Limits of Cohousing
From: biow (biowcs.UMD.EDU)
Date: Mon, 25 Apr 94 09:42 CDT
Rob Sandelin wrote:

>The vision statement is the core values that a group of people commit 
>to, or at least are willing to tolerate.  If non-violence is a core 
>value, then instruments of violence such as guns would obviously not be 
>welcome.  The sad thing about having a group "break up" over such 
>things is that the primary issue should work up to the core value set 
>and if it doesn't fit, then you have room to compromise. However, if 
>the issue fits a core value  it should have little compromise, or the 
>core value should be changed, although this is not easy to do unless 
>the framers of the core values are willing to do so.

I agree with the idea of a vision or mission statement. This is something
that should be agreed upon up front. We recently attended a meeting 
of the Frederick (Maryland) cohousing group, where I was impressed 
with their vision statement. All of the values that I see as intrinsic
to co-housing--community, shared meals, environment for children,
and (at least openness to) diversity of occupants--were included. But I
was also impressed that they did *not* add anything extraneous to 
cohousing. Cohousing is not inherently political. The addition
of political baggage can only diminish and fragment our movement, IMHO.

Frank Boosman wrote:

>Chris Biow wrote:
>>I don't want to have to choose among gun/no-gun, smoking/no-smoking,
>>Green/non-Green, nuclear-free/pro-nuke, recycling/bicycling,
>>Left/Middle/Right/Green/Red/Brown/Black/Statist/Libertarian groups.
>>I want to live in a cohousing group!

>To be blunt, this is absurd. By choosing to live in a cohousing community,
>one is, in effect, saying, "I wish to live in close proximity to people who
>believe certain things: namely, that people should live more closely than
>is typically practiced today; that people should group together to form
>quasi-extended families; that meals are meant to be shared on a regular
>basis;" and so on.

Excepting the first sentence above, we agree.

>Now, you might choose not to live in a cohousing development which bans
>firearms. I would.

Personally, I could care less about a firearms policy, save for its
effect on other people who might want to join the community. I have not
owned a weapon since I left the service and do not expect to again. 
Until I read Point_Blank, I was an avid gun-control nut. Now I am 
more or less neutral on the subject. But the policy we are discussing
(no guns in the community) would have the dubious virtues of being both
potentially divisive and unenforceable.

>I, on the other hand, wouldn't want to live in a
>development which promoted or was focused around a religion, whereas
>someone else might. This is just fine. This is the way cohousing is meant
>to work. If you don't like a given group, keep looking, or start one of
>your own. But why worry about what other groups do?

Here we disagree, again. The Danish example gives little basis 
for the addition of extrinsic values, with the possible exception 
of electrical power efficiency, which can be justified on
sheer economic grounds. Were we overflowing with dozens of coho 
developments in each city and town, I would have no problem
with the fragmentation that comes with political extrinsics. 
But given the present state of the movement in the US, this
scares me. I have seen at least two movements in the past
(Gray Panthers, High Frontier) needlessly restrict their possible 
appeal to a small section of the political spectrum by association 
with irrelevant political issues. I do not want to see this to happen 
to cohousing.

>Perhaps you should start a cohousing group which specifically takes
>no position on gun ownership, smoking, nuclear issues, recycling, or any
>other such issues. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you found others who
>were looking for the same kind of group. If you do, I wish you all the
>success. (I wouldn't be among them.)

We probably have the nucleus of a non-political group that will, I hope,
be ready to move in 3-5 years. But we certainly will not be the first
such group.

joels [at] (Joel Spector) wrote:

>biow (could you please post a name or pseudonym next time?) 

Oops, sorry. My version of elm and the listserv do not seem to be 
correctly relaying my name. I am Christopher Biow, a 31 year old 
computer science grad student. My wife and I have been interested
in cohousing for several years, and are probably within about 3
years of being ready to actively pursue it.

>...and Rob
>Sandelin have started an interesting discussion. The issue being used for
>an example was gun ownership.  Rob presents the primary concept involved as
>being 'vision,' biow was less specific but seemed to be trying to present
>the issue as one of privacy.  (Is this so? Please correct me if my
>interpretation is off.)

I would not put it down as privacy, although privacy/community balance
is an important, though different subject. I would define this as a 
matter of scope, or of not binding our movement to attempts to solve
problems that we do not need to solve and that may be unsolvable.
To use a more abstract example that will gore nobody's ox, if we devote 
our cohousing group to the use of alternative footwear, we then reduce
our chances of success to the base chance of cohousing itself 
succeeding, multiplied by the chance of alternative footwear being
considered a good idea in 20 years. We also reduce our appeal to people 
who could care less about alternative footwear or who actively oppose it.
Why add that needless risk?

>Vision is a good thing.  Diversity also has its strengths.  To a degree,
>these two good things are mutually exclusive.  How to balance them seems to
>me to be the key to the art of "managing" a community.  Or, perhaps, the
>art of managing to be a member of one.  The decision being made is, which
>comes first?  Loving your neighbor, or loving your vision?

Well put. So long as we restrict our vision to safe issues that everyone
can agree on, we certainly do no damage. A devotion to Motherhood, 
America, and a Hot Lunch for Orphans will entail no additional
division or risk, though it is a waste of paper. But tying
our movement to one side of a political issue with which our nation
and our world is struggling is, IMHO, unwise.

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