Reflections on Practice: Community-Led Design
In recent years, it has become apparent that creating a cohesive community is essential for sustainable development. As a result of the housing industry needing to address a national housing shortage and financial uncertainty, we have seen a rise in uneven development, poor quality public space, and less civic participation. Many theorists and designers argue design should be more human-centered to create more efficient and sustainable places.
In a previous blog post, I have discussed digital civics and its ability to provide a platform for citizens to actively engage with local governments development proposals through technology. The concept of “tactical urbanism” explores how we can create urban change from economic to social values (Dean, 2018). Additionally, it encourages citizens to utilise public space for influencing and creating urban change. Similarly, through considering politics, economy, and culture, tactical urbanism provides a platform for citizens to actively be involved in the process of urban development (Dean, 2018). A good example of tactical urbanism in practice is New York’s High Line.
New York High Line – a public park (New York High Line by Paul Trafford) marked with a CC BY 2.0 license.
Another approach to community-led design is cohousing, a danish model originating in the 1960s, recognised worldwide (Scotthanson, 2004). A cohousing scheme is a resident-run, intentionally built community (UK Cohousing, 2021). Moreover, residents have their own self-contained homes alongside access to a variety of communal facilities. These include a shared kitchen, multipurpose dining space, and guest rooms. Engagement is not enforced, residents decide how and when they interact with one and another (Community Led Homes, 2018).
For a cohousing scheme to work, it requires a group of people with common values to create a shared vision (Hacke et al, 2019). It is grounded in increasing interactions, a strong support network, and clear consciousness of the environment. Common characteristics include (Community Led Homes, 2018);
- A healthy balance between private and community life
- A cohesive group of residents making consensus-based decisions
- A group of 10-40 households
- An inclusive community plays a key role within the wider area
Duwamish Cohousing Development – Seattle (Duwamish Cohousing, Seattle, Washington – Joe Mabel) marked with a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
UK Cohousing Schemes
Marmalade Lane is an award-winning cohousing development in Cambridge. The multi-generational community consists of 42 homes. It supports a range of shared facilities, green spaces, and a car-free lane (Cambridge Cohousing Limited, 2021). Furthermore, it is characterised by terraced townhouses and low-rise apartments with open gardens to the front that facilitate interaction (Cambridge Cohousing Limited, 2021). Additionally, the site is designed to high environmental standards utilising passive design techniques and using sustainable materials.
Car-free lane – Marmalade Lane, Cambridge (Marmalade Lane by John Lord) marked with a CC BY 2.0 license.
Low Impact Living Affordable Community (LILAC)
The founding members of LILAC based the design ethos around 3 key points; low impact living, affordability, and community. The common house acts as an essential tool to cement the relationship with the wider community of West Leeds (LILAC, 2021). It is used for wider community gatherings and events such as local meetings and as a local polling station (LILAC, 2021). The residents share cars and tools, grow their own food as well as share meals in order to reduce the environmental impact of day-to-day living (LILAC, 2021).
A clear economic benefit of cohousing is the sharing of resources, allowing residents to share the cost of tools/appliances and reduce waste (Hacke et al, 2019). For example, if the community has a high older residents’ population, it can aid the purchasing of equipment such as ramps (Schacher, 2006). Additionally, the community atmosphere can be essential in preventing isolation and increasing safety (Hacke et al, 2019). Loneliness is a key issue, brought to the forefront of health concerns following periods of lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, schemes do not require new residents to be screened, rather they encourage them to learn about the community and its values (Schacher, 2006) (Scotthanson, 2004). Through doing this it ensures that like-minded people who will support the ideology can be integrated.
On the other hand, more expensive homes combined with additional costs of membership/service charges, cohousing can be unaffordable (Schacher, 2006). Additionally, residents may find it difficult to sell properties as many cohousing schemes have the right of first refusal (Schacher, 2006). Moreover, despite having a strong social network, cohousing can be “invasive” (Schacher, 2006) creating privacy concerns.
In conclusion, I think cohousing is a viable option for creating more sustainable communities. However, the cohousing model is not for everyone. Utilising elements of the model could provide the opportunity to create more cohesive, sustainable communities whilst maintaining individuality and independence. Essentially, rethinking public spaces can strengthen social bonds and create more inclusive environments.
- Trafford, P. (2013) New York High Line. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/64771032@N00/8675135950 (Accessed on 10/12/21)
- Mabel, J.(2017) Duwamish Cohousing – Seattle. Available at: https://wordpress.org/openverse/photos/24480792-8bc8-4ec0-83b6-483c108db283 (Accessed on 10/12/21)
- Lord, J. (2019) Marmalade Lane. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/57899800@N00/33701187378 (Accessed on 10/12/21)
- UK Cohousing (2021) Home. Available at: https://cohousing.org.uk/ (Accessed on 02/12/21)
- Community Led Homes (2018) What is Cohousing? Available at: https://www.communityledhomes.org.uk/what-cohousing (Accessed on 02/12/21)
- Dean, M. (2018) Strategies of Community Engagement: Tactical Urbanism. Available at: https://www.bangthetable.com/blog/strategies-of-community-engagement-tactical-urbanism/ (Accessed on 03/12/21)
- Cambridge Cohousing Limited (2021) Design. Available at: https://marmaladelane.co.uk/#design (Accessed on 05/12/21)
- Schacher, C. (2006) The Good and Bad of Cohousing. Available at: https://ala-apa.org/newsletter/2006/10/17/the-good-and-the-bad-of-cohousing/ (Accesssed on 06/12/21)
- LILAC (2021) Low Impact Living Affordable Community. Available at: https://www.lilac.coop/ (Accessed on 06/12/21)
- Scotthanson, C. Scotthanson, K. (2004) The Cohousing Handbook. Canada. New Society Publishers.
- Hacke et al (2019) Cohousing – social impacts and major implementation challenges. GAIA. Volume 28/S1. pp 233-239.