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Colorado embraces shared space as a way of life

Why cohousing is becoming the state's hottest real estate trend


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It’s no surprise that Denver was just named the fastest-growing large city in the U.S., according to new census data. With that growth also comes more demand for new and alternative housing options that celebrate the spirit of Colorado’s culture, sustainability, green space and health focus -- the many reasons so many people are moving here. 

Another big reason? People are also moving here because Denver is a leader in the “shared space” movement, which takes the form of co-working and co-living space.

It’s this renewed focus in cohousing that’s literally breaking ground in Colorado -- embracing the qualities that define our state, while providing locals and newcomers with more affordable, alternative housing options. So what exactly is the cohousing lifestyle, and what makes it “alternative”?

Imagine the true intersection of housing, sustainability and intentional community: a small cluster of homes huddled around common spaces where people enjoy a shared vision and set of values; relationships with co-residents; participation in group activities, from raising an organic vegetable garden to cooking group meals in a community kitchen; and focus on the health and wellness of the entire community. 

This distinguishing community model blends shared areas for social contact, support and relationships, while still reserving plenty of room for privacy. And since the cohousing community is so participatory, residents also get involved with intentionally designing common spaces and buildings, as well as with developing guidelines for how they will live together -- and even communicate together.

By definition, cohousing is “an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space.” And with Colorado’s green-, health- and social-mindedness, it’s becoming more and more popular among every generation here, from young professionals to families and seniors. While cohousing is not a new concept (it was introduced in the 1960s from the Denmark model), newer models for these communities have been reintroduced by Denver’s modern culture that’s craving connection and a healthier, simpler lifestyle. 

With more than 200 cohousing communities around the U.S., Colorado is home to 24 of those -- with the biggest local cluster in Denver and Boulder. That means Colorado has more than 12 percent of all cohousing communities in the country; and the newest one, Aria Denver, will be completed next year.

Why is Colorado a leader in the cohousing movement?

With so much growth here, cohousing provides an affordable housing alternative, especially as transplants move and crave instant connection to the community. In addition, the cohousing culture is based on a vision that is supported by the same three core values that define our incredible state: social, environment and health.

Social: Cohousing is designed and programmed to connect people and encourage interaction through shared production gardens, green spaces, community-designed permaculture pocket gardens, outdoor fitness zones and other facilities. Intergenerational cohousing groups stimulate community by fostering relationships based on intention and reciprocity while encouraging diversity within the community -- income, age, ethnic, interests and so much more. After all, it’s not just about how people interact with each other; it’s also about how they bring people into the community with a commitment to ensuring this community is diverse, also making it more interesting. Cohousing residents share talents and resources, celebrate life events, enjoy casual interactions and dine together during regular community meals.

Environment: The newer cohousing communities, such as Aria Denver, use recycled materials; units are equipped with low VOC products (exterior materials, windows, etc.); parking lots include charging stations for electric vehicles; and energy/water-conserving appliances are installed in each home. The overall community utilizes water-conserving native plants to dress the landscapes and integrates walkability into its design.

Health: Cohousing communities create infrastructure and programs that encourage people to live an active lifestyle with access to healthy food, educational classes, fitness areas and other health-related services. Also, some cohousing communities have greenhouses and production gardens to provide neighborhood residents access to fresh produce and learning opportunities around healthy eating.

Cohousing is also a more financially-efficient way to live. Shared spaces mean a smaller investment in dollars; and yet the social, environmental and health investment is priceless. 

Denver is catching on to the latest shift in housing and thinking about “community” in a different way -- and just in time. With more growth and more newcomers, cohousing provides more options for healthy, intentional and collaborative living. But more importantly, people join a cohousing community because of the group of people who will live there, and they want to live as a community. This connection is about so much more than real estate.

 

Susan Powers is president of Urban Ventures, LLC, a Denver real estate development company that has built multiple mixed-income and mixed-use projects in and around downtown Denver, over the past 17 years, with a focus on the creation of unique communities for residents to live a healthy life. Urban Ventures is leading the redevelopment of a former convent property in northwest Denver into a model mixed income, healthy neighborhood called Aria Denver that will include 400 residential units and commercial space. Susan can be reached at susan@urbanventuresllc.com, or 303-446-0761.

 

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