Environmental Co-housing: A Way to Shovel Ageing, Environmental and Socioeconomic Issues by Dr. Claudia Valdés Aguirre

Lifestyle, technological and scientific advances have evolved providing a greater life expectancy. Let´s be honest the pyramid of life is reversed; the birth rate is declining while the ageing population is increasing. According to the World Health Organization, “the number of people aged 65 or older is projected to grow from an estimated 524 million in 2010 to nearly 1.5 billion in 2050, with most of the increase in developing countries”. They are becoming 16% of the total world population by 2050.

This in turn represents certain challenges not only for older people but for the entire population in general. The first, as already mentioned, is the change in the life cycle. According to J. Yanguas, there is a disguised evolution because we are young later and for longer, we are parents later (if we ever become); but the aging remains the same, it does not change its timing. This new phase is called “new elders” and it will be necessary to redefine gerontology.

The second challenge is the intergenerational pact. M. Sánchez director of Macrosad Chair of Intergenerational Studies, assures that everyone needs to relate to people of other generations “to become aware of the temporal dimension of human life”. We are currently struggling between generations instead of learning from each other; a clear example is the labor and the environmental issue.

The third challenge is loneliness. Over half (51%) of all people in the United Kingdom aged 75+ live alone (ONS, 2010). Loneliness not only implies risks or physical limitations for the elderly but also triggers a social isolation that causes various physical and physiological affections (e.g. Chronic Noncommunicable Diseases). On the other hand, when it comes to retired people or elders, living alone supposes the absorption of 100% of the daily expenses, making shrinkage in the pocket.

The fourth challenge is the revision of the paradigm of active aging. An erroneous concept has been created about it, now it is called active aging to go hiking or to stay active in some way and this definition is wrong. According to A. Arteta, active aging is making sense of the personal project of retirement or to cleverly design the last years of life. This also implies the harmonization in ageing of the terms fragility and dependence, it is a reality.

The concept of “co-housing” was born in Denmark on late seventies. The word “co-housing” comes from putting together the words: “cooperative” and “house”, which means collaborative housing. This lifestyle has spread throughout the world (e.g., Germany, Denmark, United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, among others ); obtaining excellent results to those who have chosen to live under this concept. These people are called “co-housers” or cooperative members. This new collaborative design has as common characteristics, the commitment of the cooperative members to live in community and to benefit from a social support network.

According to Lietaert there are six fundamental characteristics to define and identify a co-housing community. These characteristics in turn coincide with those described in section I of International Labour Organization Recommendation 193 on cooperatives:

1) Participatory process,

2) Housing design by cooperative members,

3) Extensive common facilities,

4) Complete management by residents,

5) Absence of hierarchy and

6) Separate income.

A Group of Experts of the Government of Wales proposes the use of co-housing in response to the aging of the population. It has been recognized that co-housing plays an important role in expanding the choice of housing options. Therefore, financial and professional advice and support should be available to facilitate the housing solutions available to the community .

At the international level, Resolution 56/114 of the UN General Assembly invites governments to develop, in collaboration with cooperatives, plans that aim to strengthen and promote education, contribute to the national economy and promote sustainable development. In Scotland, the government published in 2011 the document: “Age, Home and Community: A Strategy for Housing for Scotland’s Older People: 2012 -2021”. This document indicates that the Scottish Government wishes to encourage the development of new and innovative housing models that allow older people to maintain their independence in the community. In addition, Northern Ireland has an active intergenerational co-housing group, which promotes co-housing in the country (UK Cohousing Network, 2018) .

Social sustainability is the main driver of collaborative housing. According to Sundberg, co-housing is also a fundamental element to increase the sustainability of the environment. That is why within the Millennium Development Goals proposed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a section is dedicated exclusively to managing resources sustainably (water, soil and soil productivity), and to be able to satisfy other environmental, social and economic needs. This environmental, social and economic needs includes sustainable management of forests, integrated agricultural systems, management of water resources, use of bioenergy or renewable energies, etc.

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Author: Claudia Valdés Aguirre

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