Re: food for thought
From: Graham Meltzer (g.meltzerqut.edu.au)
Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999 00:00:37 -0500
Apologies for the thoughtless error (mine, not the Worldwatch team's); the
Littleton cohousing community is, of course, Highline Crossing.  

In response to Allen Butcher's comments about Highline, I'd like to
contribute what I can - based admittedly on my experience of 3 years ago.
Since Allen lives near Highline, his impressions are likely to be more
accurate and up to date than mine, nonetheless, here's my take.

Allen writes, "From the beginning, Highline's experience in Littleton was a
long and difficult sell.  The entire community was not completed for years
as it took a long time to find enough people to invest and move into the
community.  Evidently the location in Littleton turned away some people,
plus the cost was high."

Yes, when I was there was ongoing construction of about 1/3 of the houses.
Living in a construction site can not have been easy for the residents but
they were philosophical about it.  

In respect of cost ... the average project development costs for the
completed dwellings (at $159.000) was certainly above average for the 18
communities I investigated in 96 (at $151,000), but not as high as 6 of
those other communities.  Interestingly and, to some extent due to the long
development process, their soft costs were the second highest at about
$48,000 per dwelling.  Yes that's right folks - soft costs (legals,
consultants' fees, sales promotion, developer's profit etc) comprised almost
one third of the cost of development.  Scary, huh?  For your interest, the
average amount spent on soft costs (in the 18 communities) was $28,000 (or
about 18.5%).

Allen writes, "I have also heard it said that there is not as much
"community mindedness" at Highline Crossing as is often found in other
cohousing communities.  A significant portion of the community, evidently
more than in most cohousing communities, do not participate in community
functions.  I don't know the statistics on meals in the common house, but
they are relatively infrequent (hows that for avoiding specifics?)."

Well, I can offer some more precise data, but as I said, it's 3 years old.
In '96 Highline had 2 common meals per week.  Other communities had between
0 and 6 per week, with an average of 2.7, and most having 2 or 3 per week.
Highline members attended about 60% of the time, which is slightly less than
average.

The group has pro-actively worked on developing good social relations. They
had had relationship building workshops and retreats.  When I was there they
were still feeling burnout following moving in, but there seemed to be good
levels of moral and emotional support.  There was a men's group and an
investment club.  They had Friday night card games and organized music and
dancing nights. They made decisions by consensus which was working "real
well" according to people I spoke to. There was an 90% household
representation rate at monthly general meetings - second highest of all the
communities - the average being about 80%.

Another of my indicators of 'community mindedness' was residents'
involvement in committees.  It turns out that Highline had the third highest
level (amongst the 18 groups) of involvement in committee work.  Of course,
this could be a function of many things other than civic mindedness; it
measures only involvement, not willingness to be involved.  Still, it's
another piece of the puzzle.

I think one of the lessons we can learn from Highline is the importance of
children to the social life of the whole community.  In 1996 they had the
fewest number of kids per household in those communities I visited - 0.3
kids/household compared with an average of about 1.0.  They also had the
lowest average number of people per household (1.8 to an average of 2.7) so
had the greatest number of singles and childless couples.  I could not
measure it, but am sure that the absence of kids greatly reduced the
opportunities and motivation for adults to get together, and therefore, to
develop closer relationships.

Again, Allen writes, "So the point is that the "dominant attributes of our
'society' - individualism, materialism, consumerism, obsession with privacy
etc.," as Graham Meltzer put it, has influenced the Highline Cohousing
community at least as much or more than  Highline has influenced the
surrounding culture (through newspaper articles, tours, presentations, word
of mouth, etc.)" 

Obviously, a moot point. When I was there I saw a wonderful illustration of
the power of cohousing communities to politicize their own members and also
the surrounding neighbourhoods.  They were leading an environmental battle
against future road development to save the Highline Canal for human
recreation and native species.  I'd be interested to know how the campaign went.

In summary, I was impressed by the people at Highline.  I met some wonderful
open-hearted and open-minded folk, and the social interaction seemed as rich
as at any other community - especially impressive given their difficult
development process, level of burnout and demographic limitations.

Cheers


Graham Meltzer

Lecturer (Architectural Design and Social Ecology)
School of Architecture, Interior and Industrial Design
Queensland University of Technology, 
GPO Box 2434, Brisbane, Australia 4001.

Tel:(617)38642535(w)  Fax:(617)38641528

Web site about cohousing research and education:
   http://www.aiid.bee.qut.edu.au/~meltzer/  

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