Living on the Fringes

Sunward Cohousing Common Room, Photo via

Grant has been prompting me to think about cohousing for some time now.  His compelling question this week: there’s a lot of evidence of pent up demand for stronger communities and a real need to cut basic living costs, so why aren’t more people building and flocking to high-density, semi-shared-space housing developments? Does cohousing have a brand problem?

I think it’s a question whose answer depends heavily on vantage point. From the perspective of a mainstream US suburban housing market that has lived for more than 50 years — and is now dying — on the idea of single-family homes surrounded by private space, the notion of weekly shared meals and common governance can sound like the radical whim of flower children.  But seen in the arc of a social movement that’s rooted in farm communes and architecture-obsessed personality cults, the concept of a common rec room, walkable lawns, and occasional monthly chores built into a modern condo complex hardly rings of revolution.

From where I sit, cohousing’s brand problem is also its brand strength: it lives on the fringes between a convicted niche and an chaotic mass market.  It draws on the energy and inspiration of an outsider, but is stuck with the symbolism of discomfort when viewed from the comfortable middle.  Being an approachable fringe is as much a matter of building an appealing brand for yourself as it is a challenge of overcoming latent apprehensions and preconceived prejudices that people have built for you.

This could mean that cohousing just has to wait for the slow-changing tides of social preferences to tip in its favor (as they certainly seem to be doing). But it raises an interesting question:

How do you un-brand yourself?

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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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