RE: On being too close for comfort
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 00:33:31 -0500
Cohousing uses a group collarborative process, and to succeed requires a great 
deal of group cohesion and trust amoung the members of the group. In my 
experience, if you do not build this trust and cohesion, your group will not 
succeed. There comes a point where people will have to put up thousands and 
thousands of dollars of totally at risk money. In the groups that fail, 
sometimes it is because they have no faith or trust in each other, or not 
enough to risk huge amounts of capital. The group typically then dissolves. 
This has occured dozens and dozens of times, all across America. Basically as 
soon as a site is found, and the project is about to move from the 
intellectual discussion stage to the practical stage,  the group falls apart 
from lack of capital.

There are at least twice as many failed groups as successful groups. In my 
neck of the woods, the ratio is three to one. For every built cohousing 
project, there are 3 dissolved groups. Groups fail for many reasons, but a 
very common one is lack of commitment and trust. I have personally watched 
local groups fall apart because of poor meetings, bad dynamics, and 
unrealistic expectations. A woman I know who could have personally bought a 
particular site herself, left a local group because she did not feel any sense 
of community amoung the participants. 

You need excellent interpersonal communication skills, outstanding listening 
skills, and also need to understand yourself, other people, and group 
dynamics. Sound complex? Yep.  Nobody teaches Americans how to collaborate in 
a group. Most groups that last more than a year either get a member who is 
savy, or they find some training. You don't get far without a pretty good 
ability to make decisions with integrity. If you bulldoze people, they usually 
just leave, and when that happens over and over again, eventually there is no 
one left.

If you have no one in your group to shephard peoples feelings, and all you do 
is business meetings, your chances of successfully getting a project build are 
low. Business meetings do not build trust in and of themselves. You need 
something more. Something deeper to build bonds between people and to the 
community vision.

So decide what you want and why you want to be living in an intentional 
community and then look at what it will take for a group to pull that off. You 
might examine some successful communities and find out about their 
celebrations, rituals and how they build relationships. You might come to the 
same conclusions I have. Or then again, maybe not. There are folks who claim 
that any old developer, if given the right architecture can create a vibrant 
community. I personally don't beleive this at all, but thats my bias. 
Community is delibrate and intentional, otherwise its fake window dressing, 
something to fool the masses who don't know any better. 

Rob Sandelin

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