with many of our friends here on Ibiza. The motto of the co-housing movement sums it up with simple eloquence:
“To improve the World – one neighbourhood at a time”