Picture a neighborhood where doors can be left unlocked, where 20 families gather to eat in a common home twice a week, where solar panels help heat homes, where everyone relies on each other and determines the fate of the community together.
Sound like an Amish farm? Actually, this is life in more than 100 cohousing communities from Massachusetts to Washington state, places to live where neighborliness and environmental sustainability trump isolationism and consumption.
With smaller homes, shared yards and dining areas, community gardens, designated walking areas and other amenities, cohousing is a niche option for baby boomers and seniors who are looking for a community-based form of housing. Born in Denmark, the concept has attracted architects and homebuilders.
"You are absolutely not just getting a place to live," said Elinor Ginzler, senior vice president for livable communities at AARP. "It really is joining a way of life. There are usually expectations for community activity."
Cohousing is a type of intentional community, where like-minded residents get together years in advance to plan, design and build homes in a neighborhood where they will eventually live together. What makes it "cohousing" is the focus on mutual support and a sense of communal living that stresses the sharing of resources to have less of an environmental impact.
It's different from a homeowner's association mainly because there's no decision-making hierarchy or board — all important moves are made by consensus.
Cohousing startups must secure a location, then team up with architects to design the homes and developers to build them. Municipalities must sign off on zoning and other issues. In cohousing communities, residents usually own their homes.
The planning and building process takes a couple of years at least, experts say.
On the Net: The Cohousing Association of the United States: www.cohousing.org
Fellowship for Intentional Communities: http:directory.ic.org