Re: Intentional Communities vs. Cohousing
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 21 Jul 94 11:29 CDT
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The following was from a letter by Allen Butcher published in Community =

Resources, the Northwest Intentional Communities Association =

Newsletter. Allen has lived for many years in intentional Communities =

and has written many articles and papers on the subject. He is replying =

to a letter I sent to him after the Communities Conference where I felt =

and observed a palpable gap between cohousing and other community =

types.  I apologize for its length, I felt what he says is important =

enough to include it in this discussion.

Rob Sandelin

For this letter I want primarily to respond to the issue you mentioned =

concerning the: "wall of perception" between cohousing groups and =

intentional Communities. I have several reactions to this issue which I =

want to share with you. My first thought is to explore this wall. =

Understand why it is there, what sustains it, what purpose it fills, who
maintains it and who ignores it. Obviously, since it is perceptible =

then it is fulfilling a function important to some people. Once all =

this is understood, then it becomes possible to work with this =

function, or need for differentiating between the different types of =

communities. Rather than being an obstacle, this wall can become a =

tool, a landmark even, for showing that the cohousing concept =

represents a significant development in the larger quest for community. =

 As such, cohousing may be considered to represent a developmental =

milestone which itself may be
transcended some day. When I arrived in Colorado in 1992 folks here in =

the cohousing network were also saying that intentional communities =

were "hippie Communes" and that cohousing was something entirely =

different. The implication was that cohousing communities are better =

conceived and planned, better organized and capitalized, better =

integrated into the larger culture, and therefore better positioned for =

encouraging change in American Society.  This was the implication, yet =

at the first public cohousing meeting I attended (in Boulder, CO), =

sponsored by the
Rocky Mountain Cohousing Association (RMCA), folks were defining the =

term "intentional community" as being those kinds of communities that =

have more extensive common facilities and less private space than the =

design. Folks weren=92t really saying "better"they were saying =

"different", but the implication was that a values statement was being =

made by their use of terms. I felt that their focus upon architectural =

design for defining terms was really masking a deeper concern for the =

need to differentiate socio-economic and lifestyle values.  Yet I =

decided to only address the issue from the perspective that folks were =

already using. I said simply that generally in the movement the term =

intentional community includes land trust communities in which there is =

often no common facilities at all.  People have their individual houses =

and share only land ownership. Therefore, since cohousing communities =

focus upon creating shared facilities and functions, they certainly fit =

the generally accepted definition of intentional community, =

representing the midrange between land trusts and communal societies...

One thing which I think is important to note is that the kind of =

acceptance conflict we are discussing here is not new in the movement. =

In the past, secular communal societies would not relate to spiritual =

communal societies.  Land trusts and other forms of "decentralized" =

communities would have no contact with any communal or =

"centralized"communities (to use Dan Questenberry=92s classifications). =

Rural communities had little or nothing to do with urban communities. =

Specific movements like Egalitarian, Emissary, Quaker, Sufi, Catholic, =

Monastic, Hindu, minority,
survivalist, Lesbian separatist, Gay, Native American, Fundamentalist, =

New Age Christian - all stayed in their own self-described worlds. Even =

different communities that were part of the same movement tended to =

speak down upon each other according to size, location, membership, =

economic development or any other difference.  This need to affirm =

differences is natural, and we might try to channel this natural =

tendency for parochialism toward a celebration of a unity in diversity. =

I made this point in the Directory article: "Community in the 1990=92s" =

suggesting that, as in
ecology, diversity provides for resiliency and adaptability to changing =

conditions, so as with most things, the underlying issues are complex =

and deserve a lot of thought and discussion.  We can think of the wall =

you mention as a negative thing, as an onerous form of communitarian =

chauvinism engendering conflict, mistrust and bitterness. Or we can =

recognize the wall (or walls) as a positive thing, an opportunity to =

frame the issue of social change and intentional cultural design =

according to the differences comprising the walls we perceive. Clearly, =

a lot more can be done with
this issue, and I encourage you to think and to talk with others about =

the intentional communities movement, from whatever perspective people =

are willing to approach the subject. The thing that does the most harm =

is silence. As long as people are talking, progress can be made.
Allen Butcher
P.O. Box 1666
Denver, CO  80201.

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