The cohousing concept can address social and economic sustainability challenges facing Okanagan communities, says a UBC Okanagan civil engineering professor.
Gord Lovegrove calls the cohousing community model collaborative living where residents share communal lifestyle interests as opposed to living an isolated existence.
Lovegrove says the idea is catching on across North America as a response to urban sprawl and a sustainable lifestyle option for both seniors, young people and families.
He cited other B.C. cohousing projects developed in North Vancouver, Langley, Kamloops and Nelson. Interest has also spread to communities in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
In the U.S., Lovegrove says 165 communities in 36 U.S. states—148 completed and 17 under construction—have implemented the cohousing idea while another 140 projects are in early development.
Lovegrove and a business partner are in the midst of developing a new cohousing project in Kelowna, with the expectation this fall to solicit investment interest.
“We are looking at five different properties in the Knox Mountain area at the moment,” he said.
Lovegrove was preaching the virtues of cohousing at an Okanagan Embrace Aging Month presentation at Sun Pointe Village retirement residence in Kelowna on Friday.
Cohousing is defined as a planned community of private homes clustered around share space. Each attached or single-family home has traditional amenities, such as a kitchen, but residents share a common activity centre used for daily neighbourhood meals, a community garden plot and greenspace or recreation facilities.
He said the idea has similarities but is not comparable to social or co-op housing. “This is creating a planned community with shared economic principles.”
From a seniors’ perspective, Lovegrove explained cohousing offers a solution to social isolation.
“Health experts say the impact of social isolation for seniors is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That is not good.”
Lovegrove said seniors need relationships and a sense of community in their lives. Even for Millennials, he noted maintaining social relationships, a social network, is more important to them than how much money they can make.
Lovegrove said his preference is for a mixed age cohousing resident base to create a diversified sense of community.
“I believe in the idea that it does take a community to raise a child. The greatness of a community is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members,” he said. “Cohousing is an investment in every sense of the word. It’s about how you want to live your life.”
Lovegrove said communal living may not be for everyone, but it is about bringing together a group of like-minded people interested in that lifestyle.
“People are going to agree and disagree on some things over time, but it’s important to communicate the expectations at the start and establish a dispute resolution mechanism.”
Lovegrove said cohousing touches on many economic and social issues facing communities today—affordable housing, support network for young and old, allowing seniors to age in place rather than being forced to relocate against their wishes, access to services and greenspace within walking distance downplaying the need to drive a car or rely on public transit, and better land use with higher density living creating a smaller residential footprint.
For seniors, he said building more walled communities in the Okanagan is not the answer to address the needs for social interaction or safety.
“Walls don’t keep the bad guys out, and they allow for the bad guys to hide once they get in,” he said.
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