Re: An alternative to the cohousing development ordeal
From: Robert Hartman (
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 93 12:36 CST
> From cohousing-l [at] Sun Nov 14 20:33:13 1993
> Subject: An alternative to the cohousing development ordeal
> 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?

I haven't actually been through the co-housing development struggle,
but my experience at forming a collective business and living in a
condominium might be relevant.

Soon after I got out of college, I put together a business plan for a
restaurant collective.  I then negotiated for financing and a lease,
and hired people to be members of the collective.  The original
agreement was that I would train people for the first six months, and
then the collective would take over.  It didn't work out.  In the very
first collective meeting the group decided to change its agreement with
me and a power struggle ensued.  Basically, what happened was that the
group needed to form itself and deal with its issues in its own way.
Although I thought I'd done the group a favor by presenting them with a
packaged deal, it turned out to be just as difficult for them to adjust
to the constraints of the package as it would have been for them to go
through the entire planning process themselves.

At one time I lived in a condo complex, and took it upon myself to
figure out how to squeeze a few more parking spaces into the existing
area by restriping and minor repaving.  The other owners just didn't
get it.  Because they'd bought into a package, they didn't quite grasp
that they owned the land, and could alter the landscaping if they
chose.  They elected me to be president of the owner's association
later on, but by then other things came up and I needed to move on, so I
couldn't accept.  Also, I wasn't sure I wanted to be president if it
was only symbolic.

The point is, if you want community, the only way to get it is to start
from the beginning.  And the beginning is always a shared vision and a
shared commitment to the process of making the vision come true.  If
you hand someone who grew up in this culture a package deal, they
won't know what to do with it.

I think that hiring an architect is a good idea.  An architect
understands the consultant/client role better than a developer, because
a developer builds what he builds.  An architect understands that a
building has aspects that aren't just mechanical but emotional and
aesthetic, and is trained to help a client deal successfully with all
of those considerations.

If you build it like a condo, it will be a condo.  You'll get a lot of
virtual tenants, and if you're lucky, a core group of full
participants.  If you want community, it takes time and commitment.  I
wish there were an easy way to get to community without struggle, but
given the stumbling blocks in our culture, I don't think there is one.


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