Re: COHOUSING-L digest 133
From: Robert Hartman (
Date: Mon, 25 Apr 94 15:59 CDT
Chris Biow:

>  ... 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.

I too have seen collective organizations come to grief over issues that
appear to be external.  However, we must recognize that whenever a
group of people get together for mutual support in any form, the issues
that any member has a passionate interest in become, one way or
another, part of the group's agenda.  You cannot be mutually supportive
while at the same time dismissing the concerns of one member or another
as "external" or "extrinsic."  If the member is "in," that member's
concerns are "internal."

The vision statement puts a scope on the group's area of mutual
interest.  People either sign up for the whole package, or they don't.
If the package is too limited or too broad in its political scope, one
can either negotiate a compromise or opt to form a group with others
who have a compatible agenda.  To join when you have principled
objections to the group's fundamental values is divisive.  

This can put a person at a bit of a disadvantage if he wants to live
more communally but doesn't want to live with certain group-imposed
restrictions.  The options are to go along and get along, or form
another group.

Those who want to use a cohousing settlement as a base for further
political work have every right to do that.  Those who want to live
more congenially without such politicking have every right to do
that.  Both types of agendas can be accommodated, and may well be
accommodated in the same group.  But this all has to be negotiated.
The wider the differences in agenda, the more explicit the
negotiations must be, and the more important it is that compromises
and agreements be reflected in the vision statement and/or bylaws.

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!

Well, sorry to say this Chris, but that's probably how its going to be.
People who are into social experimentation are often also involved
in political movements.  I am certain, however, that there is enough
of a market for "nonactivist" cohousing that you can find or start a
successful group.  But recognize that every group will have its own
flavor, including yours.  Simple collective cohabitation is the
minimal and necessary condition for cohousing.  It is not necessarily
a sufficient or defining condition.

>  ... 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. 

I would venture to say that Denmark doesn't have the same political
climate or issues that we are faced with in the States.  For instance I
believe that Denmark, as with most Scandinavian countries, already has
rather strict gun controls.  It isn't an issue for a Danish cohousing
group because any such debate has been obviated there.

> ... 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 can relate to this concern.  There are two approaches.  The first is
to make it clear that the policies of each cohousing group are their
own, and do not reflect the movement as a whole.  Within that
framework, cohousing can be sold as an arrangement in which all
varieties of like-minded people can find a home.  The second approach
is to define cohousing narrowly, as just another living arrangement.
But I have a hard time seeing how this narrower vision would sell.
Considering the privileges of single-family home ownership (e.g., no
one griping if you have a gun in your house), why would anyone bother?

> ... 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.

Cohousing could also restrict itself needlessly to those who have no
strong polticial agenda.  I wouldn't want to see that either.

> 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.

Great!  Please keep us posted on your progress!

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