Cohousing: A new living opportunity in the Northfield area?

Over roughly the past year, I have spent a lot of time researching the possibility of developing a cohousing project in the Northfield area. cohousing-informational-meeting-flyer-web.jpgI have visited several long-established cohousing projects (Nyland Cohousing, Boulder, Colorado; Monterey Cohousing Community, St. Louis Park, Minnesota; Zephyr Valley Community Cooperative, Rushford, Minnesota), read extensively on the subject, and talked with a number of people who live in and/or have been involved in developing cohousing projects. Over this period I have also been working with a landowner who is interested in seeing his land (roughly 21 acres, adjacent to the Northfield city limits) developed responsibly and in as “green” a fashion as possible, with the majority of the land remaining as natural and agricultural land. I feel the time is now right to bring other interested folks into the conversation about whether this is possible here and now. I am thus holding an informational meeting on Wednesday, April 30th, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at the Northfield Public Library meeting room (210 Washington St., Northfield) to discuss this possible project.

Before getting briefly into the specifics of what I am calling, for discussion purposes, “Buffalo Commons Village,” a few basics are in order for those not familiar with cohousing.

I. Cohousing Basics (adapted and used with permission of Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm, Peterborough, New Hampshire)

a. What is Cohousing?

Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing that provides the opportunity for people to live together as a close-knit neighborhood while maintaining all the benefits of private home ownership. It is characterized by private residences with all the features of conventional homes (kitchen, living-dining room, bedrooms), but with access to extensive common facilities, including a community house. nyland-community-house-web.JPGThis type of housing began in Denmark in the late 1960s, and spread to North America in the late 1980s. There are now more than a hundred cohousing communities completed or in development across the United States and Canada.

Cohousers are generally united by a mutual desire to live an environmentally-sound lifestyle and enjoy a cooperative, intergenerational neighborhood. pedestrian-way-web.JPGThey value energy-efficient and resource-conserving design, good architecture, and natural beauty. Cohousers need not have a common political or religious philosophy, do not share finances, and own their individual dwellings independently.

b. Why Cohousing?

  • Cohousing communities balance the traditional advantages of home ownership with the benefits of shared common facilities and ongoing connections with neighbors.
  • Smaller, attached and/or clustered homes take up less land, reducing the negative environmental impact of development and preserving more land for natural vegetation, wildlife, gardening/agriculture and recreation.
  • Smaller homes with a shared common house have a smaller “carbon-footprint” by consuming fewer resources to build, maintain, and operate.
  • Cohousing neighborhoods are among the most promising solutions to many of today’s most challenging social and environmental concerns.

For more general information about cohousing, go to the website of The Cohousing Association of the United States.

II. Buffalo Commons Village

Buffalo Commons Village is envisioned as a zero net energy or carbon-neutral cohousing project of perhaps 20 to 40 housing units on 21 acres of rural land adjacent to the City of Northfield. The housing would be densely clustered on roughly three to four acres of the land, and the balance of the land would remain in wetland, woodland, community garden and open space. The housing would be highly durable and water- and energy-efficient, and all energy used would be provided by on-site renewable energy systems.

The project, as envisioned, would be guided by the following principles:

  • Community consensus decision-making in design and operation
  • Intergenerational community (i.e. singles, couples with and without kids, elders)
  • Mixed income community (i.e. affordability for folks of various income levels)
  • Ethnic diversity in the community
  • Mixed use: residential, commercial and agricultural
  • Minimum environmental impact
  • Maximum protection of natural and agricultural land

I have many more thoughts on how this project could be developed, which will be detailed in the meeting, but I need to stress that if this project is to go forward, it will do so as part of a collaborative design process. Potential homeowners in the project can have a LOT to say about how the neighborhood will be developed. At the meeting, you will need to bear in mind that these preliminary thoughts, principles and details are thus necessarily subject to extensive discussion, review and modification.

I look forward to stimulating discussion on April 30th, and hope to see you there!


  1. Posted April 18, 2008 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    Interesting! I’ll try to be there.

  2. Posted April 19, 2008 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I’m really excited about this community – unlike a lot of people who dream of developing cohousing on their property, I think Bruce has the credibility and energy to be able to move it along and really make it happen. Not to mention that it’s in an ideal location, and will be providing the connection to nature and sustainability that so many people are looking for in their ideal/dream community.

  3. Karen Olson
    Posted April 21, 2008 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I was very active with a potential co-housing project in Bozeman, MT while my family lived there in 1997-2000.

    I still love the concept and would love to hear what folks in this area think!

  4. Posted April 22, 2008 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I’d love to get your perspective on what it takes to successfully develop a cohousing project, and hear your stories (good, bad and ugly!) about your experience in Bozeman. Can you make it to the meeting on the evening of the 30th?

  5. matthieu
    Posted April 22, 2008 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Dear all,
    you might be intersted to consider the award winner documentary “Voices of Cohousing. Building villages in the city”. It gives a good view from within as it was made for both cohousing groups in formation and for existing cohousings to organise info evening. In fact, it deals with some of the most important topics people should know about cohousing. Info and trailer:
    Have a good day!

  6. Karen Olson
    Posted April 22, 2008 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Bruce!
    It’s already on the calendar! I will bring along flyers we made, group process stuff we created (some really nice ideas!) as well as the other left over informational material I have created and collected along the way. You can see if any of it will be useful to you. I also have an old video and most of the books.
    It was one of the best times in my life working with my co-housing friends, not to mention meeting interesting people doing it all over the country! I attended a couple national conferences and visited many beautiful neighborhoods in the pacific NW and colorado. We have good friends who have lived, and still live at Monterey in St. Louis Park. It will be really fun to hear the latest on new communities, as I haven’t spoke with most of those folks for a while now!
    I look forward to the 30th!

  7. Posted April 22, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful, Karen! See you then.

  8. Posted April 24, 2008 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Great work, Bruce! Is this the property near Viking Terrace?

    We love the idea but would be hard-pressed to move beyond walking distance from St. Olaf, where my wife works. I’m impressed with what you are proposing for energy generation, also the mixed-use idea. I wonder if other co-housing projects have been mixed-use. Maybe one good business to have there would be a daycare or nursery school.

    Be sure to mention any overlap of the Greenway Corridors or park bikeway plan with the project!

    I don’t know if I’ll be able to attend, due to a death in my wife’s family, but I hope I can.

  9. Susan Crow
    Posted May 22, 2008 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately I didn’t know about this meeting. Are you going to be doing any follow up on what was discussed?
    I am presently enrolled in a certification program for Sustainable Design, and working on a new venture capitol proposal for an organic small plot farming idea. I would love to get together with you to discuss this.

  10. Posted May 22, 2008 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Let me know if you’d like to get together and talk about what’s transpired thus far, your pursuits, and what synergies there might be.

  11. Jeff Janacek
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    We are starting a exploratory group at the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church in Mahtomedi, MN. We have done a tour of Monterey Cohousing and just getting into the process. So far it looks a bit more urban than yours, but who knows? Anyone interested in joining us should contact me.

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