An alternative to the cohousing development ordeal
From: Jim Kingdon (
Date: Sun, 14 Nov 93 22:32 CST
I think the developer-centered approach (particularly in the early
stages) bears careful thought.  It is hard to keep a group together
and keep people's enthusiasm up unless you move fast, and so there is
a tendency for groups to fizzle out if the first site(s) they work on
doesn't go anywhere, or other setbacks occur.  I've known at least one
person who has invested lots of time in co-housing core groups, and
has then concluded that it might make a lot of sense to have a
developer do things (of course that some people think it is good idea
and that it can actually work are two different things).

Of course there are pitfalls.  I can imagine people moving into a
developer-created community and expect the meals, child care, gardens,
workshops, etc., to just happen, without understanding how much effort
it requires of them.  Not having worked with the group and gotten a
feel for what that is like during the planning stages, would it then
work in the operational stage?

    2) Once a developer gets involved, she/he tends to treat the project
    as HER/HIS project, hence a power struggle ensues.  From talking to
    Chris Hanson and others, I have heard this was a problem with some of 
    the groups who used developers.

We might be talking about two different things.  One is having a group
hire a developer to work for them.  The other is having the developer
do all the work (and have all the power) for some period of time
before there even is a group as such.  Turning things over from a
developer to a condominium association is a routine operation (and
sometimes has friction--finding out more about how this happens and
how to avoid friction might be useful).  If we want to compromise
between the standard condominium deal (in which prospective buyers
typically have little involvement in design, and only get involved
after all the units have been designed and perhaps built too), and the
co-housing process in which the core group does the development, we
could get a group involved earlier than the standard condominium, but
after something has gotten started (say, a site and some preliminary
designs and preliminary prices).  With a community which is to be like
co-housing (except perhaps for the `participatory design' part), the
number of things which the group needs to take charge of is much
greater, but it probably has similarities with the standard
condominium deal.

I think the important thing is to focus on the goals.  If you have a
group with definate ideas about how the community should be laid out,
and would not be very satisfied with a home designed by someone else,
they probably want a fair amount of control to implement those things.
If things like the meals, segregated parking, democratic governance
during the operational phase, etc., are the goals for you, then it
becomes an ends and means question.  Not "is the developer-centered
process right?" or "is it co-housing?" but "Can a developer-centered
process achieve the kind of community we are looking for?".  As other
people have pointed out, a lot of this depends on the developer
understanding co-housing, believing in it, and having the motivation
to make it work.  I can certainly imagine "there are no developers who
are interested in this sort of thing, so we better do it ourselves as
a group" or "I have no experience in development, but I believe in
co-housing, so I'll learn to be a developer".

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