Re: (Mostly) favorable article on Emerson Commons, with some explanations
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2017 12:47:49 -0700 (PDT)
> On Jun 23, 2017, at 4:49 PM, Linda H <linda [at]> wrote:
> On 6/23/2017 3:38 PM, Virgil Huston wrote:
>> 2) often minimal real community
>> (a communal dinner a week isn't much of a community and you can get
>> that in a country club setting or via other means)
> Is that really true in a lot of cohousing? What is the experience of list 
> members who are actually living in cohousing?

The definition of community is huge but how many meals a week one eats together 
is not part of the definition although it is one thing that can build community 
— even at the country club or the local MacDonalds. I used to have breakfast 
several times a week at the same diner. With no introductions or even good 
mornings, a group of us did have that community feeling as we read our 
newspapers and drank coffee.  One morning a noisy interloper with a cell phone 
appeared. He was a salesman making cold calls at the top of his voice, in 
public. Our public. Without a word or even a glance at each other, we rose as 
one and ushered him out. One took his coffee cup and water glass, another his 
contact book and briefcase, another his hat and umbrella, and another his arm. 
We steered him toward a table far away from our little corner. Then everyone 
sat back down and quiet resumed. 

I often think about those fellow diners. Silent and discreet. When I do back to 
NY, I go for breakfast just to see them and enjoy a quiet newspaper and coffee 
together. Now I get a smile and a nod since it is years between visits. But 
never a word. And talking is supposed to be required for community, too.

> I like her description of classic cohousing design, where the architecture 
> facilitates interaction.It would be interesting to know how just how much the 
> physical design of the community contributes to the level of engagement. I 
> know from my work experience that it can make a big difference in how people 
> interact with each other.

This I think proximity is very important. For me in the lot development model, 
it would take a long time to bond to neighbors who are further way. At Takoma 
Village some are townhouses and others stacked units but all are connected. 
Many of us are 20-50 feet from the common house and get there through covered 

When I look at the plans for communities of single household buildings, the 
houses seem very far apart. When the new wears out some will wish they could 
drive to the common house. It makes it much harder to do things like pop in to 
see how someone is doing or borrow a coffee grinder.  Or take over some freshly 
baked cookies. Harder to take out your neighbor’s trash. Or notice that they 
need it taken out.

It may just be a difference of time. It takes longer when you are rubbing 
elbows less often. Far fewer chance encounters. In some apartment buildings 
where people have lived for years also have a cohousing feel. People stop in 
the halls to talk and share food and movie watching. In one of my friends 
buildings which had 8 condo units, they also shared couches as guest rooms. 
There was always a place for friends and family to stay, and meals to share. My 
family becomes your family — much the same as cohousing.

Cohousing is intentional community and attempts to put as many opportunities 
for community to develop, but community exists in many, many other places and 
in no less important to the participants.

> As for what's scary ….. It's shared finances and the fear of being left 
> without resources should the community fail.

One thing I felt assured of from the beginning and now 21 years after I first 
heard about cohousing is that the movement encourages and offers advice on 
sustainable financial practices. All condos and coops are based on 
interdependent finances. And the model works as well as any other real estate 
ownership model. Single household buildings also fail financially. Remember the 
housing crisis of 2008? Not only deception but unrealistic planning.

All real estate developments rise and fall on good financial oversight and 
informed planning. And responsible residents keeping their eyes open to 
potential problems, physical or economic or social.

The hard place in cohousing is before move-in and until the last unit is sold. 
All real estate developers have the same risky periods when all can be lost — 
unless they have a workable financial plan, lots of experience, and realistic 
goals. It’s harder for cohousers because they have no money, no experience, and 
unrealistic goals.

Gradually the movement has gained experience over the dead bodies of failed 
communities, but the communities have failed in the development process, not 
after move in as far as I know. There are rumors of 1-2 communities that became 
just regular condos but I don’t think they have been confirmed.

Communities also got caught in the fall out from the financial crisis because 
real estate was not selling. But this affected commercial developments as much 
as cohousing. 

The best defense against risk is knowledge applied.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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