How inefficient it is that we live so far apart from each other! Many of us are driving alone in gas cars to isolated, ever-larger apartments or suburban housing. Sometimes far from kin and friends, sometimes on private roads or in gated communities. We have construction footprints, heating, and air conditioning bills to pay, frequently by ourselves. How many even consider communal housing?
A recent trend: smaller families and more space
Space per person in the US has nearly doubled since the 1970s: the average home has grown by 1,000 square feet, even as the American family shrinks. What are we doing with all those dining rooms where no family dines, and bedrooms converted to a study where no student studies? According to the American Enterprise Institute (source of the graph below), housing per square foot is not becoming more expensive to build adjusted for inflation, but housing keeps going up in cost partly due to size. Without the moat and turrets, a man’s home is more and more his castle:
Communal housing: an unconventional green choice
The idea of abandoning all those rooms for communal housing might seem very ‘60s to a great many people. Are you living with strangers in “a commune”? Where’s your privacy? Where’s your happy “solitude”? How do you develop community values, and support, with people who may not be from your neighborhood, your religious background, or your country? Didn’t I already do that when I was much younger (maybe in college), and remember that roommate who caused an explosion in our microwave?
But what could make more sense than sharing a kitchen when you work and eat at unusual hours anyway, sharing a living room when your child is shy and might meet a friend her age, or sharing heating bills when you might not have the money for Hearst Castle (and the planet might not have the resources to heat it)?
Alternative living arrangements, including communal housing, might not only save money and provide for greener living alternatives, but also could be preferable to “leading lives of quiet desperation” alone and far from family.
Finding communal housing
If you’re looking for communal housing, and not just a roommate, you can find a list of places at the Cohousing Association of the United States website here (Seattle section reprinted in this article). And of course there are communal organizations promoting community living and sharing ideas, including Northwest Community Commons, which you can find here, or attend an annual conference about community living with expert discussions about how to form one of your own here.
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