Re: Can anyone help the UK Cohousing Network?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2008 09:13:23 -0700 (PDT)

On Aug 8, 2008, at 10:58 AM, Sarah Berger wrote:

 a.. Did it mean the group felt less empowered and less engaged?

True empowerment and engagement can only really happen after move in. I say this from watching members of our group from before move in to after move in. There is great variance. Some were very involved before move in and withdrew within the first year after move in. Some were not involved at all and quite dubious of their partner wanting to move in and reversed themselves after move in.

As well, many preconceptions and personal goals have changed over the years. So what you have before move-in, will probably not be the same after move-in anyway.

b.. How early did the group get involved in influencing design and was it enough?

The group has to be involved from the start if it wants to be involved in more than choosing the faucets because the fundamental questions of shape, size, and general look are made pretty early on. But personally, I think this is overrated. In the end the developer or the group will be limited by a number of factors -- zoning, town planning, historic preservation boards, costs, etc.

Unless you have professionals in the group, it will be hard for the design team to affect many of these decisions. And once the process starts, decisions have to be made more quickly than a group can usually make them.

I think choosing a developer and architect well can be the best way of involving yourselves. Looking at a lot of examples of other cohousing projects you like and then discussing them during the interview process would be a good way to find out if you are on the same wave length with the professionals you interview. And there may not be very many interested in working with you anyway.

Beyond a probably small core of people, the group will change a lot as well. So trying to get the whole group involved in making timely and informed design decisions is probably unworkable unless you want to spend many years on the process.

c.. Did the no pain - no gain principle operate .ie. if the development process was quicker and smoother and therefore the group suffered less did it mean group cohesion was weaker after move- in ?

I like Jessie's example. Three years out does it make much difference? The early groups in the 1990s had a lot of pain and it took them a lot of time to get built. Under any circumstances today, it would be easier unless you read nothing and discuss nothing with any of them -- not likely. Does that mean we can't form communities anymore because the pain is gone?

No, there is plenty of pain to go around. Even with an experienced developer, the group will have plenty to work on. Under no circumstances will you be able to turn the whole thing over and wait for the results. You will need to recruit and orient new members. replace early members, form a governance structure, etc.

d.. I presume the developer took the main financial risk during development. If so, were there any disadvantages for any of the parties with this model?

Ours did assume all the risk. And personally, I do think this enabled some people to think of the community as a regular condo development, not taking the community aspect seriously. Did this hurt the community? I doubt it. They either moved out or got involved. And when people moved out, those who took their place were more committed and more involved. And more realistic.

In the end, you have to get built before you can realistically work with what kind of community you will have. It just isn't real before then.

Figure out what is possible and then go with that. Don't wait for the ideal or spend a whole lot of time trying to figure out what the ideal is. One developer or LLC might be horrible and another one great. No magic bullet.

Sharon Villines in Washington DC
Where all roads lead to Casablanca

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