A discussion of alternative communities must start with a definition of "an alternative to what?" We are looking at alternatives to the single detached family home or apartment, at considerable distance from where people work and mostly served by highway strip commercial and mall development. This most common form of American and Canadian housing has spread across the land in the last fifty years. The land use result has been sprawl; the social result has been isolation from a community of people. The discussion below describes several alternatives to common practices, but there are many variations to be discovered and explored.

Village Homes in Davis, California, is a classic alternative housing model. The village was intended to provide aggressive energy conservation with solar energy using residential clusters interspersed with commercial, agricultural, and common area uses. Its features include narrow streets to discourage automobile traffic, pedestrian paths and areas, house orientation to take advantage of solar exposure, a high level of edible landscape, and natural drainage and retention systems. (In Context #35, pg. 33-34.) Village Homes, while innovative, maintains many of the characteristics of more typical suburban neighborhoods.

Cohousing is a more extreme alternative. This model has self-contained, individually owned, houses on small allotments with common areas containing shared facilities such as the kitchen, laundry and children's play areas. Land, except for a small courtyard with each house, is usually in common title. (Permaculture International Journal, #46, pg. 14)

According to the PIJ article by Michael Petter, features that might be found in cohousing include:

•participation in the design process by future residents from conception to completion

•removal of cars to the outer edges of the property

•attempting to maintain a balance between privacy and community

•attempts to create an ecologically sustainable life style

•location in suburban areas where land is more expensive than in rural locations

In cohousing, participation in the life of the community is what attracts people. The design attempts to create an atmosphere where people know each other and provide a secure and stimulating environment.

N Street project in Davis, California has put together twelve older homes and apartment buildings that now share a common back yard, gardens, and a common house with a large kitchen, dining room and office. This project was developed in an older neighborhood, by accretion, as adjacent homes came into membership and fences were torn down to be replaced by open space and community gardens. It is a useful model for revitalization of inner city areas.


 Illustration from Rebuilding Comminity in America, pg. 179

According to a founding member the community aspires to be '... a little chaotic, definitely diverse, yet in a wild and living

According to a founding member the community aspires to be '... a little chaotic, definitely diverse, yet in a wild and living harmony; a place of awe, of work, of belonging, of growth, of spirituality; a place in which to be born; a neighborhood in which to grow old and die; a community to know as home". (Whole Earth Review, Fall 1995, pg. 42) Reference: Norwood, Ken. 1995. Rebuilding Community in America. Shared Living Resource Center, 2375 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704.


Alternative Communities