Cohousing : The Legacy of a Danish Social Entrepreneur

What really makes sense for people in late twentieth century, western industrialized societies?

Jan Gudmand-Høyer and Charles Durrett walk through Skraplanet, one of the first cohousing communities built by Jan in Denmark.  NewScoop is pleased to share this reflection from Charles Durrett who brought cohousing to North America from Denmark on the legacy of Jan. 

The man who started cohousing in Denmark, and therefore the man who started cohousing, died a few days ago at 81 years old. In 1964 Jan gathered together friends and acquaintances to talk about housing. He asked them to imagine a lifestyle and a place that did not yet exist, a place that could suit the needs of ordinary citizens, an intentional place that was different from what mom and pop, or grandma and grandpa had created for themselves. “What really makes sense for people in late twentieth century, western industrialized societies?” was his query.

He recognized that different generations have different needs. Mothers were working outside of the home, families had fewer children, and folks were living longer. He wanted to figure out what would make it easier for them to actually express their values of living lighter on the planet while championing gender equality and increasing civic participation. He wanted to know what would make our lives more practical and more healthy. He wanted to create a way of life that made more sense.

As they discussed it, notions of balancing privacy and community, private ownership and sharing, became recurring themes. He started with nothing but the intent to be truly responsive to real concerns, not perceived ones. Devoid of preconception on purpose, not wanting to rely on the rear view mirror, Jan spurred a self-development movement that spread throughout Europe, and then the world.

Jan was the quintessential communitarian, always seeking but always turning what he learned into practice. For example, as soon as read about Sardinia and their heightened and measurable demonstration of community, he went there to learn from them. Over the course of a month, he studied in great detail, of culture and nuance, of place and benches and chairs.

When it came to healthy human interaction, no detail was too small. With great fun, in 2001 Katie and Jessie and I sailed the Mediterranean with him, his wife, Angels, and his son Yakai. As we entered each tiny port in Greece, Italy, or Turkey, it was fun to see Katie and Jan compete to be the first to exclaim, “Now this is community.” There we witnessed moms, dads, and grandparents on the wharf, playing dominos, breaking bread, and children running all around. Instruments came out at dusk, then dancing and singing.

Jan Gudmand-Høyer and Angels together designed well over forty cohousing communities, each one being the model for the next one, each one being better than the last. It was to the point, that the last time I visited him, he only wanted to discuss his latest, although many were stellar.

We loved Jan dearly. Jan was our greatest inspiration and mentor. He was truly the most humanistic person I’ve ever had the honor to know. He never lost faith in the human potential to build a healthy society one neighborhood at a time. We already miss you dearly, Jan.

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Co- created with Charles Durrett

Supported by NewScoop Members

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