Re: social engineering in cohousing
From: Lynn Nadeau (
Date: Sat, 30 May 1998 23:40:03 -0500
(This seems so basic as to be unnecessary to say, to those with 
significant involvement in cohousing, but I realize that others use this 
list to get an introductory idea of what this is about. It is for these 
readers that I share my ideas here.)

Cohousing does "engineer" -- consciously plan for-- increased 
opportunities for social interaction and mutual assistance. 

Older systems of group identity and mutual support were based on extended 
family, church parishes, needed cooperation in order to farm or herd 
animals, families living in the same place for generations, common cause 
against an enemy, everyone working within a small area, and so forth.

In modern society, we experience great mobility, travel distances to 
school and work, etc. Either we live as mostly-independent "islands", or 
failing to cope as such must count on social welfare schemes, or simply 
fall through the cracks. 

Cohousing is one way of addressing the fragmented lifestyle which has 
become commonplace in "developed" areas of the world. The realily is that 
most people will still need to go off to a workplace all day, that 
children may take a bus to a non-neighborhood school, and that we will be 
engrossed and involved in the other organizations, responsibilities, and 
relationships in our lives. The social "engineering" of cohousing is 
based on two basic notions: people do want to be connected with others, 
and there are certain things that people do anyway that they could do in 
a way which gives them opportunities to connect.

Sharing meals is a basic example. Walking to or from a car, or garden, 
mailbox, or common house, is another. Work parties to do landscape work. 
Arrangements where homes are united around a commons, rather than 
separated by a grid of pavement, provide opportunities for interaction. 

The expectation of functioning as members of a group gives people 
permission to act on impulses to help and pitch in. It offers the 
satisfaction of the feeling of "belonging" in ways that are inclusive, 
without being "exclusive" or gated. Once people have an chance to work 
together and-or play together, friendships and mutually-beneficial 
connections grow.

The word "engineering" has a certain tinge of coldness in it which is not 
appropriate here. Planning to make interactions happen more often is not 
about coercion, but about invitation and opportunity.

Lynn at RoseWind Cohousing, Port Townsend WA

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