Social Capital in Cohousing: Understanding How One Community Builds Ties

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Virginia Tech


This study is an ethnographic, single case study that examined Blueberry Hill Cohousing (BBHC), an American cohousing community, and both the processes the community uses to foster social capital among residents, and the challenges that have arisen over time within the community. Cohousing, a little-known residential planning model in the United States, centers on creating neighborhoods with abundant social capital. Research shows social capital can be an effective means to provide many benefits to individuals as they manage their daily lives. These benefits can include expanded access to economic opportunities, a lack of loneliness, and emotional support. I undertook this study in response to the significant planning discourses, which link social capital to healthy communities.

In this study, I employed open-ended interviews, observations, and reflective memo-writing. I analyzed data through repeated data coding. Key findings showed activities were more critical than site design in fostering social capital. Living at BBHC did not lessen residents' daily life tasks, given residents' expected participation. Also, social capital is unevenly distributed amongst residents. Factors that influenced an individual's store of social capital included participation in activities and the ability to navigate community norms and processes. Many existing residents expressed satisfaction with the benefits they received, such as sharing child or elder care, socializing, and general social support. Others cautioned that the lack of socioeconomic and racial diversity may isolate some residents. The study offers several suggestions to facilitate creating supportive communities. These include clearly defining consensus and articulating decision-making processes; incorporating homebuyers' input early in the project development phase; rethinking common area designs; and methods to foster activities that encourage resident interaction. Future research could explore interpersonal relationships in cohousing, linkages between social capital and consensus decision-making, and comparisons between American and European cohousing communities.



cohousing, social capital, social networks, sustainable community planning, consensus decision-making