Re: Solar Eco-Village in Utah!
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 10 Jun 2009 17:18:50 -0700 (PDT)

On Jun 8, 2009, at 6:29 PM, Raines Cohen wrote:

And how about if future members have different priorities or ideas..
will they be welcome? I might be reluctant to join a group that was so
seemingly certain about the plan for 40 homes when just a few
households were engaged.

I think the Utah group is an interesting case of a small group with a very clear vision that is well articulated and intelligent. They have thoroughly researched all their options for achieving their goals. They have a clear plan that has been revised on the basis of consultation with professions in many fields, city agencies, etc. A miracle since they are doing straw bale.

They have an active recruitment plan and a large email list. They keep in touch with interested households. They have changed their plans significantly several times based on feasibility.

If they were to wait until they had a larger committed group, they would still be waiting. A very small percentage of the population is attracted to something undefined -- even has the time or interest in the defining.

I think that is what has held cohousing back -- the expectation that the group will not decide anything until it gets to a certain size and then will be changing as each new household joins. That is a risky proposition, and I think, one reason why households with small children are among the last to sign on. They have no time or energy to get involved in all the endless discussions and meetings that might result in nothing anyway.

I also wonder just how unique each community plan is in the end. Certainly there are varying strengths and weakness in terms of skills and resources based on the individuals in the community. Some have stronger meal programs than others. Some have more sharing than others. Some are more environmentally active than others. There are variations based on location -- rural, urban, suburban, small town.

But cohousing is cohousing and ecovillages are ecovillages. While the architectural design and the land is important, it doesn't make the community. And there are only a limited number of options available in each situation.

Are those who move in at the very end or after construction less committed or involved community members than those who were there from day one? If so, nothing should be done until the whole group assembles. This certainly doesn't happen.

Since people who move in after construction may be just as involved and committed as those who came first, how much does being involved in the first phase really mean? Some of our first and most active people became inactive after move-in, and even moved out. Those who have moved in after construction have been universally more involved than those who moved out.

Having a clear vision will attract others to that vision. I think cohousing communities are forming much more rapidly than they were in the 1980s certainly, and even in the 1990s. The reason, I think, is not just the increased number of cohousing-specific resources and other communities to share advice -- which certainly help -- but the release of some of the early dogmas about how the process had to be done.

If I were to start another community, I would layout a clear plan based on proven practices for bylaws, process, program, community design, etc. and invite people into that basic structure. The first focus would be on getting built and leaving revisions in bylaws, etc., until months after move-in when everyone is on site and has a shared experience on which to base the changes. Obviously things that weren't working would be changed earlier, using consensus, but the focus on getting built is more tangible than theoretical discussions about how people will live together.

I can't tell you how much time our group spent discussing meals and the kitchen, designing plans that didn't last out the first year. Starting the how-we-eat discussions the day after move-in based on reality would have had the same, and perhaps even a better result.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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