Re: Lessons from new world utopias and there implications for cohousing
From: Stuart Staniford-Chen (
Date: Fri, 5 Jan 1996 15:27:41 -0600
Rob Sandelin writes:

> Since most cohousing has kind of a weak value
> system, if any, it will be interesting to watch cohousing over the next 20
> years to see if the "sense of community" within the developments is
> maintained.  

It seems to me that this is sort of the distinguishing feature of cohousing
from other kinds of intentional communities.  The book is very explicit in 
saying that communities that have some kind of idealogical purpose work less
well than cohousing communities that don't.  Presumably, folks who build 
cohousing have, to a greater or lesser extent, bought into that position.
Certainly, my understanding of what cohousing was supposed to be about,
when I first learned about it, was community for the sake of community rather
than community for the greater glory of God, or the end of wasteful 
consumerism, or the many other goals that communities have been formed to

(I'm not saying that McCamant and Durrett are necessarily right, just that
that is what they say, and that has probably colored what cohousers are
doing quite a bit).

> In discussions with some folks from Denmark the sense of community, and more
> importantly the commitment to the community in some Danish projects has
> clearly declined over time as the original founders were replaced with
> others who bought in becuase it was a convienient place to live.  Those who
> bought in later were less involved with the dinners, less involved in the

It's interesting that you say that.  The only Danish cohouser that I have
heard speak on this question was Ulle Swensson (sp?) who gave a presentation
at the urban/retrofit panel at the most recent conference.  He's lived in
Saettedammen (sp?) for 20 years or so.  What he said is that the amount of
energy and involvement fluctuates cyclically over time.  Folks will go
through periods of low involvement where not much is happening, and then
other periods where the community is buzzing with energy and lots of projects
are happening.

I found this quite heartening since my own community was feeling rather
stagnant to me at the time.  His words made me optimistic that that phase
would pass, and indeed it has - we are now in the middle of a huge burst
of energy to completely change our committee structure and a lot of the
way we govern ourselves and run meetings.  People are involved and our last
few meetings have been amongst the biggest ever.

This year will see the tenth anniversary since the first fence came down
at N St, and in a few days, it will be five years since I moved in here.  So
I'm starting to have some sense of how the community changes over time, and
how new people fit in.  This is particularly so since N St has a lot of
renters, thus meaning we have some turnover each year.  My observation so
far is that it is very hard to generalize about how a new resident will fit 
in.  Some people do come in and seem to isolate themselves a bit.  Some
people come in and will relate quickly to one aspect of community life, but
not others (say will be very involved in social activities, but not involve
themselves in governance much).  However, there are definitely people that
come here and just kind of ignite - getting heavily involved in all kinds
of activities in a very short time, giving a big burst of energy to the
rest of us in the process.

It's also true that individuals vary a lot in how much they are involved.
People who were mainstays of the community will almost disappear for a year
or two, and people who have not taken much role will suddenly get inspired
or find the right role for themselves and start to be much more visible for
a while.

I don't see a long term trend in the involvement level at this point.

One caveat I should add about N St - since we have been in the process of
retrofitting our neighbourhood to be a cohousing community gradually, almost
all of us came in as a new person to an existing community.  We didn't have
the experience of designing something together for several years before
moving in.  Thus we may be an odd case to generalize from.

Best wishes


Stuart Staniford-Chen                   | Dept of Computer Science
stanifor [at]                    |   UC Davis, CA 95616
h:(916) 756-8697; w:(916) 754-8742      |          and | N St Cohousing Community

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.