What Cohousing is Not/What it can become
From: Michael Mariner (maikanoidcomm.com)
Date: Sun, 14 Sep 1997 18:52:03 -0500
I'm concerned with us putting too many limits on what cohousing can 
become by how we talk about it and how we define it.  I'm posting to the 
list to get feedback to see if I'm the only one who thinks this way:

Some quotes to start:

Frank Lloyd Wright said something like "we create our buildings and then 
they create us."

In his modern translation of the "I Ching," called "The I Ching 
Workbook," R.L. Wing says (re Community):

"Society functions at its very best when each member finds security in 
his place within the social structure.  When all members can be gainfully 
employed, yet have individual initiative, when they can excel in their 
own craft, and in doing so contribute to the overall goals of society, 
then there exists harmony and a sense of community.  When the members 
have an interest in the continuity of their Community, great deeds can be 
accomplished.  This is because the many work for the one."

In her recent refinement of the definition of cohousing, Katie M. said:

>6. The community is not a primary income source for residents: there is no
>shared community economy (ala Twin Oaks): If the community also provides
>residents with their primary income, this is a significant change to the
>dynamic between neighbors and defines another level of community beyond the
>scope of cohousing.

First, I'd like to note that Katie's well-articulated points #1-5 were 
affirmative -- defining what cohousing *is* rather than what it is not.  
(#5 was somewhat exclusive - ruling out heavy leadership trips)  But, 
what's the purpose for including #6 about what cohousing is *not* that 
draw a line between communities like Twin Oaks and cohousing?     With 
all the successful coho sites around, is there still a need to distance 
cohousing from other communities to ensure bank financing, etc.?  I 
thought financing problems were largely overcome by the success of many 
projects throughout the U.S.

The "I Ching" quote above clearly links economic endeavors to the rest of 
community life.  Of course, the author could mean "community" to be a 
city or town, but I think one of the goals of intentional community, 
including cohousing, should be to reunite working life with home life.  
And cohousing people do:  off icing in the home, MLM's, bartering 
services, helping each other build, garden, repair cars, etc.  But I 
don't see why we should rule out having a shared economic endeavor as the 
primary income of the group.  If we encourage mixed-use 
zoning/neighborhoods, self-governing neighborhoods could decide what 
businesses were appropriate.

The Lloyd Wright quote indicates we should be careful as we build -- 
build more with an eye to the future.  If we design only for residential, 
then we have to redesign if later we want to add some business space.  

Katie goes on to say:
>I, for one, don't want to touch the question of exclusiveness as part of
>the basic definition. When does a group become exclusive? When you are not
>allowed to cook a steak in the common house? When I'm not allowed to smoke
>on my own patio? When we encourage some and discourage others? When many
>people can not afford the base costs to get in? Or when we state that one
>of the community's core values is sustainability or Christianity or Judaism
>or  . . . .? 

So, why exclude the possibility of forming a cohousing group partially 
around a joint economic endeavor, or, evolving in that direction later?

My first concern is to keep cohousing open to evolution.  I recommend 
defining cohousing with Katie's points #1-5 and not worry about what 
features or specializations or qualities might be added on by an 
individual community forming in the future or that might happen as an 
existing community evolves.  Although today cohousing sites are not 
founded with an eye toward community economic endeavor, perhaps they 
could or should be:  For instance:

-  Remember that group of (Chicago) artists who posted to coho-L awhile 
back?  Their intention was to find a large warehouse somewhere that they 
could convert to a living and working space.  I don't recall if they 
intended to form a marketing co-op or other such joint economic endeavor, 
but I would say if they did, more power to them if all the other 
cohousing criteria are met *and* they form a co-op, they're still 
cohousing with the flavor of an artist's co-op.

-  Nyland has about 20 acres currently lying fallow.  Suppose they decide 
to use that land for something lucrative such as, say, an herb farm with 
greenhouses that could (arguably) become a primary community income 
producer.  If they do, they shouldn't lose their cohousing status, they'd 
just become a variation -- the Nyland Cohousing Herb Farm.

-  San Juan Cohousing near Durango, CO, has a large chunk of land (140+ 
acres).  From the outset they aren't planning any community economic 
endeavor, but after they get moved in, perhaps they will decide that they 
could have a nature retreat center that serves to educate visitors about 
the local environment *and* happens to become a major (if not primary) 
income producer for the community.   What's wrong with becoming the "San 
Juan Cohousing Community and Retreat Center?"  It's another add-on.

-  How about an inner city group where having a community economic 
endeavor as part of the cohousing group would be a huge benefit?  Are we 
continuing to define cohousing such that it is only for the affluent -- 
for those who have the great jobs and don't need to worry about finding 

My second concern is that cohousing continue to evolve to being more 
sustainable in all ways -- ecological, economic, social, cultural, etc.  
Perhaps something could be added to the definition that encourages 
ecological building, living, and stewardship of the land.  I'd agree we 
don't want it to be a "hard requirement" but the state of the planet is 
not such that we can continue to go out and build unconsciously -- or 
build conscious of only *human* community.  Any suggestions how this 
could be encouraged?  Or does it happen that those practicing cohousing 
usually have environmentalists among them who get those values and 
practices included as the group evolves?

Katie also said:
>On the other hand, if you create a great community based on supporting
>yourselves by giving workshops on sustainable living, or running a retreat
>center as the primary source of income for residents, I fully support you
>but it--by definition--is not a cohousing community. If the term cohousing
>begins to be used for all types of communities it will lose its meaning and
>the ability of groups to more clearly define what type of community they
>are creating.

One problem is there are not enough popular definitions for other types 
of intentional communities.  The only defined types I can think of are 
ecovillage, commune, co-op household, religious community, kibbutz.  

A lot of communities will not fit any of those definitions.  For instance 
several of the rural communities that started as hippy communes are now 
more like cohousing than communes -- lacking a specific term they're just 
a generic intentional community which doesn't help describe what they 
are.  So, given this state of definitions, the natural inclination of a 
populace trying to peg cohousing with a "one-liner" will tend to 
associate any species of community with the word that is most out there 
in the media -- currently "cohousing."  (I personally have seen a lot of 
this when I ask somebody if they've heard of cohousing.)  

To a degree we have to live with that.  The trick is to make the movement 
so positive and (I guess) so inoffensive that it doesn't matter if many 
flavors of community get associated with "us."

Thanks for listening,

Michael Mariner

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