|By Kathleen Hutson
Last Fall Dene Peterson and I attended the national cohousing meeting in Massachusetts.
Everyone there represented intergenerational communities; most were discouraging about adapting this approach for seniors. But two architects, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett, the authors of the book CoHousing, had recently returned from Denmark and saw the cohousing principles being used to plan communities for seniors. They encouraged us to contact some of the professionals in Denmark.
I immediately began to correspond with folks in Denmark and in early April I went there for a week to see just what was happening with senior cohousing. I visited several communities and saw the facilities and interviewed residents. A senior volunteer, Grete Rosenburg, gave me housing and became my interpreter, Danish guide and friend.
What did I learn? There are variations in cohousing. I visited an intentional community where one must be part of a national private organization to live there. I saw a two-story housing unit (with elevators) owned by a municipality that maintains the facility and yard. There was another more spread-out single dwelling group who decided to allow folks to drive up to their apartments (they did not have peripheral parking). Everyone wanted me to have a clear message of the need to first form a group. Meet for six months to get to know each other and decide whether you want to live together for the rest of your life!
I met with two dynamic women who work with an advocacy group that acts as "consultant" to groups in the planning stage. They have developed an intensive planning process. Here is how it works. Initially, there is a community-wide meeting for 200-300 participants who sign up at the local senior school; those who are interested then attend a second all-day meeting; after the all-day meeting, a smaller group forms to begin six months of weekly meetings. A facilitator from the advocacy group meets with each group for half of the time and the group meets on its own half of the time. Each of the groups I met took 2-5 years from the initial meetings to actually 'moving in'. There are now over 60 groups involved in some phase of planning. (A report of Kathleen's Visit to Denmark is available by request.)