Developer Driven Cohousing [was: Southern Maine proposal]
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 22 Feb 2008 07:51:40 -0800 (PST)

On Feb 21, 2008, at 9:53 AM, Fred H Olson wrote:

The community building starts with the design team and builders, not just
the residents.

An interesting thought. Personally, I think the insistence on starting with a group of people who intend to be residents and then beginning the building process is over-emphasized as necessary to develop a community.

In the beginning when there was little knowledge of cohousing except in a small network of people, and developers knew nothing, starting with a group of residents who drove the process was the only way to get built. Unless you lived in an area served by the Cohousing Company or later, other cohousing developers far west of the Mississippi, you probably couldn't get built at all. The failure rate was very high.

The most famous case I've heard is a community in California that took 10 years to move-in and the final group of residents only included one household from the original group.

Groups that try to self-develop take a very long time unless they have development professionals of one kind or another within the group -- and then you could say that they are really using "developers."

And how many real choices is the community making? I had an eery felling when I visited a new apartment building in our area -- a block away. It was because it was just like ours. No commonhouse but the same fixtures, finishes, and similar layouts. Even most of the green features we have plus bamboo floors and a green roof. Much of the angst our design team went through was wasted because their solutions were unworkable in terms of cost. In the end, there are only so many choices you can make and still have affordable housing.

I think the real issue for developing a cohousing community is the residents just getting to know each other. Engaging in the development process does give a group real decisions and real angst to share together. It allows the group to get to know each other more than pot- lucks and sledding parties can. It also begins the process of weeding out faster; those who really don't "fit" or can't take the group process leave before move-in instead of after.

Rob Sandlin has noted that communities become less diverse the longer they are in existence.

Like chooses like -- not from within the community necessarily but from without. People don't move in unless they see themselves in the community. This process of withdrawal and inclusion begins from the first meeting. The sooner that process begins, the sooner the group becomes more cohesive and less diverse. Groups have to be in agreement on a lot of basic issues or they can't live together. Diversity has its limits.

But how soon does this process have to begin? What forces it to happen? So far it has been the "getting built" process, but there have to be others.

I do think it would be hard to expect strangers to become a cohousing community only after moving in. For one thing, people want and need housing so badly that they will say anything to move in. Even with a two year development process, I was surprised to learn that one of my neighbors moved in with no intention of staying more than two years. She had been very involved in the building design but participated very little in the actual community. I had assumed that if you moved into cohousing you intended to stay forever. Or at least 10 years, whichever came first. I was also surprised that many, even most, had never read anything on cohousing. They had only a basic understanding of the principles that Ann had conveyed. Some found her insistence on these principles adherence to "Ann's dogma." They had never heard of Cohousing-L.

I suspect in all communities that only a core of people actually develop the community. Others usually have little interest in the nitty-gritty except for their own units. Some join and move in at the last minute -- and the group is desperate to have them because they have to sell the units. I think the question is how large and how involved does the core have to be to get the group to move-in and continue developing community life?

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing,Washington DC

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