How cohousing builds support across generations

Cohousing communities reveal the benefits of supportive, multigenerational neighbours—showing that apartment living doesn’t have to be lonely or isolating.

graphic illustration showing the top two storeys of an apartment building, with a cross section of outdoor walkways, indoor living spaces, and a shared rooftop deck. colourful people are shown waving hello to one another, gardening, playing music, and lounging on chairs
Through intentional design and shared activities, cohousing nurtures social connections and support among people of all ages. (Emma Avery / Happy Cities)

Feb. 5, 2024

By Emma Avery

When Patrice started feeling heart palpitations last year, she happened to run into a neighbour in her apartment building, Driftwood Village Cohousing.

“One of my neighbours goes, ‘You look horrible,’” said Patrice. “I go, ‘Well, I’m feeling really bad and there are these, you know, [heart] palpitations.’”

At the time, Patrice thought it might have been related to a medication she was taking, and brushed it off as a side effect. But she remembers her neighbour refused to take any chances. 

“[My neighbour] goes, ‘Nope, you get your phone, you get your cord, you get your book and I’m taking you to emergency right now,’” said Patrice. 

As Patrice later found out, she had a type of arrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat. She describes how after visiting the hospital, she came home to chicken soup waiting at her door, and how neighbours drove her to the cardiologist for follow-up appointments. It was all there because of the building she lives in. 

Intentional community

This level of care is something unique to the type of community Patrice lives in, called Driftwood Village

Driftwood is a cohousing community in North Vancouver, a five-storey apartment building designed around a shared courtyard and common house. In cohousing, a group of residents get together to purchase a property, develop it, and live together in the new community. They have private units, but share amenity spaces—like a common kitchen, workshop, outdoor garden, courtyard, and more. They are deeply involved in the planning, design, management, and maintenance of the building. And they participate regularly in communal activities, from weekly dinners to games, birthday parties, concerts, and even chores. 

Residents moved into Driftwood in 2021, and have since been working to figure out what it looks like to live together with a group of strangers. The common thread? They all wanted to live together in a place that feels connected and supportive, where they can build relationships with neighbours and benefit from the strength, resilience, and joy this brings.

Social connection by design

From the outside, Driftwood looks like a regular low-rise apartment. It has townhouse units for families at the street level, and apartments on upper floors. But when you walk through the main entrance, you find yourself in a luminous, outdoor area surrounded by the U-shaped building. The interior courtyard is filled with kids’ bikes, games, and even a trampoline. There is a playroom, shared laundry, and kitchen. Overhead, units look into the courtyard, connected by outdoor walkways that are decorated with potted plants and quirky chairs and tables. 

This design configuration is intentional: Direct lines of sight between the courtyard, common house, building circulation, and individual units help create a sense of community. When you step outside your door, you can feel that you are connected to your neighbours. You run into them regularly as you circulate from your unit, to the building’s entrance or parkade, and back again.

Multigenerational community

At Driftwood, residents range from newborn babies to an 85 year-old. Shared activities and amenities in the building offer opportunities for people of all ages to connect. For many people, these relationships are a lifesaver—whether it’s young parents juggling childcare, older adults who need help getting groceries or changing a lightbulb, people living alone who want a bigger sense of community, or anyone else. Co-op and cohousing communities have documented the cost savings that come from sharing walls, tools, meals, chores, and even childcare.

“I’m a single woman, I’m going to be 76 in March, you know, I’m not going to have grandkids,” said Patrice. “So I wanted a place where there was community [….] To age in place here, to have people that’ll look out for you and take you to the hospital in an emergency, that will bring you soup, there’s just nothing like it.”

At the same time, this support is voluntary, and it’s mutual. Older adults might help look after young kids in the building after school, or organize craft activities. Everyone takes turns helping out with common meals, and shares maintenance of the building. Everyone contributes something unique to the community, based on their own skills, interests, and life experiences.

The multigenerational community also brings a lot of fun, spontaneous encounters. Young kids often knock on Patrice’s door when they want to borrow something. They can run around freely and safely, with parents knowing that neighbours will keep an eye out for them.

“The parents with young kids are just enamoured about our place,” said Patrice. “There’s a group of four year-olds who are […] this little pack, and they all run around. They get in the elevator, they go to their friend’s place. That doesn’t really happen anywhere, you know, safely and or, well, parents would be worried.”

Finding common ground

Of course, no community is without the occasional conflict. The difference is that when people know each other and feel a sense of belonging and trust, they are more likely to be open to resolving conflicts, and finding a way to connect despite differences.

“We are very close here,” said Patrice. “We have the monthly meetings. We have a ton of committees. So perhaps if you lived in a regular place, whatever that means, you would not be associating with all your neighbours. You don’t have to. And here we do. But also, if [you have an issue], there are mechanisms here where we can talk to that person, where we can have a mediation.”

For decades, cities have restricted development in residential neighbourhoods to single family houses. Some believe that this is the most desirable form of housing. Developments like Driftwood reinforce that people can live happy, healthy lives in all types of housing. In fact, our communities—and our social ties—are stronger for it.

Tell us your story

Does your home help you connect with neighbours? Was there a time when you relied on your neighbours for support? We’re always looking to share great examples of happy, healthy homes and communities. Send us an email if you want to share your story!

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