Cohousing: Combatting an Epidemic of Loneliness that Probably Doesn't Exist
To combat what many believe is a growing epidemic of loneliness in our society, cohousing communities are popping up all over the country. Cohousing—planned communities containing smaller houses, shared spaces, and a layout intended to foster relationships—provides "innovative and sustainable answers to today’s environmental and social problems," claims The Cohousing Association of the United States.
According to research reported on by the UK's NHS, "loneliness can increase the risk of premature death by around 30%." The same research, though, acknowledges that loneliness might not be the cause but a symptom. Many people who are suffering debilitating diseases likely cut themselves off from community and then self-report as lonely. Grabbing onto the problem of self-reporting, the New York Times ran an op-ed last year calling into question the loneliness epidemic. After pointing out problems with the research, Eric Klinenberg wrote, "It’s clear that the loneliness statistics cited by those who say we have an epidemic are outliers."
I'm also skeptical that a loneliness epidemic exists. Like many of our modern "problems," it appears to be an invention of a society that has far more free time and resources than previous generations. Instead of worrying about whether or not we're going to have enough food to eat, we spend that free time navel-gazing and trying to make sense of it all. We are now all existentialists because we can afford to be. Don't tell that to cohousing advocates, though.
Referencing the loneliness studies that Klinenberg dismisses (as do I), Religion News Service recently published a piece titled, "Cohousing communities hope to offer antidote to America’s epidemic of loneliness." The article propagates the belief that loneliness is a growing epidemic and then claims, "Residents of places like Casa Verde, one of America’s 165 established cohousing communities, hope to change that."
Located in Colorado Springs, Colo., Casa Verde is planning on hosting an open house on April 27 to show the broader community what a cohousing community looks like. Upon arrival, the visitors will be greeted with a neatly planned neighborhood consisting of similar looking houses, a community center, sidewalks that connect the homes housing the just over 70 residents, and a communal garden.
Frankly, as I read the description of Casa Verde, I couldn't help but think that it sounds similar to my traditional neighborhood. We all have our own house with private kitchens. Yet, my neighbors and I frequently cross paths, often intentionally. We share yard tools, food, and fun. Our kids hop from house to house, playing inside and out. The adults frequently enjoy each other's company, either inside our homes, while conversing on the sidewalks, or simply standing on the lawns. Unlike many of the neighborhoods in Arlington, Va., we don't have a communal garden, but we do freely share the fruits of our gardening efforts with each other. We have a sense of community without the over-earnest description of "cohousing" (a description that is somewhat of a misnomer, since residents aren't sharing a house).
Look, I don't care if people want to live in cohousing communities. I don't care if they want to live in a commune. No one should be required to order how they live their lives based on John Ellis' preferences. What worries me, though, is that since the cohousing philosophy touches many of the left's buttons, we're going to find our country being steered into regulations that require all of us to live in cohousing communities. Like me and my neighbors, community is already available for those who desire it; there is no need to create it artificially and systematically. On the flipside, those who prefer to live alone and isolated to whatever degree they're comfortable with should be allowed to do so without having questionable research about loneliness used to force them to conform to the preferences of others.