Re: co-housing growth head in the sand
From: Raines Cohen (
Date: Sat, 16 May 1998 11:12:23 -0500
Liz Stevenson <lilbert [at]> wrote on 5/15/98 11:23:21 -0700:

>But I must
>remind you that this is a young movement and that mistakes will be made
>and learned from.

Absolutely. If I learned one thing as a Geography major at UCB, it is 
that Architecture is a form of History, with Environmental Design, 
looking at what gets built where, providing a snapshot of political and 
economic forces dominant at the time any given community, mixed with the 
technology of the time. At any given moment, all of these forces are 
operating and influencing what gets built where, whether or not we choose 
to acknowledge them.

I see a lot of discussion that posits cohousing as the solution to all 
the evils perpetrated over centuries, in every area from social relations 
to resource management to land use. Clearly, this is often unrealistic. 
Certainly, in many settings, it can help in many ways to improve 
livability, reduce environmental impacts, break down barriers, and 
provide us with new ways for solving problems. But like any tool, we need 
to recognize it as just that --a tool-- and treat it as part of a 
complete toolchest we use for problem-solving.

"If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything starts to look 
like a nail." - anon.

If we think of cohousing as a lever, we can use it to amplify the power 
of other things we're trying to do, whether that is to save open space, 
change land-use attitudes, revitalize urban areas, or open minds. 
Different people will use this tool for different goals, sometimes in 
opposition to one another.

Some of the tension we feel here comes from these different goals - and 
also from our personal investments, emotional and otherwise, in the power 
of the idea, where we shape it to meet our particular needs. If any of us 
sees somebody else using OUR word/idea/philosophy in a way that seems 
antithetical to our concept, then of course we're gonna squawk! 
Especially if we can stereotype the opposing view: Oh, that's a DEVELOPER 
-- of course they're going to despoil the Earth! They make it easier by 
using cohousing as a tool themselves to accomplish their goals. I'm sure 
we can find dozens more examples.

Every move we make in this "pioneering" stage is seen as setting a 
precedent for what follows, and that certainly contributes - as Liz 
points out, we are all investing a lot right now, in the interest of 
making it easier for those who get involved later.

Another source of tension is likely the medium where we're having these 
conversations. While e-mail lists are a great tool, they amplify some 
aspects of our communications and impair others. I'm glad to see that the 
people "arguing" on this thread aren't entirely dropping into antagonism 
- they continue to share areas of agreement.

I'm particularly interested in the sub-thread on divergences from the 
Danish model. Of course  there will be changes when a concept as deep as 
cohousing is transplanted to a very different social, political, economic 
and cultural environment, serving different needs. We should expect to 
see different traditions incorporated, and some of the benefits and 
wisdom and maybe even some of the synergies of the original lost, just as 
we see new ones gained through the infusion of different forces.

The more we are aware of the challenge of what we're trying to do, the 
better we can appreciate the effort required, and apply our limited 
resources (like time, money, political capital, land) appropriately. 


Raines Cohen <coho-L [at]>
Member, Swans Market Cohousing - Old Oakland neighborhood, CA
All units reserved; Groundbreaking ceremonies May 27; occupancy May '99
Currently obtaining mortgage pre-approval for all members

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