The new neighbours
Cohousing developments are thriving in B.C. and their residents, called “cohos,” are challenging notions of what family and sustainability mean
hen Susana Michaelis was looking to buy a house she knew what she didn’t want: a home in a subdivision that was car-dependent and cut off from neighbours. So in 1996, the Nanaimo boutique owner bought a condo and was looking forward to getting to know her neighbours. Twelve years later, residents still stop her in the halls and ask when she moved in.
“I thought I was going to have community and safety. I thought I was going to know my neighbours, but I ended up knowing no one. People just went in and out of cars and in and out of suites. There were no pets allowed, no children. We couldn’t even feed the birds,” says the 55-year-old, recalling how the strata made her remove a hummingbird feeder.
“It was a nice place to live if you wanted a lot of privacy, but not if you want community. We didn’t even recognize each other.”
For Michaelis, her husband, Chad Henderson, and their neighbours preparing to move in to the new Pacific Gardens cohousing complex in December, that’s about to change — radically.
Tired of the isolation of modern life, families and retirees — especially here in B.C. — have been fuelling a communal-living trend called “cohousing.”
Cohousing is far from a commune, but it’s more than just splitting a duplex with friends. It’s a planned-living movement that allows residents to create entirely new neighbourhoods from the ground up. They finance, build, design, construct and then run them. Residents have private homes, but share common areas: kitchens, dining rooms, workshops, lounges and yards.
Adherents call themselves “cohos” and see cohousing as a way of recapturing neighbourliness, increasing safety, creating a village to raise children, and helping restore the ecological balance and cohesion missing in society.
Michaelis says it’s taken 15 years to go from planning to moving in, but the struggle’s been worth it.
“People were very brave. It took a lot of courage. We had to take out loans, put mortgages on properties, take out life savings. We’ve done it all on our own and learned so much. There’s part of each of us in this development.”
The first cohousing community was envisioned in 1964 in Denmark. Architect Jan GudmandHoyer and a group of families designed a complex and bought