Re: co-housing v.s. old-fashioned neighborliness
From: James Nordgaard (
Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 13:45:16 -0500
A few comments;

The "old fashioned" approaches, which are really as new as cohousing,
are very good ways at community building.  The point is building
communities, not how to build communities.  Whatever means that works
for a community is a good one (with one exception, see below).

There is one big difference between the "block party/club" approach
and cohousing.  In cohousing, there is a very clear understanding of
committement and responsibility, as well as enjoying the benefits. 
Whether or not every member forfills this commitment equally, it is
very clear from the time the member joins (which is an explicit act)
that these responsibilities and commitment are part of being in the
community (and necessary for the community to thrive).  

In a conventional neighorhood, you "join" nothing.  You simply buy a
house and move in.  It is hard to instill this commitment in people
(who have needed none all along), that is absolutely necessary for a
building true community.

The exception I refer to is "building" a community through fear and
mistrust of those "outside" the community.  Such communities, if they
are real communities, are inherently unhealthy.  Gated communities are
NOT communities, they a just a collection of people bound by a wall,
and an irrational fear of "others." The gate of course doesn't keep
out those they fear (criminals), but does keep out those that would
support the health of the community.  

No cohousing community I know about has shut it's doors to the greater
community. To the contrary; members in my community have a greater
than average participation in the broader community, and community and
neighorhood meetings are regularly held in our common space.

---Deb Smyre <dsmyre [at]> wrote:
> I've been exchanging ideas with fellow grad students about my
> project, and some questions have come up that I can't adequately
> (i.e. I haven't been able to articulate a response, though I think I
> intuit the answers).  
> One question is can't the benefits of co-housing be duplicated
within any
> single-family community via block-clubs, backyard barbeques, shared
> child-care, co-op food buying, etc.   The questions seem to revolve
> whether the old-fashioned approaches to achieving a sense of community
> aren't just as effective as co-housing, without the hassle; or whether
> co-housing isn't in some ways like the 'gated communities' developed
> wealthier suburbs to keep like-minded people in and others out.
> My intuition tells me the old-fashioned approach isn't adequate in
> urban neighborhoods because everyone's on the go with no time for
> structured neighborhood 'togetherness' anymore.  Beyond that, I'm
> help here in forming a more definitive response to such questions.  
> =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
> Deb Smyre
> E-Mail:   dsmyre [at]
> Website:
> =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=


Jim Nordgaard /\ jimn [at]  /\
J. River, Inc. - Monterey Cohousing Community - Green Party of MN
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