Cohousing meets the New Urbanism
ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    DEC. 1, 2000
Denver infill development is the first of its kind. The first cohousing community built as part of a traditional neighborhood development broke ground in Denver, Colorado, in October. Hearthstone, a 33-unit cohousing project on 1.6 acres, will be part of the 30-acre Highland Gardens Village, an infill neighborhood on the site of a former amusement park. Cohousing, a movement which began in Denmark, shares with the New Urbanism the goal of creating a more vibrant community life, but the strategies of these two concepts are very different. The New Urbanism focuses on building mixed-use neighborhoods mostly based on traditional urban typologies. Beyond design features that encourage interaction — e.g. front porches and well-defined streets — there is no set social structure in a new urbanist neighborhood. In cohousing, the social structure is predetermined. A group of families own their own homes but participate in social activities centered in a common house, and help to design and manage their “village.” Cohousing communities consist of small groups of homes (the largest US cohousing village is 67 units) grouped around the community building. Most cohousing communities are focused inward — units face a shared pedestrian lane that terminates at the community building. There are 51 cohousing communities built in the US, according to CoHousing, the journal of the nonprofit Cohousing Network. James Leach of Wonderland Hill Development Co. of Boulder, Colorado, the nation’s leading cohousing developer and the builder of Hearthstone, believes that the New Urbanism and cohousing are compatible. Hearthstone’s design takes an unusual — but not unprecedented — pattern. Leach used as a model a cohousing community called Southside Park, built within an existing neighborhood in Sacramento. “They designed and built houses right on the street with front porches, and used the interior area for the cohousing common facilities,” says Leach. “The private part of the house, with the living room, is on the front porch side, while the kitchen is on the [cohousing] community side. It’s really a very successful architectural model.” Hearthstone units are similarly designed. Leach says that he and Hearthstone’s future residents are excited about the collaboration with the developers of Highland Gardens Village, Perry/Affordable Housing Development Corp. “I think cohousing really does fit in a new urbanist neighborhood. The residents are really excited about being part of a larger neighborhood promoting community.” The benefit will flow both ways. Hearthstone’s community building will be privately owned, but likely will find uses as a quasi-civic building for the larger neighborhood, Leach says. Hearthstone is Wonderland Hill’s eleventh cohousing project. Leach already plans to build his second cohousing village within a planned new urbanist neighborhood. The North Boulder Cohousing Community is projected to be built at the Drive-in Theater site. Leach also plans to make inquiries into cohousing at the Stapleton Airport redevelopment. Leach hopes that Hearthstone will be watched as a model for future inclusion of cohousing in TNDs. Town planner Andres Duany agrees, and has stated that cohousing “is a necessary typological element to be included in new urbanist neighborhoods.” Designed by Calthorpe Associates, the 336-unit Highland Gardens Village is 10 percent complete. Sales to date have been strong. Highland Gardens Village will include retail and civic buildings, as well as a theater.