Failure of cohousing as communties: call for community building
From: Fred H. Olson (
Date: Mon, 23 Aug 1999 09:38:40 -0600 (MDT)
Rob Sandelin robsan [at]
is the author of the message below but due to a problem it was posted
by the Fred the list manager: owner-cohousing-L [at]
Note: This message was from Jul 23, 1999 , sorry for the delay. Fred
--------------------  FORWARDED MESSAGE FOLLOWS --------------------

I frequent two worlds which are somewhat seperated: Cohousing, and
intentional communities. 

One of the more interesting debate points I have heard come from IC folks is
that Cohousing will eventually just become fancy housing developments
because the only requirement to live in cohousing is enough money, and with
no other operational requirements they are doomed to fail as communities.

When cohousing groups sell their units, particularly in difficult markets,
they will soft sell the "community" aspects and hard sell the convience,
ameneties, etc. in order to make the sale. Over time, as the ideological
foundations that drove the development are eroded away,  and the founders
with their visions of closer relationships with their neighbors,  are
replaced by people looking for a good housing deal, much of the energy it
takes to make a place have a "sense of community" will diminish. Perhaps
over time, dissappear altogether. The high cost of home ownership usually
means most the participants must spend most their time and energy away from
the community at work, leaving very little left over for community events
and endeavors.

There are lots of condos these days that have community centers, pedestrian
designs, even gathering nodes in their designs, but these places have no
more sense of community than anywhere else.

It is the intention to have a relationship with your neighbors that drives
the activities that make a sense of community happen. In fact, this is what
drives cohousing founders to spend several years of their lives to create
such places. That intention is the difference between cohousing and a condo.
If that intention dies, then all you have left is some buildings and grumpy
people who will complain about the closeness of the design and the lack of

Although I have never been there, I have heard from 4 different sources now
that this is the state of the Cohousing group in Aspen. I have been told
many of the people who moved there did so because it was low income housing,
not because they wanted a closer relationship with their neighbors. Over
time, those that held the community vision have slowly moved out,
discouraged and dissillusioned. One of the couples I met from there was
astonished that there were cohousing groups that worked as communities! They
assumed their experience was universal. I was happy to set them straight and
they later joined another group, perhaps wiser to what can happen when you
don't pay attention to your community health.

So in order to keep your community, or perhaps create  more of, a sense of
community what are the activities that you can do? Share your ideas. that's
what this list is for.

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood Cohousing (13 years old and still going)
Northwest Intentional Communities Association. The NW communities gathering
will be held August 20-22 at River Farm. Check our website for detials at

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