Centraal wonen in Nederland : een onderzoek naar bewonerservaringen en sociaal - ruimtelijke voorwaarden

B. Kesler

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    The National Association for Centraal Wonen was founded in 1971 with the aim of realizing housing projects with communal areas, with the (prospective) residents participating in all phases of the plans and in the management of the housing. Furthermore, these housing projects are intended for all types of households and must offer independence for individuals and households while nevertheless allowing for the development of social contacts and solidarity.

    This thesis describes a study on these so-called Centraal Wonen projects, here referred to as co-housing. It is in two parts. Part one is about the prototype project, Centraal Wonen Hilversumse Meent. In part two the perspective is enlarged to cover all co-housing units completed in the Netherlands in the period 1977-1986.

    The prologue describes the reason for the study and the author's particular interest. The study began in 1976 as a research project commissioned by the Ministry of Housing and Planning. This research forms part one of the thesis. In 1979 the author became an active member of Centraal Wonen. Part two of this thesis deals with data from 36 co-housing units and the knowledge the author gained gained by her involvement in the realization of two projects and since 1985 by her life in one of these units.

    Chapter one briefly outlines the social context in the Netherlands during the sixties and the background to the plea for co-housing.

    Chapter two describes the three phases of the research in Centraal Wonen Hilversumse Meent. In the first phase (1976) all prospective residents were interviewed about six months before they moved into cohousing. Other external participants, such as the architect, representatives of the housing society and local civil servants, were also questioned about their contribution to the process of realizing the co-housing project. The adult residents were interviewed again in 1978 and 1979 (one and two years after the move). Households and individuals who had moved out were interviewed about six months after they had left. The cooperation was extraordinary; only one ex-resident declined to be interviewed. The interviews were about motives and expectations, the process of setting up the co- housing schemes, the changes in social life, daily chores, household activities and experiences in subgroups (clusters; see chapter three) and in the group. The research method was a mixture of oral and written questionnaires, open interviews, time-budgeting and attending general meetings during two years. Some people found the task of time-budgeting during one week too much for them.

    The study focused on the process of realizing the co housing project, and on the development of collective activities and their importance for the individuals and households. The main questions were: the extent of residents' participation; the diversity achieved in the group; the sort of contacts and help people expect; how the contacts and mutual help developed relate to the co-housing project's original goals; the contribution of the spatial conditions to the goals of the group.

    Chapter three is about the spatial conditions of the housing and the characteristics of the residents, and chapter four is about the realization of the Hilversum co-housing project.

    The idea behind Centraal Wonen Hilversumse Meent dates from around 1970. The project, which comprises 50 houses and common facilities, was financed in the governement- subsidized rented housing sector. In 1977 133 people moved in (one- and two-parent families, couples and singles: 38 men, 41 women and 54 children). Each household rents a house with private facilities (kitchen, bathroom) and the use of common facilities. The houses vary in size from 41- 107 square meter (m 2) . There are communal areas at two levels: the cluster and the group. There are ten clusters and almost all houses (44) belong to a cluster.

    A cluster is an intentionally created social and spatial unit. Each cluster consists of four or five closely connected houses, a common dining room cum kitchen (33m 2) with a terrace, an outhouse to accommodate two washing machines, and a garden. This means that socially a cluster comprises four or five different households, about 10-12 people. The composition of clusters is the result of a careful process of acquaintance and choice/selection.

    The group facilities are: a building of about 95m 2for social activities, a communal garden, a creche and a youth club (each 41m 2) , a hobby building for woodworking (21m 2), pottery (6m 2) and repairs, 3 guest-rooms and a sauna (30m 2). The social composition of the co-housing group is the outcome of a process of self selection.

    Chapters five, six and seven describe how the clusters function and how the group functions, and compare these levels. Findings are presented about: the residents' motives for choosing co-housing; the kind and the proportion of social contacts, mutual help and problems; the functioning of the solidarity fund for financial support to the low income households; patterns of cluster activities; patterns of how to deal with children during the cluster meals; the meaning of the new contacts and the social changes in the cluster; the use and the evaluation of the common spaces; the organization and management process (Backus, 1987; Kesler, 1987).

    Chapter eight gives conclusions and recommendations relating to the Hilversum study. The general conclusion drawn from Centraal Wonen Hilversumse Meent is that its residents have succeeded well in the realization of their aims: a project with communal areas and a social network based on ideas of sociability. Social and spatial conditions are connected. Clusters and group are impossible without the communal spatial areas. The group obtained influence in all phases of the plan and the management, and succeeded in building a good organizational infrastructure to deal with the social and spatial responsibilities. The residents succesfully created a new life-style and all participate in the social network. The cluster model is not without problems: conflicts are part of it. Not all the problems have been solved painlessly. Five cluster households (9%) dropped out of their cluster and four households (8%) moved out during the first two years. This yearly turnover of 4% is low compared with that in conventional neighbourhoods (9%) and other experimental projects (sometimes over 25%).

    Chapters nine and ten review the results in the social context and sketch the situation in the project in 1983. Most of the collective facilities continued to function as before, except that the creche had been replaced by an alternative health clinic. The solidarity fund had been reduced as a consequence of changes in incomes; some households with a higher income had been succeeded by households with a lower income.

    Part two of this thesis is an elaboration, an inventory of developments in Dutch co-housing and a development of hypotheses for further research.

    The introductory chapter 11 outlines the rest of the research. The main questions dealt with are:
    - How co-housing has developed quantitatively and qualitatively;
    - How co-housing functions and realizes its goals:
    . heterogenous households in terms of social type, age groups and income)
    . participation in planning and management
    . spatial conditions for collective activities and the independence of households
    . development of contacts and solidarity;
    - How external participants and housing policy influence the development of co-housing.

    In the period 1977-1986 the 36 co-housing projects were built in the Netherlands, but many groups also wound up because of a lack of perspective and success. Today (1991) there are over fifty units (3700 residents) and about fifteen initiative groups (preparing a co-housing project) in the National Association of Centraal Wonen. There are at least ten more large co-housing projects with the same aims, not connected to the association, and many projects associated with the National Association of co-housing of the Elderly (with an age threshold). They are not included in this study, but some of the results are also relevant for them.

    Chapter twelve is about the goals of co-housing groups and motives of participants. It traces the influences of other initiatives, such as communes, communal households/living groups, and foreign examples of co-housing projects in Denmark and Germany.

    The Dutch co-housing projects endorse the basic ideas of the National Association of Centraal Wonen, but do not copy the first project. Each group formulates its own programme; this has resulted in a great variety. The basic ideas are to develop shared values, to voluntarily form residents' groups and to create a flexible framework to respond to local aims and circumstances. Examples of such aims are: flexible spatial conditions, participation of disabled people, accommodation and support for refugees or homeless young people, minimum environmental pollution, using solar energy, having workshops for repairs and hobbies, neighbourhood activities.

    There are two types of motive behind participation in co-housing: practical and relational. For clusters a practical motive is not enough: there must be a development of intimate connections and friendship. For activities at group level the more practical approach is also valuable for efficient management. It does indeed seem that Willke's (1983) expectation is valid that co-housing is an attractive option for people involved in the new social movements (women's emancipation, the peace movement, alternative food and health, the environment, psychotherapy). If motives are bound together in co-housing in "pluriform associations", this new life-style can become a "catalyst" for the changes in the direction of sustainable development.

    Chapter thirteen describes the variety of groups in Dutch co- housing. The size of group varies greatly, from 10-210 persons. For the aspect of heterogeneity the author studied 27 large projects, each with at least 20 houses/appartments. About half of the projects studied (including Hilversumse Meent) had achieved heterogeneity in households, the other projects consisted almost entirely of singles and one-parent families. Age heterogeneity has not been achieved except in one project in Haarlem; elderly people are absent. Given that there is great interest in co-housing for the elderly this suggests there is resistance to age-heterogenous groups and/or that social and spatial conditions are unattractive for the elderly. Yet children are present in all the co- housing projects (forming 20-46% of the population).

    Data on household incomes are available for fifteen projects; only four (27%) (including Hilversumse Meent) have income heterogeneity. Most projects have few residents with higher incomes. So it can be concluded that the only heterogeneity achieved is in the type of households -and that is not optimal- and that most groups are dominated by younger and lower income households. It seems that the heterogenous groups are more stable (fewer moves) than groups mainly consisting of singles and one-parent families, young people and low incomes.

    Co-housing schemes in the Netherlands are in danger of becoming less accessible for the lower income households - the main group- interested in this type of housing. National policy, in particular the rise in rents and the fall in grants to individuals, threatens the survival of co-housing projects.

    Chapter fourteen is about the role of residents in planning, running and managing their projects. Most (75%) of the projects in the Netherlands are governmentsubsidized rented housing. The remainder are owner occupied (14%; all small projects) or are a mixture of rented and owner-occupied houses (11%).

    Schemes with rented houses are realized by working with a local housing corporation and/or local government. Residents' groups play an important role by taking the initiative and formulating the programme.

    The Hilversum project served as a model for the others. In most other projects the residents are less involved in the deciding on the ground plans of houses and in collecting the rents. Centraal Wonen has changed local and the national housing policy. Today, the housing regulations are adapted more to the needs for co-housing.

    Chapter fifteen gives an overview of how the spatial conditions and the co-housing models reflect the diversity in residents' expectations and programmes. As mentioned, the projects vary greatly in size; 25% are small projects with about ten houses/appartments, but the larger projects have 20-80 houses/appartments. The degree of collectiveness depends partly on the size of the project, partly on the programme. Four models can be distinguished:
    1 Small groups : about ten houses and one level of collectiveness.
    2 Big groups : at least twenty houses/appartments and one level of collectiveness.
    3 Cluster : big projects with two levels of collectiveness.
    4 Mixed : big projects partly with clusters.

    The cluster model can be subdivided into three types:
    a the closed cluster model (the Hilversum idea): cluster households have indoor connections (a cluster entrance with hall or staircase) and outdoor connections with other clusters and group facilities.
    b the open cluster model : all houses and communal facilities have indoor connections, and the cluster is socially defined but is not a formal spatial unit (for example, Rotterdam De Banier).
    c the cluster with limited private accommodation : private facilities are limited and kitchen and/or bathroom facilities are shared by a cluster/several households or a communal household, so indoor connections are obligatory (example Amersfoort Het Hallenhuis).

    The existence of collective areas is clear evidence of the development and maintenance of clusters and group. These areas contribute to the cluster/group identity and to a social network. The existence of private accommodation (in most projects) improves the independence of individuals and households. It helps people to control the intensity of contacts and to balance individuality (privacy) and sociability.

    Chapter sixteen discusses the significance of social contacts and mutual help. All the projects have lots of activities such as parties, regular social events, and in larger projects clubs and workgroups for management tasks. The main regular cluster activity is an evening meal, and its frequency and organization is an indication of the intensity of the relationships. Contacts with children and the question of who is responsible for their needs and behaviour during cluster meals are sensitive issues in many clusters. The characteristics of co-housing contacts are: spontaneous encounters, frequent chats, much exchange of greetings, advice and help in household matters, cluster or group mangement, easy day-and-night childcare, and the many lend-borrow-and-ask contacts.

    The contacts are similar to the contacts between ordinary neighbours in terms of the aspects nearby, integration of contact and help , and a balance of supply and demand ; are similar to relations with family in terms of the aspects network and solidarity ; and are similar with friends in terms of the aspect intimacy. Aspects specific to the co-housing contacts are: the emancipation of household activities and becoming aware of the meaning of open relationships and democracy .

    Nearby contacts and social control are two sides of the same coin. The spatial conditions contribute to balance the contacts. It is acceptable to withdraw from social activities for a certain period, but not permanently. The positive side of social control is that trouble is noticed and there are opportunities to help.

    At the group level there is a formal structure for conflict management; at the cluster level there is not. At cluster level conflicts interfere far more in daily life. Occasionally a conflict is solved by a household moving out. This far-reaching consequence has led to a more flexible model, the open cluster model. A comparative study needs to be done to find out if the open cluster model is a better solution. The closed cluster model probably contributes more to the development and the maintainance of clusters as social units, because conflicts must be solved: by discussion or, in exceptional cases, by moving out. But this gives new chances for the closed cluster. In the open cluster model it is much easier to avoid discussion, to stop participating, and so to contribute to the destruction of the clusters.

    Residents who spend most of their time at home (home oriented) seem to be more vulnerable to insoluble conflicts than externally oriented people. The theory of human territoriality (Bakker and Bakker-Rabdau, 1974) might be useful for studying the social processes and conficts in co- housing (as it is for understanding family problems); this theory might be helpful for developing social learning processes.

    The contacts made in co-housing are primarily of relational value, with the practical aspects being of secondary importance. The less intimate the contacts, the more superficial the daily contact.

    In future the integration of new residents will be very important. Probably this integration will be more of a problem in large projects than in smaller ones.

    Chapter seventeen is a summary of results, conclusions and presentation of hypotheses. Eight hypotheses are formulated and discussed. The last point of these hypotheses is:

    The 'equal chances' of the Dutch government's policy do not operate in favour of co-housing or other initiatives for experimental and emancipated forms of housing.

    Finally, the epilogue presents some thoughts on co-housing in relation to emancipation, hyper-individualism and solitude, communication and the role of the Dutch government's housing policy.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Kooy, G.A., Promotor, External person
    • van Leeuwen, H., Promotor, External person
    Award date25 Oct 1991
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789067541978
    Publication statusPublished - 1991


    • households
    • family structure
    • communes
    • cooperative housing
    • netherlands

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