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Intergenerational Cohousing

Clustered homes and a common house foster a community for making friends of all ages

Intergenerational Cohousing: communal meal

Cohousing gives children, who may have lost family members, a sense of community with surrogate uncles, aunts and parents. — Photo by Manny Crisostomo/ZUMA Press/Corbis

A month after moving into his new home in Berlin, Mass., John Barrett received a call. Would he be interested in an alarm system, a security company wondered?

"Do you know where you're calling?" the 67-year-old corporate sales trainer asked. "I never even lock my door because I have all my neighbors around."

See also: Prefab cottages mix high-tech features, comfort.

No need for an alarm system here. Barrett and his private "posse" live at Mosaic Commons, a new intergenerational cohousing community, ages 8 months to 73 years old, 45 minutes west of Boston. He and his wife, Judy Dempewolff, are in good company; there are 124 mixed-age cohousing developments nationwide that include boomers and older adults. More than 40 are in the planning stages. (Elder cohousing, geared for those age 50-plus, is also gaining ground.)

What is cohousing?

In cohousing, a group purchases property by itself or with the help of a developer, and calls the shots at every stage, from design to construction to financing to defining the rules that will govern the community. Once it's completed, they also manage and maintain the property, with all decisions made by consensus. Most members buy their condos or attached homes, which range from $120,000 to $750,000 for one to five bedrooms. Some cohousing projects have only rental units; others are a combination of both.

In a typical project, 20 or so cohousing homes are clustered together. Usually, they have welcoming front porches that face one another or are attached to reinforce a sense of community. Walkways abound with kids riding scooters, or adults out for a stroll, and rather than individual garages, cars are parked at a distance to encourage a pedestrian-friendly, interaction-rich and safer atmosphere. Community members eat together a couple of times a week if they choose and jointly own outdoor space and a common house.

The common house, usually a separate building, contains a kitchen for preparing dinner or prettying up a potluck meal, and a dining room for communal meals. It also has a living room for socializing or holding meetings, and a couple of guest rooms that could also be used as caretakers' quarters. What else is in the common house depends on the community. Some choose a media or crafts room, office or an exercise studio, for example. "The common house is [seen as] an extension of their private home," says architect Charles Durrett, who has designed 50 cohousing projects in the United States and, along with his architect wife, Kathryn McCamant, brought the concept to this country in 1988 from Denmark.

Next: Being there for one another. »

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