Re: private use of commons
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 2 Oct 2004 06:37:26 -0700 (PDT)

On Sep 30, 2004, at 10:43 PM, Lynn Nadeau wrote:

In what ways have communities let individuals use the commons for private
or semi-private projects, and how has it affected your group?

We do not use common space for individual projects unless they are very temporary. But it is a fight to keep it that way. As you say, things drift and drift and drift. The reality of limited space is limited space. We are an urban community with 43 units on a small plot -- I never remember how much but basically an apartment complex with parking and a small green. People do try to spread out and see any empty space as "unused" and there for fair game.

But one of our values when we moved in was to do more with less and share so that we were living "lightly on the land" so we try to get people to do more with less.

We have gone from 3 children to 18 and the number of strollers is almost equalling the number of bikes. We do not allow bikes to be left in common areas chained to pillars or fences but strollers do sit everywhere. Is this fair? We've gone from 50+ to 80+ residents and some of the people have never quite moved in -- they still have boxes of stuff sitting on the walkways outside their homes. This is becoming an issue for many of us. Two weeks or a month of this is fine but we are going on 4 years for two households. One household had a baby in the spring and added storage for baby stuff is outside the unit, not inside. A kayak stored along the fence behind shrubs in the garden was a sore spot for those who looked at it for 4 years.

If a workshop were to be built on common space here it would have to be open to everyone to use and it would have to be safe and secure. Liability questions would have to be resolved. We need a bike storage shed and I will argue that it should be built on the same principle as the parking lot where each unit is allotted one designated space. If they do not have a car, they can rent or loan the space to another resident. Each unit would have perhaps two spaces for bike storage, with rentals and shares allowed.

Spaces inside the commonhouse. The exercise room contains equipment purchased or donated by a few people but it is open for use by everyone -- locked for safety and children must be accompanied by an adult. A few people pay for satellite TV but anyone can watch TV. A puzzle is usually out on a large table but everyone is free to work on it.

We have a covered breezeway that is often used for private projects but never for more than a week, usually just a day or so.

Our biggest blurry area is limited common space -- space that is designated for use by an individual unit but does not belong to them, like balconies, decks, front porches, and backyards. Who maintains it and what can happen there since it is visible to all? One person refuses to maintain her backyard. Many of us are refusing to paint our balcony railings -- dangerous and silly for 30 people to each hire a painter to do two strips of railing. I certainly will not be responsible for replacing a cement walkway on the second floor that is shared with the guest rooms. In other words, our space is badly designed in terms of what is individual and what is community. I'll start another thread on this.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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