Building Better Neighbours?
From: Collaborative Housing Society (cohosocweb.apc.org)
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 1995 10:26:38 -0500
In response to Jerry Callan (and others), I agree with all that you're
saying, well almost all.  I have not seen much evidence around here that
many people interested in cohousing *have* tried to "fix" things where they
are.  I say this because of the blank stares of amazement whenever anyone
(me) suggests that groups invite their neighbours to coho meetings.  I also
see a tendancy for groups to ignore their future neighbours, unless
reminded, and even then it's often more for political expediency than any
desire to connect.

I won't go into the what and why I believe this to be so, except to say that
in a society that sees households moving every 4.3 years, with a long
history of always searching for the new frontier (in fact, the founding myth
of the US, and Canada too, to a lesser degree, was about making a new life,
starting from scratch - for many good reasons, to be sure), it is not too
surprising that we tend to prefer to go out and build a utopia rather than
deal with the mess we are a part of.

I will go on with this though.

A recent study by the Merck Family Foundation called "Yearning for Balance:
Views of Americans on Consumption, Materialism and the Environment" (try
merck [at] igc.apc.org for a copy) offered an interesting portrait of our lives
at this moment in time.  One of the most interesting findings is that, when
asked to rate the importance of certain "guiding principles" to *their*
lives, responses were

Responsibility (to others) 92%
Family Life                91%
Friendship                 85%
Generosity                 72%
Religious Faith            66%
Prosperity and Wealth      58%

When asked to rate the importance of these guiding principles to *other
Americans* -  ie., NOT ME,

Responsibility             28%
Family Life                45%
Friendship                 46%
Generosity                 20%
Religious Faith            18%
Prosperity and Wealth      58%

In other words, you're a money-grubbing cold-hearted irresponsible heathen,
and I'm not.  I sometimes suspect that cohousing is as much about circling
the wagons as it is about making a better society.  I also suspect that the
above attitudes reflect the incredible gap we have between our lives and the
lives of those around us.  We don't trust each other anymore, we don't
understand each other anymore, we just don't want to know each other
anymore, unless we can do it safely,

All I'm trying to say is, cohousing may very well offer the chance to
connect and get to know each other again, because it builds in the physical
spaces where we can start to interact - get to know each other - again.
But if the only way to do this is by going out and building new places,
well, that would be very disappointing to me.  That's why I spend most of my
time lately trying to develop the tools we need here and now so that we can
have some say in what goes on in our neighbours backyard, and yes, perhaps
even have some influence over who buys the house next door - things like
shared ownership instruments, access to pools of financing so that a
neighbourhood group can buy up homes as they come up for sale, and finding
ways to (re)create a sense of place so that people know they're moving into
a neighbourhood, not just a house (hoping this will scare away the hermits
and malcontents!)  In the end, I think it just requires vision - a burning
soul.  I have seen it happen here in Toronto, and suspect that's what got
N-Street started, though you can ask them about that.

Believe me, I think cohousing as an idea is one of the best things to come
along in decades, something that has the potential to really do something
about the mess we've all gotten ourselves into, whether economically,
environmentally, or, of course socially.  If that means actually building a
new and *hopefully* better neighbourhood, well, so be it.  But we built our
suburbs, lost our porches (here we go again) and generally disconnected
ourselves from each other for a reason, and until we come to grips with
that, I don't really believe that just rearranging our houses will be any
sustainable solution.

Maybe I'll stop using the cohousing word to describe my point of view - in
some ways I already have.  Because to me, "cohousing" is just people, not
the *right* people, just people working together and understanding that
having a good neighbourhood is the *only* (IMO) way to have a good life.

I will admit that I have moved around a lot myself, and do not yet feel that
we've found the place we want to call home, but that hasn't stopped us from
trying to make this place a good neighbourhood, even if just in the little
things like saying hello. . .

Russell Mawby
Toronto
cohosoc [at] web.apc.org



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