In January of 2022, it was announced that a low-income housing development on Vancouver Island was waiting to be approved by the Saanich District Council. The project aims to provide low-income individuals from varying age-demographics with suitable and affordable housing while fostering “relationships and a community that otherwise would not likely exist.” The proposal is very reminiscent of a concept often referred to as “co-housing”, a trend in alternative living which can be traced back several decades.
What Is Co-Housing?
Originating in the 1960s in Denmark, co-housing is a concept in which groups of families will come together to share resources, living practices and traditions in order to build a community of families living together on a shared piece of land. An alternative to the standard model of one-family homes on a residential street, co-housing developments have always been a way of adapting to an unpredictable and often unaffordable housing market. As well as a way to raise families and foster a sense of community on a smaller scale than what large cities have to offer. There was a huge rise in this way of thinking after Danish writer, Bodil Grae, published an article in 1967 entitled, “Children Should Have 100 Parents”. A group of about fifty Danish families decided to join forces to create the communities which aligned with their ideals. After securing the land, these families went on to build some of the world’s first co-housing developments in the small villages surrounding Copenhagen, many of which are still around to this day.
The social aspects of co-housing alone contribute immensely to increased mental health and well-being of its community members. This can likely be attributed to multi-generational living, along with other things. Many of the elders living in these communities credit their health and longevity to living with people younger than them. “I’m convinced that if I lived with elderly people exclusively, I would degenerate…then we would just talk about our diseases and aches and pains” says one 70 year old resident of Saettedammen. This exchange goes both ways, benefitting the young people, as well as the parents trying to raise the families in between these two age groups.
WindSong Co-Housing located in Langley, British Columbia.
In a community like this, everyone takes care of everyone, including everyone’s children without question. This creates a safe and trusting environment for all. One which exposes young people to the realities of getting older and understanding the natural progression of human life. Something that otherwise happens to be quite “rare in society, is regular interactions with seniors. [The kids] are very aware of the whole process of people getting older and retiring and having physical problems, and dying”.
Multi-Generational Living and Skill Sharing
In Western society, we can tend to shrug off our elderly as being a burden. The members of society who cannot contribute anything in terms of economic growth are not exactly valued. Elderly people are not just the grandparents one visits every other weekend, they are valuable members of a society which relies on their wisdom and teachings in order to continue to grow. These are the people who hold the knowledge of basic and essential skills required to build community and nurture relationships with our neighbours. These are concepts and traditions which are not taught to us in the standard school system and must be passed down from previous generations in order to be kept alive. Some examples of tactile skills may include woodworking, blacksmithing, cooking, gardening, fishing, farming, harvesting plants and foods from the garden, and homebuilding. Even creative practices such as painting, making music, writing, poetry, pottery, sewing, dance, only to name a few.
Co-housing offers a win-win. All parties are benefitting from one another, creating a genuine sense of community and fostering healthy, skill sharing relationships within it. As well, it offers a solution to the affordable housing crisis being faced in most large cities and suburbs around the world. Could connecting with one another and building meaningful, intentional social interactions across generations be our solution to today’s problems?