In our current society, increasing residential density usually means building mixed use apartments or condos instead of single family houses. That’s great, but as I imagine increasing density in Seattle, I think it would be a real shame to bulldoze our stock of beautiful and extremely well-built craftsman houses. The Greenest Building report quantified the carbon advantages of retrofits over new construction, but they didn’t include one model that has a lot of potential in Seattle: remodeling existing standalone residences to house more people.
In communities like my home, a 2,640 square foot split level housing 11 people, the carbon emission reductions go beyond the absence of new construction. For the rare errands that we can’t accomplish with our bikes or public transportation, we are able to borrow cars or get rides from our housemates. This allows the overall level of car ownership to be much lower than it otherwise would be. The shared living situation also cuts down on the number of car trips through carpooling and by clumping multiple errands together. Our communal food system consolidates all of our grocery shopping trips and enables bulk shopping, which saves us a lot of money and reduces waste in packaging. In addition, shared meals save us a lot of time and reduce energy use. From kitchen appliances to T-squares, there are all sorts of things that we are able to share rather than buy individually.
Photo by rlcasey (flickr)
The community is the glue that holds it all together and the icing on the cake. It wouldn’t work without trust, respect, and the systems we set up to deal with chores, conflict resolution, etc. The necessity of this community structure is what would make it really difficult to implement cohousing on a wide scale in our individualistic society, yet it’s also one of the greatest rewards. There are a lot of lonely and unfulfilled people out there, and I really think more cohousing would mean less loneliness. So let’s include remodeled houses for cohousing in our imaginations of a denser and happier Seattle.