Re: Wonderful MAC Conference Yesterday
From: Raines Cohen (
Date: Mon, 22 Mar 2010 06:38:58 -0700 (PDT)
 Sharon Villines <Sharon [at]> wrote 3/21/2010:
> Ask Raines about the
> rubber duckies. All I'll say is that they involved a top hat,
> auctioneering skills, and a quacking good time.

Actually, I have no auctioneering skills whatsoever. My RAFFLE-eering
skills, on the other hand, is what I believe Sharon was commenting on
- I got to exercise some of them at the last national conference as

As to her mysterious reference to our amphibious friends: I was simply
attempting to illustrate a point in the debate around the definition
of cohousing: "If it quacks like a duck, it's a duck," I commented. It
was just coincidence that at this point a dozen rubber ducks spilled
out of my coachman's cap, buying us a little more time to get our
raffle prizewinner-recording process ducks in a row before calling

As part of the conference planning team working closely with Mid
Atlantic Cohousing (MAC) to put on the event, I'll refrain from
overall evaluative comments on the event (we are doing a debrief
Wednesday evening, and would welcome any input from participants
beyond what they already shared in their evaluations).

I can report that I had a great time (to near the point of exhaustion,
alas), and was impressed by the quality and quantity of conversations
going on in the bookstore, out on the lawn, at the reception, and in
the hallways, as well as on the community open houses/tours that

The University of Maryland Architecture building interior was eerily
reminiscent of the one where we had last June's national conference at
the University of Washington in Seattle.

It was great to reconnect with local leaders like Liberty Village's
Ron Petralito, who served on the Coho/US (then called The Cohousing
Network) board with me a decade ago, as well as current national board
president Lisa Poley of ShadowLake Village, and Dene Peterson,
ElderSpirit founder,Takoma Village's Steve Pretl (a key association
volunteer early in the last decade) and of course Zev and Neshama from
Nomad Cohousing in Boulder, Colorado, the powerhouse movement couple
who shepherded the organization's transition from regional support
group to national umbrella nonprofit. As I mentioned in the closing,
"We stand on the shoulders of giants."

If only every region had a group as organized and active as MAC, I
believe we would have twice as many communities established and in
formation as we do now, more events taking place, and an easier path
for community seekers. While the programming and attendees were

One seeker I met at the conference has already followed up with me for
cohousing coaching around her quest for community, based on a
conversation we had there Saturday. She wrote "The process for seekers
is daunting.  The e-list, magazine, websites, and
conferences/activities present a very appealing lifestyle but the door
in is not evident.  I would love to connect with and network with
others in the same process to share information and find some ideas
for a more effective search."

She is open to resettling in a wide area, and has identified nearly 40
cohousing neighborhoods that might meet her needs. It is worth noting
that to her "on paper they all look alike with slight variation of
location, numbers, housing, etc."

The challenge she faces is that while she is working, she feels she
doesn't have the time and money to travel, explore, and learn --
especially given the low turnover rates in many cohousing
neighborhoods, which limit the odds of a home becoming available when
she's looking.

Back to the conference, though - she reported she had "good
conversations with folks from Eastern Village (in Silver Spring, MD)
and Takoma [Village] (less than a mile away in Washington, DC)." But
she asks, "Given I live and work in DC, should I limit my search to
those two communities because I can relate to them now even though I
have not at all decided I want to stay in this area (and probably
don’t) or to live in an urban community (don’t think I do)?" Another
community she considered in the region, ElderSpirit, the only senior
cohousing East of the Mississippi, has a long waiting list - and plans
for a second nearby aging-friendly community are now on hold given
regional housing-market-financing challenges.

>From many other conversations at the conference and over the last
decade, I know she's not alone. Some of the solutions I'm exploring

* Regular conference calls for community seekers -- a support group, a
place to compare notes and get group guidance on experiences,
approaches, and resources

* Promoting regional get-togethers through groups like MAC, the
Northwest Intentional Communities Association (NICA), and Cohousing

* Web tools that make it easier for seekers to find each other (and in
some cases, to become a forming core group), rather than just finding

* A network that makes it easier for traveling cohousers to get
opportunities to speak about community living, both for established
communities and future cohousers. We regularly do this with East Bay
Cohousing -- both touring visiting cohousers around area communities,
getting them to share about their best practices and community
challenges, as well as the joys of community living.

* Workshops designed to help people experience cohousing before moving
in -- both in established communities and in places like The Shaker
Mill Farm Inn, a Berkshires (NY/MA border, near Tanglewood) retreat
center I got to visit just before the conference, where the proprietor
(who brought family and friends to the MAC conference) is eager to
inexpensively host people seeking and forming community.

I'd welcome any thoughts about what folks here think would be
relevant, as well as any conference feedback.

Raines Cohen, Cohousing Coach
Planning for Sustainable Communities (at the Hub at the David Brower
Center in Berkeley, CA)

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