Cohousing: Building innovation and sharing

August 11, 2014

By Marco Bolis

What is cohousing? It combines the advantages of traditional private residence with the advantages of shared spaces and common services.

At the gates of Milan there is a beautiful 1600s farmhouse next to the marvelous Chiaravalle Abbey. Thanks to a careful reclamation project, the farm will come to life again to host about 40 families in the Cohousing Chiaravalle project. Work will begin at the end of this summer, and more members are still welcome to join.

It is a lifestyle based on a model that combines the advantages of traditional private residence (your home) with the advantages of shared spaces and common services that facilitate economies of scale, social relations, expertise exchanges, mutual collaboration, the improvement of life quality and cost savings resulting from an intelligent management of whatever can be shared.

This collaborative context is one of the most interesting responses to today’s economic, social and environmental challenges. The concept of cohousing was created in the 60s, and in Italy it has been spreading for a few years.

The community has already achieved four cohousing projects. One of which has just started, and more are arising and in the planning stage.

In this global crisis scenario, we observe that these new forms of collaborative communities represent a practical response to a public welfare system which is more and more expensive and inefficient, and that only innovative cooperation between individuals can efficiently replace (for example, organizing and sharing services such as nurseries, low cost and high efficiency places for creativity and work, energy saving, shared mobility, small handcrafts, health care, etc.).

The Chiaravalle project, in particular, for its great technological and social innovation, will participate in the Horizon 2020 European call for tender on existing buildings’ recovery, offering an integrated approach to environmental issues, urban district design, resource consumption efficiency, interaction with inhabitants, and design tools for participative planning. We hope that the European Union recognizes the high value of the innovative work we pursue in Italy. This would allow us to achieve our total sustainability principle that we explain as the synergy between:

• Environmental sustainability

To produce the energy needed, to consume little and to reduce fixed costs by allocating resources to activities, places and services that cohousers themselves have chosen. This generates savings in operating costs and, therefore, high sustainability in cohousing life.

• Social sustainability

It means building a cooperative community, open to the neighborhood and to the town. The participation process in which future cohousers are involved since the initial stage of the project produces long-term results: the sense of belonging to a living community, learning to make decisions together, mutual assistance and openness to the outside world, creating activities and communal support services for everyday life.

• Economic sustainability

It has to do with the saving that the union and the contribution of cohousers can achieve. The application of collaborative models by future residents in participative planning makes life in cohousing full of opportunities (spaces and services that individuals could hardly afford) at quite affordable costs.

This article was originally published in Italian on Now How, a sustainability web magazine powered by Stantec in Italy.

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