Re: Social participation (was How do we hold each otheraccountable?)
From: Michael Barrett (
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2010 13:39:14 -0700 (PDT)
Muriel said in:
From: "Muriel Kranowski" <murielk [at]>
To: "Cohousing-L" <cohousing-l [at]>
Sent: Monday, July 26, 2010 10:41 PM
Subject: [C-L]_ Social participation (was How do we hold each other 

 1) More than half of our residents were not among the founding group, and 
their motivations might not be as intensely communal.
 2) Some of our founders have moved away, further diluting the original 

These are doubtless factors which account for some of the loss of 
"intensity" as a community matures.  However my observation from living in 
two communities, as both a founder member and as a Johnny-come-lately, is 
that the gradual but inevitable replacement of original members with 
newcomers represents an opportunity frequently missed and, if not missed, 
then often poorly handled.

My observations:

Ask any original member and I bet they'll say:  "New members are treated 
just like the original members".   Ask any new member do they feel they 
"belong" with exactly equal status and I bet they'll say: "No" .

New members often come with a (perhaps naive) abundance of enthusiasm and 
energy for cohousing.  However new members have told me (many times) that 
they feel anxious and concerned about how to fit in, and how to learn the 
unwritten "rules", and they hang back for fear of intruding where they are 
feel uncertain of their welcome.  After move in new members will often tend 
to follow the example of their neighbors and if they observe what appears to 
be laid back (i.e. low) attendance at meetings, workdays, meals and other 
functions, they may behave similarly.

Original members accept, but don't go out of their way to welcome, new 
members the way they did when every new member was purchasing a lot and 
moving the community another step towards completion (and financial 

Potential new members are not frequently not "oriented" prior to (or even 
post) purchase, explicitly and clearly, about obligations, expectations, 
hopes and opportunities.   The interests of the community and the seller do 
not align very well here, and it is up to the community, as may be 
necessary, to waylay (and befriend) the prospective buyer to make sure they 
attend some functions, and also talk with members about the minuses as well 
as the plusses of cohousing,  i.e. so they get thoroughly "oriented" prior 
to a sale.

New members, rather than being actively recruited to join committees and 
work teams (and camping trips and beach weekends), may be either "given time 
to settle in" (i.e. ignored) and/or regarded with some concern if they 
volunteer, for fear they may question long established practices (which they 
may well do).

My bottom line is that a community can help maintain and even reenergize 
itself if it will make a positive effort to capture the enthusiasm and 
energy of new members.  Without that effort then, as Muriel suggests, an 
ongoing decline in overall community activity and participation seems to be 
an almost inevitable consequence.

Muriel drew a parallel to marriage or an equivalent commitment, with the 
early high intensity "in love" phase followed by however many years of being 
in a long-term relationship.    The advent of new members in a community can 
perhaps be seen as an opportunity equivalent to a couples weekend or 
marriage retreat.   They don't always guarantee success, but, approached 
thoughtfully, they sure can shake the dust from the rug and perhaps trigger 
needed changes.

I'm curious to hear how your community "treats" newcomers.

Michael Barrett
Shadowlake Village, nestling again the Appalachians in Blacksburg, VA,
- where we have three houses for sale which I would love to see occupied by 
cohousing knowledgeable families willing to share their energy and 
enthusiasm for the greatest way to live that I know of.

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.