Brent D. Ryan writes about the trend toward cohousing and increasingly heterogenous urban clusters in the article "The Once and Future Neighborhood" in ArchitectureBoston's spring edition. http://www.architectureboston.com/ (The site is now displaying the summer edition, in which there's a fascinating article headlined "Radical Urbanism: The Case for Mom and Pop.")
An assistant professor of urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Ryan discusses the concept of neighborhood and the different things it means to people.
"One person's neighborhood may or may not be another's, depending on lifestyle, abilities, age, income level or interests. Yet... everyone recognizes a small, friendly park surrounded by houses as a neighborhood space and a corner store is a neighborhood place..."
To know the boundaries, you only have to ask the residents... and you will get a different definition from each. The one certainty is that people "feel a fierce attachment to their local piece of the urban fabric," he writes.
Those of us who are sewn into urban neighborhoods know about that ferocity. We know it can breed fatal turf wars and happy stoop parties.
The New Urbanist trend of people returning to the city for close to a decade has brought mixed-use design to almost every new development, which means a mix of retail, entertainment and housing and a mix of low, middle and high-income housing. The maturing of such heterogeniety ultimately will eclipse blight, gun-slinging and gentrification.
Recognizing that we are dependent on each other, especially as America swerves toward less conspicuous consumption and thrift, the subtrend of co-housing is a return to how people used to live. Back in the day, new immigrants lived above the store they operated and took in even newer immigrants to help them learn English and get on their feet. The newcomers usually moved to quarters nearby and the families would continue to support each other.
The movement of creative types into lofts in urban cores suggests that people recognize their need to be near their work, services and support -- social, emotional and tangible. Lifestyle centers such as Southside Works suggest this, too.
Co-housing is the next step - where people sorta kinda live together. Social and kitchen space might be shared, bringing people closer together to share child care, rides to the store, skills, tools and other support.
He writes that this model:
"represents a tiny minority of residential construction, yet also offers perhaps the clearest sign that renewing the concept of the neighborhood has less to do with its stylistic or locational characteristics than a reimagined understanding of the interaction between society and space."
Cohousing is a model to promote economic stability for underemployed families that has been tried most successfully as "entrepreneurial housing" in San Diego and Oakland, Cal., he writes.