Re: Re: IT ISN'T COHOUSING IF IT AIN'T GOT THAT CO
From: Kevin Wolf (kjwolfdcn.davis.ca.us)
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2001 00:37:02 -0600 (MDT)
Hi all,

Chuck's letter about the need for the future residents to be involved in the design for a community to be called cohousing has me thinking. One of his basic tenets follows M. Scott Peck's main thesis about community. For true community to form, the members need to go through a crisis and confrontation and expose their mutual vulnerabilities. The design of cohousing by its future residents invariably creates opportunities for crisis, confrontation and vulnerability. Thus when the design is complete and the residents move in, the residents have become a true community.

But here is the rub. In Muir Commons, one of the oldest cohousing communities in the country, about 75% of its residents weren't there when it began. What happens when it becomes 100%. Does this mean it no longer is cohousing?

Or what about N Street?. We didn't design our houses or our community layout. It was all determined by the developers in 1955. Since the first fence was torn down in 1986 and we began eating meals in a common space in 1989, we have gone through numerous decision making episodes where we had crisis, confrontation and exposed vulnerabilities. This helped bind many of us together. But because we have a lot of turnover through rentals changes and sales, only six households have members who have been here for ten years or more and only two households have original members. Does all this mean we can't claim to be a cohousing community?

I am now involved in helping developed a hybrid retrofit/developed cohousing community in the Sierra foothills. I don't intend to live there though I may have a granny flat to share time there when my wife and I retire in 15-20 years or so. Right now, only one of the main partners plans on living there. This next year we intend to build five units to add to the one that is there now and rent them to prospective members. In three or four years, we expect that another 4-6 units will be built along with the common house. Within 6-10 years we anticipate all 16-20 units being built. But we will likely be deciding many of the major design issues without these future residents. Does this mean that what is eventually created there won't be a cohousing community because there future residents won't be involved with many of the design decisions?

Here is my thesis.

Cohousing is design and most any good architect who studies such communities can craft a design that works. (If you believe that residents have to design it to be a workable cohousing, come to N Street and we will show by example that this doesn't have to be.)

Community is key to cohousing and you don't have to have a great design to create a wonderful community.

Chuck is right that the resident-driven design process creates community. But community can be created without this.

My experience in living for 25 years in co-op housing and at N Street is that good community comes from common principles, values, and goals and a willingness to eat, work and play together. When 25 families all move in together into a non-resident developed "cohousing" complex, community is hugely difficult to form because there was no way for those 25 to have common goals, values, and principles. When the residents design it, they weed out prospective members without these commonalities, or they likely fail to ever get the cohousing completed.

N Street works so well because almost everyone who has ever lived here for a long time has gone through a screening process where they rented a room before gaining permanent status. A percentage of them leave soon after arriving or when their lease is up, because they find they do not fit in. If they had bought the house they moved into, they would have a much more difficult time leaving. When people move in, they know how we work, what is expected of them, and what values we have as a community.

Thus in the new cohousing community some of us are working to create, we will use the same processes that have worked well at N Street. People can rent before they buy. The goals, values and principles will be set before they move in. If they don't like them, they shouldn't move in and attempt to change them. There will be plenty of opportunity over the years for the crises, confrontations and vulnerabilities to occur to bind them as a community. It just won't be through the initial design process.

In the end, just like Muir Commons will likely continue to be cohousing long after all the original owners have moved on and just like N Street is now, the "developer" designed community I am helping develop in the foothills will be a cohousing community because it will follow the architectural principles of cohousing, and it will have members who share common values and care about, help and like being with each other.

Kevin




****************
Kevin Wolf
N Street Cohousing Community member
724 N St, Davis, CA  95616
530-758-4211
kjwolf [at] dcn.davis.ca.us

To download my facilitation manual or other material on
consensus decision making, visit www.dcn.davis.ca.us/go/kjwolf

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