What are these terms?

There are many terms in use when I search for information about cohousing or intentional communities. It got a bit confusing. After some reading, it seemed that a community could be all of these, or none of these. The terms are not mutually exclusive categories, and often overlap. At times, the terms are not apples-to-apples comparisons, but rather are terms being used for similar things but for different audiences.

In my job at a university, I try and make scientific or policy information understandable to everyone. So I am sensitive to the words we choose to use when describing our projects. Words mean different things to different people, and one word doesn’t always bring the same things to mind for everyone.  Some words are hard to understand because they are terms or jargon, or have meaning that changes depending on the setting, or because they are used differently in our cultural backgrounds.  An awareness of how words are perceived will help us understand what we are describing, and also help us when we try and reach out to more people to see if they want to join the discussion about intentional communities.


Glossary of terms


Intentional Communities – the broadest term that encompasses a wide range of communities.  A planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork.  There are a wide range of intentional communities: cohousing groups, ecovillages, community networks, support organizations, and people seeking a home in community. (http://www.ic.org/)


CoHousing – residents buy modest-sized, separate homes in planned communities, with separate common use buildings.  Often includes environmentally friendly design, some shared meals, pedestrian-friendly layouts. (cohousing.org)


Co-living – Multi-bedroom houses leased by groups of people. Residents share spaces including kitchens, living areas, garages, and yards.  Also called “co-householding.” (coliving.org)
Collaborative housing – architecture/design concept for multi-unit buildings that aim for such things as:  walkable, social, creative, diverse, and minimize the need for cars. Buildings with small private units emphasize shared spaces that foster connections between residents; they are marketed to makers, artists, designers, and musicians. (collaborativehousing.com)


Ecovillages – intentional communities whose goal is to become more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecovillage)


Co-operative “co-op” – a type of ownership structure.   A co-operative is an association of persons united to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations, through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Co-operatives are businesses owned and run by and for their members. Whether the members are the customers, employees or residents they have an equal say in what the business does and a share in the profits.  For housing, this means members own the property together, through owning shares in the co-op.