– The actual physical layout and orientation of the building or site plan encourages a sense of community
– There are common facilities or rooms that are designed for daily use and are an integral part of the community
– The residents manage their own co-housing communities, performing much of the work required to maintain it.
– Although leadership roles may naturally exist in a co-housing community, no one person or persons have authority over others. Decisions are made by consensus.
– The community is not a source of income for its members
An example of co-housing that incorporates these characteristics is found in Japan.
Located in Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, Kankan Mori is part of a 12-story building built on the site of a former public school in the Higashi-Nippori district. Kankan Mori itself is on the second and third floors of the complex, and other floors are occupied by an elderly care facility and elderly residences, a nursery and a clinic. The collective housing segment houses 28 small rooms (24 to 62 square meters each), along with a 166 square-meter common area space which includes a kitchen, living room and laundry. Some residents work at outside jobs, others are children or the elderly who have retired and live off of small pensions.
Living in a multi generational setting has a number of benefits. Residents all work together to prepare “common meals”, which are held three times a week and share responsibility for cleaning the common space. With their private rooms, adult residents are able to meet their own individual needs as well, such as caring for their children, or their aging parents. On the other hand, living in such communal tight quarters sometimes does not afford the privacy one would have in a large apartment complex. Let’s say you were concerned that you might have contracted a STD. You didn’t want to go to your regular doctor or a clinic, but wanted to test yourself in the privacy of your home. What to do? You go online and find this fast self std test kit for home use from std-test-kits.org. Result are available in 15 minutes. You want to order a kit but are concerned the package will be obvious. Fortunately your fears are unfounded. The site assures you that the std home kit will arrive in unobtrusive packaging. Your privacy will be maintained. Well, perhaps that’s an extreme example of private versus communal issues. However, most people who choose to live in a co-housing community do so because they believe in its philosophy and understand that privacy is possible to maintain along side the communal aspects of such living.
One interesting event that occurred in the last year was the return of one of the residents’ children from the United State. As a child, Itashi had recognizably crooked teeth. However, when he had returned after spending five years working for a casino in Las Vegas, he sported a fabulous set of teeth and a great smile. Everyone at first thought he had dentures, but it turned out he had had Invisalign braces Las Vegas style, as the residents now say. The Invisalign System has aligners that are made of a virtually invisible plastic. Consequently people don’t even notice someone is going through treatment. Needless to say, several of the residents were intrigued by the Invisalign System and found several orthodontic dental clinics in Tokyo who offered Invisalign braces for both adults and children. I caught up with Itashi about a month after he had returned from the US. I asked him how his stay was in Las Vegas. It turns out he stayed with a family who lives in one of the suburbs, Spring Valley, surrounding Las Vegas. He was amazed that in the middle of the dessert, people in Spring Valley had lush lawns and huge swimming pools. Every week the house would receive a bottled water delivery. Everyone, he assured me, always carries a bottle of water with them. His hosts constantly reminded him to stay hydrated. Not far from where he stayed was the Old Spanish Trail Park which focuses upon the early history of the Las Vegas Valley when it was a major stop along the historic overland route connecting settlements in Spanish New Mexico and California. It preserves the pathway of the old trail as it headed from the Las Vegas Springs toward the creeks and springs along the base of the Red Rock cliffs. Here the land looks like a real desert. Walking the park’s trails and stopping to absorb the information on interpretative signs provides a refresher course on area history, he said. If you are visiting Las Vegas, he recommends a trip to the park. And don’t forget to bring along a bottle of water, he said with a wide smile that showed off his perfect teeth!
Anyway – though the private rooms are small, those 28 rooms hosts 36 people, from ages 0 to 80. And guess what? There are at least four residents that are now proudly showing off their new straightened teeth with wide smiles to all!
Kankan Mori holds an all-hands meeting regularly every month, where daily problems and concerns are brought to the table for solving. As well, residents also participate in some “activity groups” in order to maintain the building or to do light work. The emphasis here is more on belonging to their community, less than on simply reducing the housekeeping workload.
Kankan Mori is a unique urban management system, which puts residents in an very active role in deciding what’s best for their community environment. And by the looks of it, it seems to be paying back in handsome dividends.