A new way to live

Cohousing creates real community and is better for the planet

Marty Maskall, a retired web designer and author, plans to move into Fair Oaks EcoHousing in June.

Marty Maskall, a retired web designer and author, plans to move into Fair Oaks EcoHousing in June.

We live in a society that has become increasingly polarized and isolated. Years ago, people sat on their front porches and knew their neighbors. Their homes were smaller and closer together, and the streets were narrower.

Today, people drive down the street with their garage door opener at the ready, and have little contact with neighbors. We are all suffering as a result.

I encourage people to consider an alternative approach—essentially a new version of old-fashioned neighborhoods. It’s called cohousing, and it offers community rather than isolation.

Cohousing originated in Denmark in the 1960s and was brought to the United States by architects Charles Durrett and Kathryn McCamant in the 1980s. Now, there are more than 160 cohousing communities across the country.

I discovered cohousing in 2003 when I visited a friend’s home in downtown Sacramento. Looking out his kitchen window, I saw a number of other homes facing each other, all with porches and all facing a beautiful shared green. One home was much larger. My mind was blown.

My friend said that he lived in cohousing and that it offers a balance of privacy and community. He said the larger home was the Common House, where residents share meals and hold frequent parties. As someone who has lived in Fair Oaks since 1981 and is used to the isolation of the suburbs, I immediately concluded this was a better way to live.

At the time, there was only one cohousing community in Sacramento County so I vowed to start one. In 2019, I’m happy to say there are two new cohousing communities in the area—Fair Oaks EcoHousing, which is under construction, and Washington Commons, which is planned for West Sacramento.

Cohousing offers many benefits. It offers connection. Human beings are social animals so isolation is as dangerous to your health as smoking, while socializing is as good for your health as regular exercise.

Cohousing also offers convenience. Social activities are frequent and easy to arrange. Shared meals are affordable, typically $4 to $5 each. Guests can reserve rooms in the Common House, so you don’t have to find visitors a hotel room or rush to clear out a spare bedroom.

Cohousing offers safety. It’s easy to get help from a neighbor. In the suburbs, it can be a different story. A year ago, my 90-year-old neighbor fell in her garage. She couldn’t get up and she wasn’t wearing her panic button. She was forced to lie on the cold garage floor all night. Early the next morning, when I delivered her newspaper, she heard me and yelled for help. I called 911. That sad story reminded me of the benefits of being in community.

Finally, cohousing allows residents to “tread lightly” on the earth. Most communities are “smart growth” infill projects that reduce suburban sprawl. Walkable neighborhoods and on-site activities lower the need for driving. Green design features include energy-efficient buildings and environmentally-friendly building materials.

I encourage people to look into cohousing as a way to experience more community and a smaller footprint on our shared planet.