Five Reasons Cohousing is on the Rise in Denver

New Denver developments are focused on cohousing.

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Aria Cohousing Community is part of a cultural shift in housing and community development that integrates innovative, sustainable, healthy and social practices. Courtesy Aria/Urban Ventures, LLC

In a time of urban development, people are flocking to Denver in search of a community to do life with. But what if it was simpler than that? What if you could have a community, designed just for your, right on your doorstep?

Welcome to cohousing.

Cohousing developments were first introduced in Denmark in the 1970’s as a push by their government to create communities where families could grow and experience life together. The concept has grown to be considered an “international community” where people in private homes congregate around a shared space.

And it’s been growing into the United States. According to the Cohousing Association of the United States, there are currently 162 established communities, with 130 currently forming. Of these 13—either established or developing—are in Colorado. We spoke to Susan Powers, president of Urban Ventures LLC, about their newest cohousing development, Aria Denver, and why Denverites should chose this type of living.

1 Direct participation and collaboration
Cohousing is known for being entirely participatory. Members of a development are completely involved in the decision-making process as consensus and self-governance are used as a means to decide things for the community.

According to Powers, Aria has had members involved for two years, helping in the development process in order to decide how and when the space will be used. Members already involved meet every other Monday, have a potluck dinner and discuss what they want from each other and from Aria.

Once the community is established, it will be up to the members to decide and govern use of the communal space and have conversations about rules. “They want this to be a joyful and respectful place to live,” Powers says.

2 You will know your neighbors
For the same reason that people are moving out of the suburbs and into the city, many people wish to create connections with those around them. In cohousing developments, your neighbors essentially become your family, a unique opportunity for social connection that comes from sharing and living in close quarters with others.

Away from the isolation of the suburbs, Aria offers 2,000 square feet of communal space in an altogether 300,000-square-foot building. According to Powers, this connection is alluring. Once people become connected, it is hard to leave: “People rarely sell; they stay here.”

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The land that Aria Denver will be built on used to be home to the Sisters of St. Francis and still embodies that sense of community improvement and environmental stewardship. These values will carry into the next life of the building. Courtesy Aria/Urban Ventures, LLC

3 Shared values and design
Often, this sense of “intentional community” draws those with, at the very least people looking for a specific living situation. Not only does this contribute to the community focus, but it manifests into shared values and even into the design of the space: With Aria, and many other developments, there is an emphasis on “greener” living. Community gardens, for example, are often formed, a planned main feature at Aria.

Values also come into play when it’s decided how to live. For example, Powers explains, at Aria we have a woman who is a dancer, so one of the shared rooms may have movable furniture so the space can easily be used as a studio for her to teach dance if others are interested in learning.

Aria and other developments do encourage diversity though. Aria already has members involved who are both retired and just entering marriage.

4 Supporting a sustainable lifestyle 
Beyond asking your neighbor for that cup of sugar and small talk on the curb, cohousing offers a network of sharing that supports sustainability in a fascinating way. A main feature of cohousing is shared meals. While each private unit or home will have a kitchen, a shared kitchen will be used for communal meals a few times a week.

The sharing of resources, skills and responsibilities creates a shared economy. Individual ownership of certain items such as tools, games or books, is less necessary and encourages members to depend on one another. This includes material goods as well as services like child care.

As Powers explains, when you move into an apartment complex you don’t know the skills of those around you. You may not know if someone two floors below is a computer whiz. In cohousing, personal skills are highly valued and known so that intellectual resources may also be shared.

5 It’s something different
“This is popular with people who just have an interest in being a part of something that is larger than themselves,” Powers says. “I know it sounds like a cliché, but I hear it all the time.”

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