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Cohousing: it's not just for hippies anymore

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Cohousing: it's not just for hippies anymore
Residents gather for dinner at the Dunderbacken cohousing community
10:02 CET+01:00
Most people associate Swedish cohousing with the hippie lifestyle of the 1970s, but the updated model of communal living might impress even the most skeptical, contributor Malin Nyberg discovers.

If you think collaborative housing means no privacy, then think again. These days, life in a cohousing community can include your own flat as well as a common dining room, library and even a gym shared with your fellow neighbors.

“It's all about making life easier and meeting new people,” architect Ingela Blomberg explains.

“The idea is not to live with each other 24/7 but to share common spaces and have the option to socialise with your neighbors when you want to.”

For the last 30 years, Blomberg has worked with BIG (Bo i gemenskap – 'Living in a community') to promote cohousing communities and it seems like all the hard work has paid off.

“Thankfully it's becoming more popular and we have seen an increase in applications to flats in those houses lately,” she says.

Blomberg also adds that she has noticed a growing international interest in cohousing.

“We held a big conference in May last year where people from all over the world took part. Sweden tops the European list together with Holland and Denmark and we seem to inspire others,” she explains.

There are currently 45 cohousing communities registered in Sweden, 16 of which can be found in Stockholm.

Most of the communities have rules that place certain demands on members living there, such as participating in a cooking team every 4 to 6 weeks.

According to a survey done by Swedish housing market website Boplats, one third of those questioned would like to live in a cohousing community with a modern twist.

Lina Wendt-Rasch from the Kupan cohousing community in Stockholm can see why.

“It's the perfect solution, especially if you have small children,” she says.

Wendt-Rasch has lived in Kupan with her husband and two children for three years and says she finds it important to let her kids socialise with adults and other children from an early age.

“That was the main reason for moving here. In addition, my husband and I get the chance to talk to adults every day and having dinner ready and served definitely makes life less stressful,” she adds.

Dunderbacken, a brand new cohousing community in Stockholm which opened in August last year, was built in cooperation with municipal housing company Familjebostäder.

On a recent evening, resident Jörgen Larsson, one of 65 people living in Dunderbacken, is waiting for other members to show up for a study group meeting. He has lived at Dunderbacken since September and is very pleased with his choice.

“It's weird that not everyone is interested in living like this, but I suppose it's easier in a way to just shut yourself out from the world, watching TV, hiding under your duvet. It does take a lot of courage for people to socialize,” he says.

When asking if residents at Dunderbacken ever argue with one another Larsson laughs, saying: “The only thing we haven't agreed on is that some of us want a gym and some of us don't.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the founder of Dunderbacken, Birgitta Hambraeus, has a political past in the Centre Party, a centre-right party with roots in Sweden's rural communities.

“While collaborative housing was once associated with a left wing political stand, this is no longer the case,” Larsson explains.

“We have a mix of different kinds of people here.”

Becoming a member of a cohousing community does require a bit of effort, however, often requiring potential tenants to go through a number of interviews.

“My application was followed up by a two hour-long interview where they asked a lot of questions about me and what I could participate with when it came to study groups and so on,” new Dunderbacken resident Hans Letterblad explains.

But he believes the extra effort was well worth the trouble.

“I really like it here. There is always someone around and loads of activities to take part in,” he says.

Famijebostäder spokesperson Björn Jacobson hopes the company will build more cohousing community buildings in the future.

“We have built five cohousing communities since the 1990s and will continue as long as people are interested," he explains

"While most of those houses have an over-40 rule, we hope to see age groups mix in the future. It's a great arrangement, especially for those living in big cities where people can get pretty isolated and lonely.”

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