The cohousing literature suggests that European and US cohousing communities have a better quality of life due to a heightened sense of well-being and a more affordable lifestyle (Marcus & Dovey, 1991; Meltzer, 2000; Brenton, 1998; Fromm, 1991).
For Sydney Cohousing, sustainability and affordability are imperative for establishing a successful community. We have had many discussions about the meaning of sustainability and affordability, how far are we willing to go in order to achieve it? Are we willing to drop some important environmentally sustainable feature (principles) in favour of economical or social sustainability for us to build our “dream” homes? And how vital will it be for us to adapt to or change the way we live or at least the way we dwell, to be able to have a better quality of life?
Sustainability is defined as "forms of progress that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."
Let’s look at it this way; putting aside our care for and responsibility to our global environment and focusing on our responsibility to our families or future families. We put a lot of love, energy and money into raising our kids, with hopes that they will become confident, healthy, considerate and happy individuals. In short, have a better future. And yet everything in our current environment does not allow us to provide what we wish to.
Here are only few examples; most of the foods that we buy in local food stores are full of additives, flavours, preservatives and sugar (unless we are able to afford to buy organic products, or grow or make it ourselves); our domestic environment is full of various materials, from carpets to children’s plastic toys to paints which “contain mutagenic materials, heavy metals, dangerous chemicals and dyes“[i], that are constantly emitting hazardous particles that we inhale. All this results in very serious health issues in kids and adults. There goes health...
The modern way of life for city dwellers is becoming more and more difficult. We hear about predictions of a 60% rise in electricity bills in the next 3 years, water rates won’t stay far behind. If we add fuel costs, rents and mortgages, the value of our money decreases, resulting in lower quality of life and our well being. Moreover, it will force us to work more only to maintain our current quality of life, leaving us with less time to spend with the family and much more stress. There goes quality of life...
As for the environment, well it is enough to see where we are today “the amount of resources we use (and buy), the waste we produce and the emissions we produce”[ii], to realise how ridiculously wasteful our consumer society is and the impact it has on the environment. There goes the future of our future generations...
In our discussions we’ve realised that although cohousing in its essence is social sustainability, and for some of the members the social aspect was their reason for joining, without the balance between the environmental & economical aspects as well, our community could not really exist and sustain itself.
Therefore the true meaning of social and affordable does not lay in how cheap we can build our homes, (unless alternative or innovative construction methods are adopted, it will most likely not be cheaper than buying a new house) or designing for social interaction. It lies in the adaptation of [ESD] environmentally sustainable design principles and [SCD] social contact design principles: collecting rain water, storm water, recycling grey water, if conditions allow, growing our own food, sharing transportation and amenities and by creating activities that encourage social interaction rather than imposing them, such as shared meals and more.
All of the above will allow us to significantly reduce our expenses, have more quality family time during the week, improve our social life, while preserving our privacy, increase our quality of life and well being.
The Cohousing model may be a magic bullet as a future housing type. It encourages pro-environmental behaviour; strong social networks; socially inclusivity; increases residents’ well-being; and provides affordable accommodation and lifestyle options. Cohousing also appears to fulfil the objectives and adopt similar design strategies as the New Urbanism movement for housing, which again is thought to produce more sustainable housing models.
Sydney Cohousing are committed to achieving and fulfilling these principals with hopes that inclusion and affordability will not undermine its sustainability credentials.
Williams, Jo(2005) 'Sun, surf and sustainable housing—cohousing, the Californian experience', International Planning Studies, 10: 2, p.8]