Anxiety, Community Development and the Role of Design
From: Ann Zabaldo (
Date: Sat, 12 Feb 2000 09:38:56 -0700 (MST)
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Below are my corollary observation and question to Chris ScottHanson's
recent post on the benefits of eleminating resident input in the design of
the residential units.

Observation first:  no one comes to cohousing to get a house.  (If they do
they don't stay long!)  Everyone comes looking for a lifestyle change.  Yet,
in my work over these last nine years, esp. in marketing and outreach,  the
overwhelming number of questions people have concern design issues -- and
really picky ones e.g. what's the cement mix made of?  Where is there space
for my dog's crate?  What's the sound deadening properties of the concrete
walkways?  What kind of adhesives will be used in construction?  What's the
thread count in the carpeting?  (Just kidding on the carpeting one -- but
that's the level of the questions if you get my point!)  People will ask
general questions about the group e.g. the diversity but very few questions
really.  Occasionally something like:  can you give an overall description
of the group?  (Does anyone else but me find this hard to do?  Since we span
everything from Green Party to Republican politics,  atheists to catholics,
2 1/2 to 80 years old,  my stock answer is:  our overall description is
"we're diverse!")

My own thought about this focus on design is that there is tremendous
anxiety felt by people looking into joining a cohousing community because of
the implied and actual commitment.  (Personally, I'm much more anxious
moving into a neighborhood where I don't know anyone!)  I *think* all the
picky questions are really about trying to get a footing and/or a safe
purchase from which to explore the possibility of community.  In Maslow's
hierarchy, it's getting personal needs met first.  Or put another way:  if I
can just be certain that the floors are going to look like "x" and the
window frames like "y" and the moulding like "z" then I can venture out into
this thing called "community building" with all these people I don't know.
My second observation is that the emphasis on design is more pronounced the
farther along the design process is and the newer the prospective member  is
to the group.

So my question is:  does participating in the design process, in fact, play
a significant role in reducing anxiety and actually make community building

Group and personal anxiety may be masked by the great hoopla that surrounds
building cohousing esp. so if there are big-time cheerleaders/pioneers in
the group who ride  fearlessly into the cohousing equivalent of the Valley
of Death bareback.  Moi for instance.  (Important to remember that the
majority of people are more comfortable using a saddle -- and a good thing
too!  Keeps me from being too reckless!)

Just some ramblings from the East coast.  Look forward to your responses.  I
have to go saddle up ol' Bess...

Best -- Ann Z.

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