Future of Sharing: Cooking in the Communal Kitchen: Incorporating Sharing into Everyday Life Through Cohousing

Charles Durrett and his wife, Kathryn McCamant, designed the first cohousing community in the United States in 1982, and coined the term in 1985. To date, their architecture firm has completed 51 cohousing projects around the world, and Durett and McCamant have authored a number of books about their experience living in and designing cohousing communities. Durrett is a steadfast proponent of the economic and social benefits of cohousing communities, which ideally consist of 50 or fewer adults (plus kids) who each live in their own houses, but come together in a communal house for some meals and other social activities. Cohousing communities can—but aren’t required to—share everything from cars, to lawnmowers, to crutches. “Once you start thinking about it logically, it simply makes the most sense to not buy one of everything,” Durrett says. Individuals and families living in cohousing communities, according to Durrett, can save an estimated $200 to $2400 monthly by cutting back on utilities, food, and gas costs. Durrett believes that this economic incentive is the primary factor that motivates cohousing, though sustainability is often the byproduct of both co-housing and sharing. But, Durrett warns, “if you come to the table with righteousness, you become a non-voice immediately.”

Communal living complexes, which are gaining in popularity among a subset of cash-strapped Millennials seeking a more social housing experience, take Durrett’s cohousing concept even farther in some ways, by essentially functioning as dorms for adults. Yet in other ways, such as communal decision-making and shared vehicles, communal living complexes are less integrated than the cohousing communities Durrett and his wife help plan. The communal decision-making process is an integral part of the cohousing experience, in Durrett’s point of view. “There’s no community-building process more thorough than getting people to solve problems together,” he says. Durrett is also an advocate of building more and faster. “We’re too patient in getting housing built,” he says. Like former Sierra Club President and Yerdle Co-Founder Adam Werbach, Durrett makes the case that density and sustainability are closely tied. “The environmentalist of the future is going to be the acoustic engineer, the person who can help us figure out how to live closer together,” says Durrett.