<no subject>
From: The CoHousing Company (cohocohousingco.com)
Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2001 14:53:02 -0600 (MDT)
TO: Cohousing "L" 

Howdy everyone,
Katie and I have been asked several times lately what we think about housing
projects that has been designed without the future residents but is being
called cohousing by the project¹s promoters. Designing a cohousing community
with the future residents is basic to the concept and the definition of
cohousing. It is in the design process where we will continue to evolve
development towards housing that is more reflective of the real values of
our society.  Otherwise we will continue to build what we think people want
and that will be entirely based on looking in the rear view mirror rather
than looking forward and evolving towards a more sustainable society.
Secondly, the group is best at breaking the envelope; we are not going to
break it for them. They are also best at getting new concepts approved.
Distance to parking, size of houses, etc., where someone somewhere else
(Fire Department, banks, appraisers, etc.) will have problems with unless
there are future residents to push for them. My experience after 30 projects
is that the least group involvement the more brand X. The more involvement,
the more we evolve towards less energy use, more sustainability, and more
towards the most sustainable characteristic of all ­ community.

As you know, there are many ways to do housing. Everything from cohousing to
warehousing (prisons, bad senior housing, etc.) and many forms in between.
While in Denmark there are still only about 250 cohousing developments built
to date, the legacy of cohousing is much larger. Many thousands of housing
developments  have been inspired by cohousing and have been created in a way
that makes them much better than average single family or multi-family
housing.  They have better club houses, better social areas, better kid
facilities outside, better landscaping, and more.  But those are not called
cohousing. I have heard people refer to them as the cousins of cohousing and
I think that is a good term.

As you know, housing designed without the future residents is not cohousing.
Quite unfortunately, however, the marketeers of America will call anything
anything in order to sell it. Like the industrial park without the park and
the business plaza without a plaza. It is not cohousing without the co.  We
just got back from Kauia where a marketeer called 7 boxes (that they sell
things from like Burger King, Office Max, etc.) completely surrounded by
asphalt "Kauia village". What an insult to the indigenous folk. I know they
do not want to call it "strip commercial", its real description, but at
least they could call it a "shopping place" or something other than what
folks used to inhabit before the gringos and their marketeers arrived.
Americans are shameless when it comes to exploiting the language and the
good reputations or the nice sound of something in order to move a product.
Product is what developers call typical houses and real estate.

It is fairer for the consumers to not cal l developer-driven product
cohousing. After 250 cohousing projects were built in Denmark, finally a
developer came along who wanted to do a speculative cohousing project.  He
had successfully co-developed other cohousing communities. He employed a
very experienced  cohousing architect. I visited it six months after full
move in. After six months, the common house had still not been unlocked. The
group could not agree on anything. How could they, they had no history, no
culture of making decisions together. The fact is that half of the buyers
were enthusiastic about cohousing and cooperating with their neighbors and
were eager to make it work. However, they themselves had not grown as a
community, had not formed as a community by making decisions together and
were no where near a community  when they moved in.  They were foisted
together by real estate. Real estate does not make a community. The
residents move in as a community in cohousing.  They have a culture of
making decisions. sometimes very tough decisions, together.  Some flap later
such as "should all the kids in the community be invited to a child¹s
birthday party" won¹t send everyone home refusing to talk to each other.
They have a culture of being together, setting up baby sitting, coughing up
money, disagreeing and getting over it, and laughing together. The habits
are in place. The primary responsibility of the real estate is to maintain
the community, maintain convivial opportunities, sustain relationships, but
it cannot catalize relationships. In fact, if you put people in your face
before the relationship has been developed, then in-your-face real estate
has the opposite effect ­ it causes you to shrink away from relationships.
Have you ever had that uncomfortable experience when the person you did not
know in the apartment across the hall walked out of their apartment  at the
same time you did? Hi, ya hi!

The other half of the buyers like the location, like some of the groovy
energy saving features, like the school district, like the house and oh ya,
and that cohousing thing, whatever.  There is no litmus test for cohousing
as anyone who has lived in a shared house knows.  People will say anything.
The would-be cohousers were disappointed and frustrated because they could
not get anything going  and the others were frustrated by the busy bodies
running around telling everyone else  "if you¹d  just cooperate". So the
project was neither fish nor fowl and had considerable difficulty selling.

Don¹t get me wrong, housing designed as more intimate environments, smaller
houses, more sustainable development, more child-friendly environments, and
just general consideration for designing housing as if people mattered is a
good thing. And of the literally thousands of projects in Denmark that have
used cohousing as a model for design, all of them work socially much better
than typical housing. But they don¹t call it cohousing and even the best
don¹t have people spending 12-15 quality hours a week with neighbors on
average or 50-100 contacts a week with neighbors like Katie and I do in our
cohousing community. Everything from waving to them through the kitchen
window on  my way home or to work, to "hey, would you like a beer", to an
extended conversation over dinner, to running the Bay to Breakers together
on a bright sunny Sunday morning. The other projects are better than average
but they are not cohousing. A third of the projects we are designing these
days, we were hired to do because the client wanted more community and even
participation, which we have a considerable amount of ­ but it is not
cohousing. Cohousing is unique.

But if the future residents were not party to the design process and to the
budget and all the details that build a community, a village ­ not brick by
brick, but decision by decision and lead to vital common activities such as
common dinner ­if not, we humbly request as the folks who coined the word
cohousing or just as an appeal to old-fashioned honesty, that you do not
call it cohousing.  To do so will only frustrate future buyers, probably
you, and definitely any attempt to make and keep cohousing unique in the
market place. Because cohousing is not just about housing; it is about
bringing democracy and participation to the creation of community and
neighborhood towards a more sustainable future.

Charles Durrett
Katie McCamant
McCamant & Durrett Architects
aka The CoHousing Company

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