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The Scarlet & Black

Caleb’s Communes: Denmark’s Co-Housing Scene


I didn’t know what to expect of Ibsgården. I knew they were a cohousing community, but at the time I had only a vague idea what that meant.

The community is set up as a cluster of connected apartments in a U-shaped pattern with a large old communal farmhouse at the open end. Everyone has their private spaces for themselves and their family, but all their doors face a shared courtyard. The farmhouse contains a kitchen, dining hall, tool room, cinema room, a room for small children and a room for teenagers. There is also a garden as well as chickens on the property.

Cohousing itself is a type of intentional living situation that strays the least from the way we live now. It generally involves houses/apartments clustered together with shared communal spaces. This is operated by shareholding of the space. In essence, cohousing should be a simple form of living. Cohousing can, however, vary in the degree to which it balances independent and communal living.

Ibsgården lies somewhere in the middle on that spectrum, according to one resident who has lived there some time. On one end of the spectrum you have government subsidized cohousing. On the other end, you might have cohousing where all food is farmed and eaten together.

After I arrived, I learned the community seemed similar enough to the US norm. The residents had outside jobs and they lived in private apartments. There was just a stronger sense of community, and they ate six or seven communal dinners a week with one another.

Collective meals might be the best community-building exercise, and I think this was the intention at Ibsgården. Nearly once a day, neighbors checked in over a meal. Members also signed up together for cooking and cleaning shifts each week.

What makes cohousing unique is that everyone pays for the space they share. At Ibsgården, no one owns their individual apartment. Rather, they all have shares in the community as a whole, and pay an affordable amount.

So why is cohousing so common in Denmark, and why did it start there? According to residents of Ibsgården, shareholding property in Denmark was made possible by legislation passed in the early 1900s that allowed farmers to live more feasibly. According to a brief article by Danny Milman for the Canadian Housing Network, a pro-cohousing charity, in the 1960s, a movement for cohousing took place, taking advantages of the law. A cohousing support association was formed in 1978, and national legislation passed in 1981 called the Cooperative Housing Association Law. This helped make cohousing easier to finance.

Cohousing today can be found all over Denmark, as well as all over the world. In fact, during my overnight visit there, I was told of multiple other cohousing units nearby I could visit. I was also told that in the town of Roskilde alone there are 15 municipal cohousing plots, most of which are new.

When I asked residents of Ibsgården how people perceive cohousing, they explained that it is seen by most people in Denmark as a fairly standard way to live; not too different from conventional housing, and certainly not some odd thing for radicals. Some residents did, however, mention that residents of Ibsgården are probably “a bit to the left” compared to the standard population.

Most residents I talked to agreed cohousing is not for everyone. Young families have a particular affinity to cohousing. However, some come to live there and decide there is not enough private space. It can take time to adjust to cohousing, and not everyone ends up liking it. This is compounded by the fact most of us have spent our lives in a more isolated or individual living situation. Sometimes people may want more community, but are not prepared for some of the realities that come with it. It can be hard work maintaining good relations with your neighbors.

I personally find cohousing to be the most feasible and realistic way to make a positive change for greater community in our world. It doesn’t require leaving behind capitalism, and you can live a conventional life. But cohousing leaves behind the fragmented living situations we endure and allows for people to coexist and make food together. As seen in Denmark, simple meal-sharing can go a long way.

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