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Phil Bourne – Cohousing Australia

MODERN cities are facing increasing challenges around social isolation, population growth, housing shortages and resource distribution impacted by climate change, but Cohousing Australia’s Phil Bourne believes intentional communities could be an avenue for changing lifestyles to adapt to these challenges.

Phil is the first to admit living the cohousing dream is not without its difficulties. Sharing spaces with other people requires tolerance and understanding. But he says it also builds a capacity in people to work well with other people, and the sharing of resources means people can create buildings, gardens and infrastructure that they may not be able to afford on their own.

“Intentional community is a term defining a group of people living together intentionally with the idea to form and promote community,” he explains.

Inspired by urban ecology and cohousing projects in the US and Denmark, Phil’s commitment to cohousing is pure and first hand, stemming from 25 years in a rural intentional community cooperative near Seymour, north of Melbourne.

Ashland Cohousing Community, Oregon, US

Phil will join the Sustainable Living Foundation’s cohousing convenor Iain Walker to promote the vision of shared houses in Australia and around the world at the Sustainable Living Festival on Saturday.

Phil says Cohousing Australia believes climate impacts and a changing of community attitudes towards a more collective existence will see the move towards intentional communities take hold in the next five years.

Bamfield Road, Heidelberg, Melbourne. Image by Common Equity Housing

“This is our intention, our hope, our dream, our vision,” he says.

Intentional communities are not the panacea for Australia’s housing and climate change problems, but they do suit some individuals and families who can make it work and want to reduce their ecological footprint.

Phil believes cohousing will increasingly be seen as viable housing option.

He explains that increasingly, people are living in single person dwellings in our cities. Some by choice, including young professionals working long hours and want the space and escapism of their own apartment at the end of the day. Others, particularly older people, may be living alone but not by choice. They may feel isolated by a lack of support from family or neighbors and want to be part of something more collaborative.

“I understand that in some ways it’s easier to live alone,” Phil says. “You go back to your groovy apartment in Docklands, but you also face the greatest disease of western society which is loneliness.”

Gondwana Sanctuary Community, Tyagarah, NSW

“It’s not an easy path … but the core thing about community is the people business, it works if you are prepared to engage with the people around you.”

“We need to look at climate change, energy use, environmental degradation and resource distribution.

“Unless we really learn to live and work well together, as a society we won’t be able to support the sorts of changes that need to happen to adapt to these pressures at a time when it is even more critical.”

Community garden, Denmark Image from Sustainable Melbourne

He said there is growing community angst around the world over whether society would fall apart when pressure for resources begins to make life more complicated. He suggests learning to live alongside each other now could help us as a society to work on that.

“Buying big houses on a big property with no community infrastructure doesn’t provide what people need.”

He said Australia was yet to fully embark on the cohousing journey, unlike the US, which has more than 470 cohousing projects, and Denmark, which now has well-established intentional communities which formed in the 1960s.

Eastern Village Cohousing, United States. Image by meridian construction co

“Cohousing in the form of medium density urban living is relatively new in Australia,” he explains.

“We haven’t really gotten going on this yet. We’re an embryonic group, it’s still relatively early days.

“We want to let people know there is a whole lot of stuff happening out there on the ground. There are a lot of opportunities here.”

“Cohousing has a very current social purchase for people who want to reduce their footprint at one level, and reduce social isolation at the same time.

“It has a people focus and an environmental focus.”

Christie Walk Cohousing Adelaide. Image from

There are two cohousing projects in existence in Hobart, Tasmania, one in Perth, WA, and the Christie Walk community in downtown Adelaide (pictured) designed by Ecopolis Architects. Phil says development of Melbourne’s first intentional community will begin in Heidelberg this year, while another group is Melbourne is working on finding a site for a second.

Cascade Cohousing, South Hobart, Tasmania

“The positives are that in creating a community as a framework for living, you have a lot of support as a person in the endeavours that you are doing. The elements are intrinsically personal growth-oriented.”

“It involves hard work but it challenges the way you think and the way you do things.”

Cohousing Australia has been looking at both new suburban housing developments, as well as retro-fitting existing buildings including warehouses and office buildings.

Whatever the settlement looks like, the common thread between the contemporary cohousing model, unlike older intentional communities dating back to the 1960s where absolutely everything was communal, is the acknowledgment that modern individuals and families still want to own their own space, perhaps simply sharing common areas like a kitchen, eating area and garden.

Iain Walker, Sustainable Cities Round Table Sustainable