From: Allen Butcher (
Date: Sat, 2 Nov 1996 12:52:32 -0600
As a number of folks have been asking about marketing, I thought to
present here an article printed in vol. 9 no. 2 COHOUSING JOURNAL summer
'96.  This article doesn't talk about how to do marketing, only what
might be said in marketing efforts, or how cohousing might be presented
in marketing campaigns.  Any comments you may have I'd be interested in
receiving.                             Allen Butcher


A. Allen Butcher, for the CoHousing journal, March, 1996

        When we think about how best to present the cohousing concept to
the American mass market, we might do well to frame the issue of building
community as an opportunity for people to secure for themselves the
luxuries that we sometimes refer to as communitarian values.  In
developing this marketing concept we might do well to first acknowledge
that we are not simply a sector of the housing industry, but are actually
creating a new industry; a community-building industry offering luxuries
about which people living without community can only dream.  In order to
see the cohousing idea fulfill its potential of transforming the American
Dream, we need to boldly go where the housing industry has already
visited; to a campaign of media hype and marketing savvy which this time
defines community, rather than mere housing, as a set of luxuries within
the grasp of not one family on its own, but any group of families working
        As fifty years of the post-war housing industry has shown,
communitarian values are luxuries that we do not absolutely need if all
that we are trying to do is acquire housing.  Today, however, the
challenge is to build a social fabric that provides, in addition to mere
shelter, a culture that engenders in the individual an awareness of and
appreciation for others, and for the environment that we all share.  Such
an awareness would be built upon a set of values that comprise what may
be called communitarian theory or ideals.
        Communitarian values include such basic concepts as:  a safe and
mutually beneficial environment for children and seniors; the provision
of basic needs such as food service, child and health care, landscaping,
building and auto maintenance and other collective services involving
people working together for mutual advantage and greater efficiency,
rather than each contributing separately to the profit of corporations;
neighborhood forums for local governance to resolve disputes or address
challenges from both within and outside of the community; and
architectural and land use designs that facilitate interactions among
neighbors, the development of friendships, random kindness and senseless
acts of beauty.  All of these are luxuries that are difficult or
impossible for individuals to provide for themselves, but which a group
of people of even modest means can secure by common agreement and
collective action.
        With a little creative thought we could develop quite a list of
luxuries inherent in the cohousing dream.  Consider the priceless value
of the peace of mind that comes with knowing on a first name basis
everyone in your neighborhood, because you talk and work with them
regularly as a matter of course in day-to-day living.  This we might call
a "trust luxury."  The informal ambience of the cohousing common house we
might call a "social luxury."  Many who write about cohousing have also
recognized the luxury of inter-generational community, in which both
young and old are encouraged to care for the other.  More than mere
luxury, compared to the usual pattern of age segregation in America, this
is cultural elegance.  
        Consider too how much more completely than living separately does
the fellowship of community come to the spiritual ideals of brother- and
sisterhood, of living by the Golden Rule, or of practicing a
love-thy-neighbor ethic.  The opportunity of conforming our lifestyle to
our spiritual ideals can be cast as a luxury that not many outside of
community enjoy.  This is in addition to the obvious potential for
quantifying how much more ecologically responsible than
tract-house-living cohousing is proving to be;  perhaps this one we would
call a "politically correct luxury."  An additional luxury that may be
explained is how people living in cohousing have a kinship with people in
other cohousing communities around the country.  The networking carried
on between communities builds relationships that provide friends for us
to visit while on vacation, even potentially around the world.  Call this
one a 
"holiday luxury."  The point to be stressed is that community, and
communitarian values, are luxuries that money alone cannot buy; priceless
commodities that we should be careful not to undersell.
        The fact that cohousing is a proven catalyst for the creation of
genuine community (to use Scott Peck's term) is a market advantage that
can be employed in our efforts to work for positive social change, while
also realizing a comfortable level of remuneration for our work. 
Establishing a community-building industry begins with creating a market
demand for community.  Promoting the communitarian values experienced in
cohousing is an opportunity for us to take advantage of the greatest set
of new found luxuries since the invention of indoor plumbing.  In a
sense, what we want to do is repeat history, at least that part of our
history that led to the replication of design innovations across our
country and increasingly around the world.  Understanding how we arrived
at our fabled American Dream of ubiquitous suburban monocultural design
can help us to build a marketing plan for the cohousing design for
        My favorite authority on the American Dream is Dolores Hayden of
the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of
California at Los Angeles. In her works, The Grand Domestic Revolution
(MIT Press, 1981) and Redesigning the American Dream (W.W. Norton, 1984),
she outlines how the housing industry came to be the defining feature of
American culture.  In The Grand Domestic Revolution, Ms. Hayden points
out that period visionaries at the turn of the century expected that
technological advances in home appliances would be employed to create
collective domestic services in large residential complexes, and
facilitate the social as well as political equality of women and men. 
Instead, these innovations were miniaturized as consumer commodities to
fill individual households, with consumption defined by advertisers as a
"patriotic duty," followed by "Mr. Homeowner" marrying "Mrs. Consumer."

        Builders, bankers, and manufacturers agreed that the type of home
they wished to promote was the single-family suburban house on its own
lot.  ...  To dislodge many women from paid jobs in the 1920s and 1930s,
conservative advocates of home ownership and family wages attacked all
feminists indiscriminately.  ...  Government-sponsored mortgages and tax
deductions for home owners in the post World War II era ... provided a
boon to speculative builders, appliance manufacturers, and automobile
manufacturers.  As women were ejected from wartime jobs, they moved into
suburban married life and the birth rate rose along with mass
        By the 1960s, the suburban rings of cities held a greater
percentage of the national urban population than the old city centers. 
By the 1970s, ... (s)even out of ten households lived in single-family
homes ... on long mortgages.
        Builders and industrialists in the 1970s continued to glorify the
Victorian home a century beyond its time ....  They used mass media to
glorify this accomplishment as progress and to befuddle the housewife.
...  As Meredith Tax wrote about the housewife's day in 1970:  "I seem to
be involved in some mysterious process."  (Hayden, 1981, pp 23-26)

        In 1990 the total of detached houses and trailers equaled 66.2%
of all housing units (U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of
the United States: 1994, pp 735).  Today there are many programs to help
families acquire housing, and home ownership is an election time
quality-of-life issue.  Bringing communitarian values into this picture,
countering generations of acculturation to the paradigm of home as moated
castle, is the challenge we face as we work to create a
community-building industry.   As monumental a task as this may seem,
Dolores Hayden suggests that this is not a new idea.  "For hundreds of
years, when individuals thought about putting an end to social problems,
they designed model towns to express their desire, not model homes." 
(Hayden, 1984, pp 18)
        With respect to the lessons of the past concerning the creation
of new industries, we ought now to define a "community mystique" in terms
of communitarian luxuries to replace the "domestic mystique," and seek to
forge a government-corporate consensus on the relevance of communitarian
values to American society.  Of these two goals, the former was discussed
in the first part of this article.  What of the latter?
        Much is being said about values today by the media, by
government, by religious groups, by social organizations and others. 
Conservative rhetoric challenges the teaching of "moral relativism" as a
cause of social decay, while liberal litanies of cultural demise decry
the individual's focus upon what Gregory Bateson termed the "skin
encapsulated ego."  Note that there is a level of agreement in the views
espoused by these two cultural poles.  Focusing upon this common concern
about the excess of individualism in our society can provide a foundation
for a consensus, upon which a program of advocacy for communitarian
values may be built.  Some ground work for this discussion has already
been done by Amitai Etzioni and The Communitarian Network.  (See:  Amitai
Etzioni, The Spirit of Community:  The Reinvention of American Society,
Touchstone: 1993.)  
        To successfully advance cohousing it is important to not permit
the debate to be defined as the individual versus society, or vice versa,
but rather to advance the anthropologist Paul Radin's preference that
"... the individual and the group ... resist submergence of one by the
other." (Arthur Morgan, Guidebook for Intentional Communities, Community
Service, Inc.: 1988)  A dynamic balance between individual and society is
the goal, encouraged in the local community by its provision of a human
scale, knowable society in which the individual has reflected to them,
and recognizes, the importance of their personal role.  The community,
then, is comprised of a range of different types of families, always
changing with the lifecycles of birth, growth, new births and deaths. 
Through all this the local community seeks to maintain itself as an
ongoing entity, providing a fixed context against which to measure the
changes in our personal microcosms, and of the ever quickening and often
unsettling changes in the vast, global culture beyond the community.
        Through first identifying just what communitarian values are,
then how they relate to the issues of the day, a basic strategy can be
developed for creating a community-building industry.  And we may not be
as far from this ideal as it may seem.  Consider that in 1988 the
Community Associations Institute (1630 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314,
703-548-8600) estimated that approximately 12.1% of our population lived
under the jurisdiction of community associations.  These use the same
legal designs, the PUD and the condominium, that are used by most
cohousing communities.  Identifying the differences between cohousing and
non-cohousing community associations, and emphasizing the positive nature
of these differences, would be a community-building industry strategy. 
        If we would like for cohousing to be seen in the future as the
defining cultural ethic of 21st Century Western civilization, rather than
simply as the last gasp of 20th Century Western cultural innovation, we
would do well to consider the dynamics of cultural change, and consider
what strategic steps might be taken to raise cohousing from a marginal
role in our cultural milieu to a central influence in American society.

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