Common spaces and decision making
From: Greg Nelson (
Date: Fri, 6 Jul 2012 10:50:38 -0700 (PDT)
A few months ago, Sharon Villines wrote:

> Self-regulation in communities is a problem. Everyone wants to avoid
> conflict. Anyone who raises these issues will be labelled a
> troublemaker. "Live and let live." But the people who are expanding
> into community space will not necessarily be seen as the people
> causing the conflict.

This is reminiscent of an issue that has recently surfaced here, and I
appreciate the "reassurance" that what we ran into is a known issue.
Still, I think we need a better idea about how we actually make this
work in the future.

Our community (planned for 30 homes + common house clustered on 120
total acres) has a strong 'homesteading' focus, where people are using
land for growing their food, both animal and vegetable.  In support of
this, we have essentially 5 categories of land use:

1. Leased lots (about 0.07 acres each) where the homes are built.
   These are surveyed and their positions set in our local zoning law.

2. "Backyard extension" areas (fixed sized areas, typically behind
   the homes, though they may be moved with formal approval).  These
   are preapproved for gardening, sheds, fencing, and such features.

3. "Member project" areas.  These are fixed sized areas, allocated
   through community agreement, supporting particular projects.

4. "Outside project" areas.  These are like member projects except
   that they are done by non-members and include written leases with
   lease payments for the land.

5. "Common land" areas.  These are areas that are not allocated to any
   of the above.

One family recently proposed to raise ducks.  For this purpose, they
wanted the (non-exclusive) use of our community pond, which is also
used for swimming and fire protection.

A number of questions were raised including: How would the pond
ecosystem/swimmability be affected?  What were the contingency plans if
the pond quality deteriorated?  If there was a surplus (duck eggs, duck
meat) would it be sold to other community members (making a profit off
of common land?) or offered for free?  Should we write a lease for the
land being used, as we would for an "outside project"?

In response to these questions, the household proposing the ducks
first withdrew the proposal (without an opportunity to discuss) and
eventually chose to withdraw from the community and move elsewhere.
They cited, as a main reason for their decision, that it was "too hard
to do the things that they wished to do" with a fairly explicit
implication that they felt our decision making process itself was
broken.  For them, needing to have more than one meeting on a
proposal, or even having one meeting where they were required to
defend or modify their proposal, was more than they wanted to put up

The general feeling among the remaining community members seems to be
that such proposals are perfectly practical *if people are willing to
work on them.*  My own observation about projects already going on
here is that (for the most part) plants tend to stay put where you
plant them, but animals are more complex and require more discussion.
However, at least one of the departing residents has promised
(threatened?) to deliver us a written analysis of how our
decision-making is broken once she "is done being angry."

How seriously should we take this?  Obviously feedback can be good,
but how should we address feedback from people who have self-selected
out of the community?

Also, how far out of the norm are we?  Most coho communities that I
know of don't have horses and multiple flocks of chickens with plans
ahead for goats, sheep, maybe a cow...

Finally, if any communities out there have a similar kind of land use
in mind, I'd like to hear how you actually handle the allocation
process in a way that is fair to all the residents.  Particularly if
it manages to keep both the "expanders" and the "regulators" that
Sharon described at peace with one another.

Thank you,
Greg Nelson                     email:  terramantra [at]
White Hawk Ecovillage           phone:  607-273-2576
Ithaca, NY 14850                web:

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