AN ENVIRONMENTAL and socially sustainable designer is investigating the viability of cohousing on affordability, sustainability and social cohesion.
In his article, 'Sustainable neighbourhoods: the cohousing model', published recently in CSIRO’s Ecos, building designer Gilo Holtzman discusses the benefits of living side-by-side in a “collaborative neighbourhood” that offers affordability as well as sustainability and social cohesion.
Promoting reduced living costs, cohousing neighbourhoods are small, artificial communities that allow families to live in an environment where social interaction is encouraged, household chores are shared and backyards are communal.
The model, founded in Denmark in the 1960s, is based around the idea of reducing the environmental footprint.
According to the report, a design common among cohousing neighbourhoods is the idea of building in groups, which in doing so creates more open space for the community, minimises building material and reduces heating and cooling energy costs.
“A 2005 study of cohousing in the US found on average 31 per cent space savings, 57 per cent electricity savings and a saving of 8 per cent on materials,” Mr Holtzman says.
But Save Our Suburbs president Tony Recsei believes even though cohousing may promote sustainable living to a certain extent, “the gains will not be great”.
“If indeed the alleged savings claimed are accurate the areas mentioned [electricity and materials] represent only 30 per cent of people’s total energy consumption—the other 70 per cent relates to purchases and transport,” Mr Recsei says.
“Also, the savings come as a result of low-rise higher density living: individuals have to decide whether these savings are worth the downside of the effects of increased overcrowding.
Mr Recsei says while the cohousing lifestyle would appeal to some, “the possibility of personal conflicts escalating over time, due especially with its non-hierarchical structure, will deter most people”.
Hebelieves in order for Australian’s to live a more sustainable lifestyle, individuals should be aware of the environmental impacts of their everyday actions.
“I think most Australians are individualistic to the extent that they prefer to manage their own lives to a greater degree than is possible in cohousing,” he says.
Even though cohousing is taking off around the world, the model has been slow to develop in Australia: there are only four cohousing communities throughout the country including Pinakarri Community in Fremantle.