Re: New Urbanism and CoHousing
From: Scott Cowley (
Date: Mon, 20 Oct 1997 12:43:44 -0500
A month ago we held a publicity event billed as a forum on architecture and 
community design.
Many of the same issues as we have seen on this list were raised.
However, one subject did not get addressed which I think is very relevant:  
what are the 
substantive differences between "New Urbanism" and cohousing?

Retrofitting a suburb to encourage interaction is a good idea.  But interaction 
is simply not 
enough.  In a cohousing community we have at least 3  different factors which 
are crucial to the 
success of a modern community:

1.  Built Consciousness.  By this I mean a shared experience which builds a 
common set of 
understandings and sense of history leading to a sense of ownership in the 

2.   Intentional Governing Structure.  Again this lends itself towards a 
crucial  personal sense 
of investment.  It also imposes a mechanism by which _Personal Accountability_ 
to a community is 
established. This is currently a rare phenomenon in American life.  It creates 
a vital  feedback 
loop by which the local community can remain a dynamic social organism.

3.  Design by Future Residents (and future mortgage payors).  Matt Kiefer 
states that modernism is dead.  Good riddance.  Architectural egos are 
responsible for some of 
the worst problems of our environment.  If architects are "Afraid of being 
rendered unnecessary" 
as Mr. Kiefer says, then they should shift their paradigm, and start seeing 
themselves as service 
providers instead of an elite with a license to impose their brand of 
aesthetics upon us.
    We cohousing groups are trying to hire an architect to first and simply 
_guide_ take 
the time to patiently educate us about a reasonable range of choices.  All the 
while respecting the 
fact that we are paying for, and demand, the right to make the main decisions.
     These would be a noble skills for an architect.  However, this is also an 
emerging art
form in itself, with much to learn.  In my group's case we have seen that one 
of the most 
difficult skills for our architects is "active listening".

As for Katie Allison Granju's "pot stirring", as well as other assertions of 
cohousing selectivity 
and elitism from Roger Montgomery, etc.  I say speak for yourself.  I have been 
trying to maintain 
a concern within the movement for what I consider to be its highest principles 
for a while now.
  1. a better environmental model for housing, land and energy use,
  2. a professed openness to the inclusion of those traditionally 
  3. a local and democratic form of governance

Maintaining more humane principles will always be a struggle within the 
confines of a capitalist
system.  As well as "affordability", this certainly includes our individual 
consciousness.  If you 
happened to have ended up in a rich cohousing community you still have the 
responsibility  to use
that wealth well.  But cohousing is not a welfare project.  We are first trying 
to put a roof over 
our heads.  Then run a neighborhood.  Then be good.

Whether or not cohousing becomes a major part of the housing stock in my 
country is an issue which 
may not be particularly germane.  As Karl Marx suggested, we are all part of an 
historical process 
of social evolution (Dialectic Materialism), and cohousing happens to be 
people, finally taking 
charge, on the leading edge.

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