More about the Wisconsin State Journal article correspondence
From: Joani Blank (jeblankswansway.com)
Date: Tue, 30 Jun 2015 12:47:42 -0700 (PDT)
This is long because the whole correspondence between me and the reporter who wrote the article is appended (In reverse order with the most recent of my emails to Cassidy--which she is seeing for the first time--at the top).

Hi Cassidy,

I really appreciate your thoughtful response to my email. (BTW, I'd never put critical comments like my email to you onto public comments.) However, you need not apologize for anything about the article. I don't feel like you misrepresented cohousing at all. You just raised up one aspect of cohousing that many communities would see as a negative, and which some cohousing residents would see as potentially damaging to the public image or our communities.

And you are quite right that different approaches land different ways in different 'markets.' As a person who has visited 74 cohousing communities in the US (in addition to the two I've lived in for a total of 23 years) and has participated in every one of the Cohousing Association's national conference, I was reading your article with an eye to the US cohousing world in general.

In the perfect world, I'd like every article about cohousing in every medium to raise up what is unique about cohousing in contrast to what I've called "the American way of 'doing' neighborhood." And that is that in the service of the value we Americans place on privacy and individualism, we become ever more isolated from those who live closest to us.

Knowing all of our cohousing community neighbors quite well or very well (and in communities of 35 or more households that usually means well over 100 people perhaps including 25 or more children and teens) makes all the difference!
Hi Joani,

I apologize if you feel the article misrepresented anything about cohousing. As you guessed, I did not write the headline. When I visited the cohousing development, the residents I spoke with brought up the comparison to dorms and provided more anecdotes about why they thought this was a nice way of thinking about it. (As you read, a woman told stories about burning popcorn and making new friends at parties.)

Their tone was very typical of Madison, Wisconsin – somewhat self-effacing, yet full of pride. The group has been very happy with the article, and has been spreading and sharing it as much as they can. Perhaps the tone didn’t come across in another market, and for that I apologize.

I’ve had a number of readers contact me to learn more about getting involved in the new cohousing communities that will be developed. I urge you not to get a sense of feedback based on online comments – if you look at any other stories on our website, you’ll realize online comments are almost always negative. The people who enjoy an article – and there are many – don’t take the time to comment.

And I apologize, I didn’t realize the discussion was online – I hope you also saw I explained that once husbands move in, they find plenty of alone time.

Thanks for your note,

Cassidy McDonald

From: Joani Blank [mailto:jeblank [at] swansway.com]
Sent: Tuesday, June 30, 2015 2:30 AM
To: Cassidy McDonald; Alice Alexander
Cc: Katie McCamant; cohousing-l
Subject: Re: Article in the Wisconsin State Journal

Below is the text of an email that I wrote in response to an article on cohousing that appeared a day or two ago in the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison WI:

Cassidy,

Thanks for sending me this.......

I do appreciate that you took the time to prepare the article, but frankly I was very unhappy to see the headline. Now, I know enough about newspaper journalism to know that the authors of newspaper articles almost never get to write the headlines for their articles, and I really want to believe that you did not write "giant dorm for grownups" headline.

However, those words, said by a young visitor (perhaps a college student herself) about a cohousing community--presumably one of the two existing communities there in Madison--, are just the kind of words that are incredibly offputting to many, many of exactly the kinds of people whom we know would otherwise be attracted to cohousing.

I fear that the appearance of this headline plus the fact that you gave that quote prominence by using it very early in the article will make it very hard for the two new communities getting started to find local people who want to consider living in them. And many more people, I fear, will read only the headline before turning the page, or will read down only to where that quote appears before losing interest in the subject altogether.

You do mention very briefly, though quite a bit later in this long article, that in cohousing communities there are private homes, but you do not use the term "common house" even once, and when you talk about the common kitchen/dining room, you do it in a way that suggests that most or all meals are communal.

In the mid-nineties, the cohousing movement was significantly held back, I believe, by quite a number of articles on cohousing that carried sensational headlines such as "Communes For the Nineties!" I'm afraid I'm having a 'deja-vu all over again' with "Giant Dorms for Grownups."

You told me, I'm quite sure, that you had visited Village Cohousing, and that you had an appointment to visit Arboretum Cohousing as well within a day or two after we talked. For this reason I'm quite surprised that you didn't get it that a cohousing community is nothing at all like "a giant dorm for grownups." And no one who actually lives living in any cohousing community in North America would ever describe where they live that way.

Finally and this is a point of personal privilege if you will, I did not say that I attended a seminar on "reluctant husbands." What I said was that many years ago there was a thread on the cohousing listserv on that subject.

I used that thread as an example of the fact that concerns about inadequate privacy in cohousing are not uncommon when the future resident group is in the group formation and planning phases of a new project, but that this is rarely problematic or the concern disappears altogether once the residents have moved in.

Joani Blank
Swan's Market Cohousing
Oakland, CA

cc: Alice Alexander, Executive Director Coho/US

p.s. I did not say I "work for" The Cohousing Association; I said that I am a volunteer for the Cohousing Association. What I've written here is one person's (my) opinion, not that of the Association.


>
> Thanks again for your help giving me some background on cohousing. I wish I'd had room to include more of your great stories! I hope you enjoy this look at cohousing in Madison:
>
> http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/a-giant-dorm-for-grownups-cohousing-developments-on-the-rise/article_67673bc2-a16f-5816-ae8d-054b58460d68.html
>
> Again, thank you for your help!
>
> Cassidy McDonald
I do appreciate that you took the time to prepare this article, but frankly I was very unhappy to see the headline. Now, I know enough about newspaper journalism to know that the authors of newspaper articles almost never get to write the headlines for their articles, and I really want to believe that you did not write "giant dorm for grownups" headline.

However, those words, said by a young visitor (perhaps a college student herself) about a cohousing community--presumably one of the two existing communities there in Madison--, are just the kind of words that are incredibly offputting to many, many of exactly the kinds of people whom we know would otherwise be attracted to cohousing.

I fear that the appearance of this headline plus the fact that you gave that quote prominence by using it very early in the article will make it very hard for the two new communities getting started to find local people who want to consider living in them. And many more people, I fear, will read only the headline before turning the page, or will read down only to where that quote appears before losing interest in the subject altogether.

You do mention very briefly, though quite a bit later in this long article, that in cohousing communities there are private homes, but you do not use the term "common house" even once, and when you talk about the common kitchen/dining room, you do it in a way that suggests that most or all meals are communal.

In the mid-nineties, the cohousing movement was significantly held back, I believe, by quite a number of articles on cohousing that carried sensational headlines such as "Communes For the Nineties!" I'm afraid I'm having a 'deja-vu all over again' with "Giant Dorms for Grownups."

You told me, I'm quite sure, that you had visited Village Cohousing, and that you had an appointment to visit Arboretum Cohousing as well within a day or two after we talked. For this reason I'm quite surprised that you didn't get it that a cohousing community is nothing at all like "a giant dorm for grownups." And no one who actually lives living in any cohousing community in North America would ever describe where they live that way.

Finally and this is a point of personal privilege if you will, I did not say that I attended a seminar on "reluctant husbands." What I said was that many years ago there was a thread on the cohousing listserv on that subject.

I used that thread as an example of the fact that concerns about inadequate privacy in cohousing are not uncommon when the future resident group is in the group formation and planning phases of a new project, but that this is rarely problematic or the concern disappears altogether once the residents have moved in.

Joani Blank
Swan's Market Cohousing
Oakland, CA

cc: Alice Alexander, Executive Director Coho/US

p.s. I did not say I "work for" The Cohousing Association; I said that I am a volunteer for the Cohousing Association. What I've written here is one person's (my) opinion, not that of the Association.
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