developmental stages of cohousing
From: Rebecca Reid (
Date: Thu, 11 Aug 2011 14:32:13 -0700 (PDT)
I have been noticing some changes at Pioneer Valley recently, and I would
like to know if other communities have experienced anything similar. I have
a theory about it that I would like to run by you and see what you think.

Gradually, over the past few years I have noticed several things: one, that
there is less participation in community business and decisions, as well as
meals. Two, that there is a small core of people who continue to be
interested in and work hard on things like the decision making process
(planning meetings, deciding agendas, improving community conversation),
membership process (waiting list, new member orientation), long range
planning, and devoting time to policy and generally improving the process
aspects of the community.  These people often stay on coho-l because they
are interested in cohousing as a concept, as change agent, and they want to
share ideas with other communities.  There is also a small core of people
who are dedicated to the physical aspects of the community; they keep things
repaired and running smoothly.  (I don't know where they fit into this
theory of mine).

The rest of the members (and this is a relatively large group) are content
to live here and  have busy lives, rarely come to meetings and seem to
be happy with the way things are running, or don't have time to think about
it. They generally do their work requirement and continue to be good
neighbors. They come to a meeting if the topic directly concerns them.

Obviously these are not clearly delineated groups; someone can be invested
in some community issue and become a burning soul on that issue, etc.  But
generally seems to be a division between people who work hard on the
community itself, and people who basically just want to live there.
The "workers" tend to be retired people, who have been there for a long
time--many are original founders. Many have been doing the same community
jobs for years and are getting burnt out on doing them, complaining about
how few people go to meetings, pay attention to their email, volunteer for
this or that, etc.
From the side of the "workers" the "livers" look apathetic.  From the side
of  the "livers", the "workers" look like nags and workaholics.

I wonder if this isn't a developmental stage for cohousing communities that
looks like this:
A bunch of people who like to work collaboratively on creative projects get
together and create a cohousing community.  They enjoy the work, the
challenge, the satisfaction of seeing the project grow.  Then they enjoy
improving and tweaking and changing it as they learn more and more about
better ways to do things, and they enjoy adapting it as it naturally
changes.  Other people join because they want a nice neighborhood with good
neighbors and happy kids and dinner cooked for them regularly.  At first
everyone is involved in this creative process. Then, the people who joined
because they wanted a nice neighborhood gradually stop being involved with
the creative endeavor and settle into the neighborhood.  The founders and
others who joined them in the creative process continue to work and think
hard about improving it, when--and this is my biggest question-it may no
longer be necessary.  Maybe these people are holdovers from the stage of
community creation, and have not caught up to the new phase, which is to
just live in it.  The "workers" are afraid that it will become just another
condominium, the "livers" point out that it's a lot better than that and
actually works very well.

I myself am about to leave Pioneer Valley because I didn't join for the nice
neighborhood, but mainly for the joy and excitement of creating of a better
way of life.  I want to continue working on this with other people who are
also excited by the challenge, and living at Pioneer Valley feels like
beating a dead horse, as they say. I want to feel like I am working on something
together, and it may be that this desire of mine is no longer appropriate.
If the horse is dead, maybe it was at the end of its life anyway.  Maybe
old-timers need to get swapped out, and let the community pass into a new
phase: contented neighborhood.  Maybe meetings aren't necessary; maybe
consensus process is too time consuming; maybe houses can go onto the open
market and whoever comes will be great.  The community will still be fine-it
will just be different.

Rebecca Reid
Pioneer Valley

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