Re: Different world-views in CoHo (was Re: Elevator Buildings)
From: R.N. Johnson (
Date: Wed, 1 Aug 2012 17:00:39 -0700 (PDT)
        I'd like to hear a little more about the world-view that leads to the
        conclusion that elevators (or gas heat, or TVs in the common house)
        are a "must-have."  

I suspect that this is a simplification of a large number of potential 
worldviews.  From earlier posts, I believe the question of to have or not to 
have an elevator depends on a variety of issues, and in some localities may be 
required because of disabled access requirements form common areas.  If you 
want  be inclusive and welcoming of people who are permanently or temporarily 
mobility impaired, and wishing to plan for the reality that many if not most of 
us will at some point in our lives have difficulty getting around, you may lean 
toward the elevator. You might also set up spaces that can be used flexibly, so 
that you can 
duplicate any function you have upstairs in a downstairs room as well 
(having both an upstairs and a downstairs guest room, meeting room/ 
exercise  room etc...). An elevator (or grab bars in the Common house bathroom, 
or ramp into the building etc...) may seem far more important to a person  
after they have suffered a severe accident,  turned 70, or had their parents 
come live with them due to declining health than it was when the person was  
30, their parents were a vigorous 55, and they were not suffering through a 2 
year rehab process after that tractor accident. 

I think you will find a range of community standards for TV in the common 
house.  As for gas heat, exclusively self-grown,  vegan or organic meals, 
extremely small house size,  all off grid electric etc... while any or all of 
these things may be excellent goals, your probability of establishing 
successful communities that puts any of these more restrictive requirements is 
very substantially smaller than the already too small probability of starting a 
new community that is closer to the mainstream.   Actual communities are much 
more successful at influencing people to reduce their resource footprint than 
forming communities.    While my community was in its forming stages, we 
encountered several other forming communities with a more restrictive concept- 
a Buddhist vegan community, another  of  practitioners  of non violent 
communication, an a couple of Christian- based communities, one fairly 
mainstream, one fairly alternative.  None of them
 have come to pass, and as far as I know none are still active. Why?  Because 
the number of people of each of those persuasions who is ready to commit to 
putting down money for an actual community at any one point in time is much 
smaller than the number of people my garden variety cohousing could draw from.  

    I live in a retrofit community that has a one story common house, and two 
story units.  We considered accessibility issued when we moved in, and decided 
that while not optimal, we could figure out an inexpensive work around to make  
the common house  accessible, and some non-optimal but not too expensive ways 
to make the units accessible. 

         Let me make clear that I am probably one of the two people most 
focused on sustainability in my community- the one who lobbied ( 
unsuccessfully) to put aside scarce money to go towards retrofiting our 
community to make it more energy and water efficient, one of a few who made 
sure to be on a major bus line, and within biking distance of work, shopping 
and entertainment, and for the establishment of composting, keeping the garden 
pesticide free, who was vegetarian/ and or vegan  for most of her adult life 
etc... I would love it if my community committed to reducing our resource use 
in a larger way.  That said, by living in community, most of my neighbors have 
substantially increased their "green" quotient in several ways- downsizing, 
using less electricity on heating due to shared walls,  carpooling, biking, 
walking and taking public transportation more, composting, eating vegan, 
vegetarian and organic more often at common meals or at
 home after getting some hands on experience etc.... Living in community has 
moved  all of us to the more sustainable end of things, and made a far greater 
impact than our combined individual efforts would have. 

Having lived in rural, suburban and urban areas, I have personally experienced 
the many ways in which rural life can  often "feel" greener, while in reality 
using up a ton of gas to get to the grocery store 30 miles away/ commuting to 
the job far away/ living in the big, resource heavy house with the cute little 
solar panel on top and the little garden out back.  I personally think that 
given the numbers of people in the world now,  we need to focus on finding ways 
to make urban life more connected with nature, while conserving resources, 
minimizing use of fuel for transport and maximizing open spaces, rather than 
sending more people to live the country life in less impacted areas.  Another 
way to keep things affordable is to  share common house space with businesses,  
use economies of scale- sharing a common house between more households, or even 
sharing the space with more than one community.  I honor those  who are 
committed to a life of
 radical simplicity, minimizing their resource footprint whether it be in an 
urban or rural area.  I don't think that a majority of people in industrial 
nations are going to voluntarily embrace that ideal.   I know that Americans 
and other people from industrial nations have not taken advantage of  so many 
ways to maintain a fairly similar lifestyle while making much more efficient 
use of this planet's resources.  I have to admit I prefer to live in smaller 
buildings, but I know that the high rise communities are making very efficient 
use of scarce resources by minimizing their land footprint, and locating in 
areas with good public transportation.

This is more wandering than I had intended, but the basic point is that life is 
complicated, and there are many good reasons to go in very different directions 
to achieve similar goals, so be careful of jumping to judgement.

Randa Johnson
New Brighton Cohousing
Aptos, CA

A few months ago, there was a thread on elevators in buildings.  I'mjust 
reading it at last, but it struck me as strange because itreinforced how some 
priorities of co-housing are clearly shared, whileothers are DRAMATICALLY 
different.  Clearly we come to this sharedideal of co-housing with a range of 
different "world views."The quote that got my attention was (in part):> Aside 
from the question of cost effectiveness, our community [...]> This was way 
above code [...] > we wouldn't have considered not having an elevator [...] > 
It was (and is) expensive but considered a 'must-have'. 

It seems clear to me that the community where this poster lives has a
dedication to inclusiveness, diversity, and many other things that are
central to co-housing.

And yet, from the same goal of inclusiveness and diversity, we can
come to very different conclusions.  As mentioned in a recent post,
ours is a community where homesteading, growing our own food, and
similar interests are common.  This has us thinking about
affordability in a different way: ideally we would like it to be
possible for someone to live here as a farmer, which implies a very
minimal income.

Regrettably, some of the early decisions we made (with the advice of
co-housing consultants!) pushed us out of the affordable range where
we'd prefer to be.  We have homes right now that range from $125,000
to $250,000 -- I think our median price is probably *half* of what
I've seen as an average on this list -- and STILL we're too expensive
for many people who might consider living here.  There are home
designs out there (200-300 sq ft) where the whole construction costs
would be less than our lot fee.

Thus, when we look at a question of whether to include an elevator in
our common house design, we come to a very different conclusion
*despite* both conclusions arising from the same ideal.  So, there
have to be some other inputs to the process (different world views?)
that lead to the different conclusions.

When these questions come up, I think a lot about what our ancestors
did 200 years ago before the industrial revolution.  And I think about
the lifestyles of those who lived where I do 300 years ago before our
ancestors forced them out of their home.  These lifestyles probably
have more in common with each other than either does with the way we
live today.  I honestly believe that the industrial revolution is
about to be "over"... so given the choice between small homes that
require little energy to heat, and buildings so tall that they require
an elevator, the decision is obvious for me.  But that's just my

I'm afraid I'm too quick at leaping to this conclusion: that it's the
same world-view that leads to the idea that veggies come from the
store (not the farm), that the personal automobile is a "must-have",
or that "sustainable growth" is not an oxymoron.  I'd like to see some
other ideas about this, hopefully ones that are less jaded than my
default way of thinking.

I suppose one useful outcome of this would be a better filter to help
each of us find people who are a good fit for our respective
communities, so that we start out closer to consensus because we don't
have world views that differ so greatly.

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


Message: 4
Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2012 13:40:09 -0400
From: Sharon Villines <sharon [at]>
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ Different world-views in CoHo (was Re: Elevator
To: ghn [at], Cohousing-L <cohousing-l [at]>
Message-ID: <F1F5EE15-EBA6-45A0-973F-97DD398C4887 [at]>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252

On 20 Jul 2012, at 12:03 PM, Greg Nelson wrote:

>  There are home
> designs out there (200-300 sq ft) where the whole construction costs
> would be less than our lot fee.

In urban housing the "lot fee" is the issue. In order to make a location 
affordable, you have to build a certain number of units. In order to build that 
many units, you have to build up. If you build up, you need an elevator.

For the CH, the question is whether it is more than one floor or attached to 
stacked units.

With a focus on farming, one wouldn't want to pay city prices for land so 
perhaps building lots in rural areas would be affordable for houses all on one 

I would be very interested to hear about a community built around the small 
house movement ? these are 600 SF and less. I think the 200 SF homes are 
unrealistic for adults with complex lives on a 24/7 basis.  These would most 
easily be built in rural areas because they would need zoning exemptions?not 
impossible to get but no one has done it yet.

> I honestly believe that the industrial revolution is
> about to be "over"... so given the choice between small homes that
> require little energy to heat, and buildings so tall that they require
> an elevator, the decision is obvious for me.  But that's just my
> world-view.

Many people believe the industrial revolution was over shortly after 1900. We 
live very differently than people lived at the beginning of the Industrial 
Revolution in 1563 or at the end when Ford make the car widely affordable. The 
problem with a group of people forming a community around pre 16th century 
ideals is finding people interested in doing that.

People on this list have been unable to find enough households interested in 
building a low income community in a given place. Those who are interested are 
too spread out and unable to move freely because they are low income. 

It's a problem that hasn't been solved on this list, partly because the numbers 
and the lack of amenities found in low-income housing don't work for people who 
read this list, and possibly for people who are interested in forming cohousing 

If you would like to get specific about numbers and housing characteristics, I 
think there are a lot of people here who could help you with information and a 
few who might join you.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC


Message: 5
Date: Fri, 20 Jul 2012 12:45:32 -0700
From: oz <oz [at]>
Subject: Re: [C-L]_ Different world-views in CoHo (was Re: Elevator
To: ghn [at], Cohousing-L <cohousing-l [at]>
    <CABxy0hgn1aiLcbCSjaeMdnGJAOcab7etby-M69hfmMxbVHh4-w [at]>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1

Greg, these are interesting ideas. So much so that they lured me away
from the work I'm "supposed" to be doing...

I believe that while the industrial revolution is indeed dying in the
United States, that its booming in many countries - fueled in part by
globalization as capital flees from our "high" cost labor. I suspect
that we'll continue to have larger disparities in income, i.e. the
poor get poorer and the rich get richer.

I doubt if the (somewhat rarefied) population of people who choose
cohousing will be unable to run their elevators. For most cohousing
developments, the founders somehow managed to frame the ideas, gather
the resources, and pull together the people power required to
successfully develop multi-million dollar housing projects. These
folks can surely pull together to keep their elevators running.

Many communities already use photo-voltaic solar to generate
electricity and I understand that some produce more than they

I've heard that the per-person carbon footprint for people living in
homes within large buildings is lower than single-family houses or
duplexes or small rows of houses of comparable size and "green-ness."

So, Coho-L, what do "you" think?

On Fri, Jul 20, 2012 at 9:03 AM, Greg Nelson <ghn [at]> wrote:

-- clipped --

> I honestly believe that the industrial revolution is
> about to be "over"... so given the choice between small homes that
> require little energy to heat, and buildings so tall that they require
> an elevator, the decision is obvious for me.  But that's just my
> world-view.

-- clipped --


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