Re: Cohousing's Diversity Problem - CityLab
From: Philip Dowds (
Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2017 10:02:27 -0700 (PDT)
Many biological anthropologists refuse to acknowledge that there is anything 
such as race.  Ethnicity, Yes; race, No.  The diversity issues I see in 
cohousing are not really those of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual 
orientation.  The real diversity issues revolve around fundamental culture, 
values, and lifestyle preferences.  For example …
  •  TIME & MONEY:  Some of us expect to invest a lot of time and money in the 
community each year; others of us, not so much.  Some prefer to spend money to 
save time; others would rather spend time to save money.
  •  CHILD-RAISING:  Some parents are happy to let all the kids roam free 
throughout the commons (like, that’s the point of cohousing, right?); other 
adults expect kids to adhere to some basic rules and limitations.  Some members 
see themselves as part of a village raising children; but some parents get 
upset when they see other adults “disciplining” their kids.  Some think that 
young teens are “members” and should join the work; others feel that dependents 
are not ever really full members of the community.
  •  DELEGATION / TRUST:  Some participants want to devolve power and duty down 
to committees and sub-committees. Others want to retain most decision-making in 
the big circle of everybody (plenary).  Some want formal written procedures for 
doing community business; others are happy to rely on informal common sense and 
creative improvisation.

In my experience, very little of this values variation correlates reliably to 
the readily documentable attributes of skin color, education or income.  If 
most of the community is on the same page regarding time, money, kids, 
delegation and trust, then the community is likely to live in harmony.  If not, 
then the community may be characterized by everything from frequent lively 
debates to near-total decision-making paralysis.

So for me, skin color diversity is a piece of cake.  The real question is, What 
are we going to do about values diversity?  Encourage it, and learn how to work 
with it?  Or repress it, and drive the values of each community toward 
monoculture?  A monoculture varying significantly from one cohousing complex to 
the next, of course ...

Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Village Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

> On Aug 12, 2017, at 12:25 PM, Sharon Villines <sharon [at] 
>> wrote:
>> On Aug 12, 2017, at 10:21 AM, Elizabeth Magill <pastorlizm [at]> 
>> wrote:
>> But we certainly won't attract racial diversity if to live here is to
>> live with people who defend our racial self-segregation in that way.
> Analyzing is not the same as defending. Do we have a good definition of 
> “racial diversity” and what it would bring us? With genetic testing, it is 
> becoming apparent that skin color doesn’t ‘prove’ racial composition. So what 
> is race?
> I don’t understand the ?why" of this emphasis on black skin. And I have a 
> black son and two black grandchildren. They are in color brown but given how 
> race is defined legally they are black.
> The diversity my son would bring is that he is a police detective and neither 
> he nor his wife went to college. He would be miserable here. He would think 
> we were all stupid liberals. That’s the part of him that has brought great 
> diversity to our family. And I’m not sure it was a good idea for him to be in 
> a diverse family. Just sharing that to show what experience I’m basing my 
> arguments on.
> Sharon
> ----
> Sharon Villines
> Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC
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