back in the neighborhood
From: Collaborative Housing Society (
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 95 23:18 CDT
This message is from Russell Mawby, on behalf of the Collaborative
Housing Society in Toronto.
After being quiet for a while, we're back on line at a new email address:
cohosoc [at]

Although quiet, I have been enjoying the on-going discussion on "what is

I would like to suggest that an interesting perspective on this issue can be
found in the March-April issue of "Utne Reader" - Cyberhood vs.
Neighborhood.  It should be of particular interest to contributors to this
group, being one of the many cyberhoods out there.

The main point seems to be (and is somewhat in evidence in the discussions I
read on this list) that for most of us today, "community" tends to be a much
more exclusive place than it might have been for, say, our grandparents.

I'll let the articles speak for themselves, but there is one "teaser" I'd
like to throw into this discussion, in the form of a quote:

(UR differentiates between neighborhood and network)

"Most of the rest of the world still live in communities, connected to a
place and their neighbors out of mutual need and support.  Of course, real
communities can be constrictive and oppresive, but they can also teach you
how to live with people who are very different from you, people you wouldn't
necessarily choose to be with.  Networks are based on choice.  When they get
uncomfortable, it's easy to opt out of them."

It seems to me that much of the discussion in this recent thread revolves
around this question - is cohousing a network or a neighborhood?

I think it is also important to acknowledge that those communities our
proverbial grandparents lived in were very limited places - people did not
move every 4.8 years as we do now.  They did not have to deal with
high-rises, multi-hour commutes, and all the other (self-inflicted?)
pressures of "modern" life.

But most important of all, they lived their lives largely surrounded by
people just like them.  It is surely no coincidence that cohousing was
reborn in Denmark, one of the most homogenous societies in the Western
World. . .

It is therefore surely no coincidence that this discussion has been going on
here, trying to come to grips with the very issues that drove many of us to
consider cohousing in the first place - the lack of commonality with the
people we have to share our lives with.

I believe that cohousing is a big part of _an_ answer, but I increasingly
believe that it's main value is in teaching us how to (re)make community
wherever we happen to already be.  If that requires building fancy new
places to live, so be it, but I much prefer the neighborhood to the network,
simply because I firmly believe that putting too much stock in the ability
of any one group - even of 30 or so households - to satisfy our craving for
community is doomed to the same failure we are now facing from having put
all our eggs in the nuclear family  basket.  There is no way that mom, dad
and two point three kids could ever provide the complex, nurturing web of
human relationships that each of us needs, and in trying to pretend it could
for so many years, we have perhaps destroyed the ability of our society to
_be_ a society.

And so, I can't help feeling that too intentional a community would be just
as fragile a construct. . .

(Actually, this whole discussion about what makes community really goes to
show just how big a mess we're all in. . . can you imagine it happening even
30 years ago?  But then again, maybe it should have. . .)

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