Re: Can anyone help the UK Cohousing Network?
From: Racheli Gai (
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2008 09:25:18 -0700 (PDT)
I guess I'm fulfilling my email quota for the year :)

In our case (Sonora Cohousing, Tucson), members were involved in the design, and some members were closely involved in checking on construction process
as it happened.
IMO this was very important: In many cases we were able to move decisions in (what I consider to be) a better direction. We also caught some mistakes and
got them corrected.
In cases where we overlooked things, we ended up with cheapy/cheesy stuff.
(cheap sinks, crappy toilets - pun intended, etc.)

The oversight was not done, for the most part, by professionals, but by interested amateurs, who took time to learn things so that they can make informed decisions.


On Aug 11, 2008, at 9:13 AM, Sharon Villines wrote:

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

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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