Passion, drive and aroha behind creation of New Zealand’s first cohousing community



Robin Allison

Published by Mary Egan Publishing,16 August 2020, RRP: $49.00

Around the world, people from all walks of life are becoming interested in living more sustainably.  Whether it’s downsizing, buying a tiny home or living off-grid, the desire to reduce our carbon footprint and financial burden is growing.  For some, the answer lies in community housing.

Sustainable architecture practitioner Robin Allison is the passionate founder of Earthsong Eco-Neighbourhood, New Zealand’s first urban cohousing community in the West Auckland suburb of Ranui.

Back in 1995, Allison’s vision was to create a thriving, sustainable housing development of 32 homes and common facilities. A group formed around this vision and made it happen and, as the project’s Development Coordinator from 1999 to 2008, Allison was a key driver in the entire development and construction phase of Earthsong.

In ground-breaking new book Cohousing for Life, Allison describes her journey from lonely suburban mother with two boys to pioneering developer of Earthsong.  Her story is one of collective and personal endeavour; a raw account of grit, determination, struggle and heartache.

Cohousing for Life also captures the key elements and structures that were critical to achieving the end goal at Earthsong – the harnessing of a diverse group of individuals with ordinary lives and skills, to work together over many years to create a large, innovative, housing development.  The book curates what has been learned along the way, from formulating an inspiring vision to community governance and decision making; from community design principles to participatory design processes; from legal and financial structures to reflections on power and leadership.

At times, with challenges on all sides, including spiralling costs, delays, mistakes and interpersonal conflict, Allison’s ‘heroic journey’ oscillates from joy and triumph into despair and exhaustion.  But she never gives up on her dream, saying, ‘the journey was worth doing for its own sake as well as for the destination; being part of a group of people working on such a project together was extraordinary.  Even through the hard parts, and even if the project hadn’t achieved fruition, that experience was gold, and ultimately, the effort was worth it.’

‘This book is a triumph – a vision fulfilled and a community created. An absorbing read,’ says Sir Bob Harvey.

Robin Allison was born and educated in Auckland.  She qualified with a degree in architecture from the University of Auckland in 1987 and had her own practise in sustainable architecture for many years, while raising two boys as a sole parent.

Earthsong remains Robin’s home, from where she now writes, teaches and consults to inspire and support thriving, connected communities.  Her workshops and seminars on cohousing have been a catalyst for groups all over New Zealand – from Whangarei to Dunedin and New Plymouth to Hawkes Bay – to start working on their own projects.  Find out more here:

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