Magazine article Psychology Today

The Modern Homemaker

Magazine article Psychology Today

The Modern Homemaker

Article excerpt


Kathryn McCamant wants to bring community to a neighborhood near you. By Katie Gilbert

When, as a student studying architecture abroad in 1980, Kathryn McCamant first encountered Denmark's community-focused housing complexes- the ones she'd later stake her career on bringingto the U.S.- she didn't give them much thought. Designing dwellings with the aim of fostering interaction among neighbors struck her as a basic concept Yet when she returned to the States, she was shocked to discover that virtually nobody had heard of it.

McCamant and her husband, architect Charles Durrett, have since changed that While living in San Francisco in the early '80s, they became captivated by the idea of creating better neighborhoods by designing them from the ground up. Their first cohousing community was completed in California in 1991. Today there are over 125 such U.S. communities (primarily on the West Coast as well as in Massachusetts and Colorado), more than SO of which McCamant designed or helped develop.

What is the purpose of cohousing?

Contemporary households face social isolation in part because people live in housing that no longer suits them. Cohousing neighborhoods rebuild community with proximity.

What makes this housing unique?

In a cohousing community, you have an individual home. It's not shared housing, but it's a community-oriented atmosphere. The thing you'd notice first is that parking is at the periphery of the site. Communities are pedestrian oriented, which opens up the space between homes for playing and gardening. It's a people-friendly environment.

You also have an extensive common house, with a big dining room, a nice kitchen, a playroom, a lounge. In my community, mail is in the common house, and we have a room for music practice and yoga, a hot tub, and a pool. Legally, it's like a condominium clubhouse, but those are mostly locked and you rent them for a party. We see the common house as an extension of our own livingroom. Its location is critical- it needs to be an easy place to pass through as you're coming and going I'minandoutofourcommonhouse daily. Last night the neighborhood kids were there, practicing dance moves. I have a relationship with all of them because I've watched them grow up.

What was the initial reaction to the concept of cohousing when you brought it to the U.S. 25 years ago?

It's clearly not for everybody. But I've heard many people say, "This is what I've always wanted." It's not a unique ideait's a very old-fashioned one. I think thousands of peoplehave sat around with friends and said, "Wouldn't it be great if we lived closer together? We could help each other out with the kids." That is such a common conversation. What we did was put a name on it We made it accessible.

If it's such a basic idea, why don't most people live this way already?

Since World War II we've had a very strong national policy and incredible marketing toward the ideal of the singlefamily house. Most Americans bought into the American dream: a house, a mom, a dad, and two kids. We have this myth of the individual that was fueled by cheap gas, which made sprawl and subdivisions viable. But it's atotal myth- the West was not settled by individuals. The West was settled by people workingtogether, coming across the country in communities. …

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