From: Becky Schaller (
Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2001 22:39:03 -0600 (MDT)
I'm a little confused by this posting.  I'm wondering how much community
involvement is needed in order to call it cohousing.  It seems like it's a
continuum.  Certainly, if a developer, architect, and builder find the site,
design it, and build it; then it's not cohousing.  But what if a developer
finds the site and then looks for people to join.  So it would be developer
initiated, but the future residents would be involved in planning the design
of the site, the common house and the private residences.  Is that

Becky Schaller
Sonora Cohousing
Tucson, Arizona

> Howdy everyone,
> Katie and I have been asked several times lately what we think about housin=
> g
> projects that has been designed without the future residents but is being
> called cohousing by the project=B9s promoters. Designing a cohousing communit=
> y
> with the future residents is basic to the concept and the definition of
> cohousing. It is in the design process where we will continue to evolve
> development towards housing that is more reflective of the real values of
> our society.  Otherwise we will continue to build what we think people want
> and that will be entirely based on looking in the rear view mirror rather
> than looking forward and evolving towards a more sustainable society.
> Secondly, the group is best at breaking the envelope; we are not going to
> break it for them. They are also best at getting new concepts approved.
> Distance to parking, size of houses, etc., where someone somewhere else
> (Fire Department, banks, appraisers, etc.) will have problems with unless
> there are future residents to push for them. My experience after 30 project=
> s
> is that the least group involvement the more brand X. The more involvement,
> the more we evolve towards less energy use, more sustainability, and more
> towards the most sustainable characteristic of all =AD community.
> As you know, there are many ways to do housing. Everything from cohousing t=
> o
> warehousing (prisons, bad senior housing, etc.) and many forms in between.
> While in Denmark there are still only about 250 cohousing developments buil=
> t
> to date, the legacy of cohousing is much larger. Many thousands of housing
> developments  have been inspired by cohousing and have been created in a wa=
> y
> that makes them much better than average single family or multi-family
> housing.  They have better club houses, better social areas, better kid
> facilities outside, better landscaping, and more.  But those are not called
> cohousing. I have heard people refer to them as the cousins of cohousing an=
> d
> I think that is a good term.
> As you know, housing designed without the future residents is not cohousing=
> .
> Quite unfortunately, however, the marketeers of America will call anything
> anything in order to sell it. Like the industrial park without the park and
> the business plaza without a plaza. It is not cohousing without the co.  We
> just got back from Kauia where a marketeer called 7 boxes (that they sell
> things from like Burger King, Office Max, etc.) completely surrounded by
> asphalt "Kauia village". What an insult to the indigenous folk. I know they
> do not want to call it "strip commercial", its real description, but at
> least they could call it a "shopping place" or something other than what
> folks used to inhabit before the gringos and their marketeers arrived.
> Americans are shameless when it comes to exploiting the language and the
> good reputations or the nice sound of something in order to move a product.
> Product is what developers call typical houses and real estate.
> It is fairer for the consumers to not call developer-driven product
> cohousing. After 250 cohousing projects were built in Denmark, finally a
> developer came along who wanted to do a speculative cohousing project.  He
> had successfully co-developed other cohousing communities. He employed a
> very experienced  cohousing architect. I visited it six months after full
> move in. After six months, the common house had still not been unlocked. Th=
> e
> group could not agree on anything. How could they, they had no history, no
> culture of making decisions together. The fact is that half of the buyers
> were enthusiastic about cohousing and cooperating with their neighbors and
> were eager to make it work. However, they themselves had not grown as a
> community, had not formed as a community by making decisions together and
> were no where near a community  when they moved in.  They were foisted
> together by real estate. Real estate does not make a community. The
> residents move in as a community in cohousing.  They have a culture of
> making decisions. sometimes very tough decisions, together.  Some flap late=
> r
> such as "should all the kids in the community be invited to a child=B9s
> birthday party" won=B9t send everyone home refusing to talk to each other.
> They have a culture of being together, setting up baby sitting, coughing up
> money, disagreeing and getting over it, and laughing together. The habits
> are in place. The primary responsibility of the real estate is to maintain
> the community, maintain convivial opportunities, sustain relationships, but
> it cannot catalyze relationships. In fact, if you put people in your face
> before the relationship has been developed, then in-your-face real estate
> has the opposite effect =AD it causes you to shrink away from relationships.
> Have you ever had that uncomfortable experience when the person you did not
> know in the apartment across the hall walked out of their apartment  at the
> same time you did? Hi, ya hi!
> The other half of the buyers like the location, like some of the groovy
> energy saving features, like the school district, like the house and oh ya,
> and that cohousing thing, whatever.  There is no litmus test for cohousing.
> As anyone who has lived in a shared house knows, people will say anything.
> The would-be cohousers were disappointed and frustrated because they could
> not get anything going  and the others were frustrated by the busy bodies
> running around telling everyone else  "if you=B9d  just cooperate". So the
> project was neither fish nor fowl and had considerable difficulty selling.
> Don=B9t get me wrong, housing designed as more intimate environments, smaller
> houses, more sustainable development, more child-friendly environments, and
> just general consideration for designing housing as if people mattered is a
> good thing. And of the literally thousands of projects in Denmark that have
> used cohousing as a model for design, most of them work socially much bette=
> r
> than typical housing. But they don=B9t call it cohousing and even the best
> don=B9t have people spending 12-15 quality hours a week with neighbors on
> average or 50-100 contacts a week with neighbors like Katie and I do in our
> cohousing community. Everything from waving to them through the kitchen
> window on my way home or to work, to "hey, would you like a beer", to an
> extended conversation over dinner, to running the Bay to Breakers together
> on a bright sunny Sunday morning. The other projects are better than averag=
> e
> but they are not cohousing. A third of the projects we are designing these
> days, we were hired to do because the client wanted more community and even
> participation, which they have a considerable amount of =AD but it is not
> cohousing. Cohousing is unique.
> If the future residents were not party to the design process and to the
> budget and all the details that build a community, a village =AD not brick by
> brick, but decision by decision and lead to vital common activities such as
> common dinner =ADif not, we humbly request as the folks who coined the word
> cohousing or just as an appeal to old-fashioned honesty, that you do not
> call it cohousing.  To do so will only frustrate future buyers, probably
> you, and definitely any attempt to make and keep cohousing unique in the
> market place. Because cohousing is not just about housing; it is about
> bringing democracy and participation to the creation of community and
> neighborhoods toward a more sustainable future.
> Charles Durrett
> Katie McCamant
> McCamant & Durrett Architects
> aka The CoHousing Company

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