Re: Developmental Stages of Cohousing
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Sat, 13 Aug 2011 10:16:27 -0700 (PDT)
This topic is incredibly interesting, so I've given it some systematic thought. 
 I have reviewed my own 32-unit community — or more precisely, 31, since one 
unit has remained empty in the clutches of a dysfunctional estate for two years 
—  and find as follows:

HIGH PARTICIPATION AND ENGAGEMENT: 15 units, 48%.  Defined as regular 
appearance at the monthly General Meeting (GM); additional pro-active committee 
work of one kind or another; and reliability for chores and special projects.  
Includes a pretty good mix of founders and newcomers.
MEDIUM: 10 units, 32%.  Sporadic appearance at GM, or selective engagement in 
committee work and projects; pretty reliable for chores.
LOW OR FAILED:  7 units, 22%.  Semi-reliable on chores, little visibility or 
initiative elsewhere.  I decided to include the unsold, unoccupied unit among 
the failed.

So actually, this was a somewhat more favorable report than I was expecting:  I 
would say that our continuing participation rate, after 10 years with the usual 
turnover, is not so bad.  Statistically, we seem OK, but going beyond the 
stats, there are still some problems, at least as perceived by me ...

UNRESOLVED INTERPERSONALS:  Some households refuse to engage with others 
because of unresolved interpersonal tension.  Yes, there's pretty good 
participation, but on specific issues or for specific Committees, there 
continues to be quite a divide in that participation.  Backchannel 
manipulations often substitute for candor in open meetings.  Well, so what else 
is new?  I guess I want to believe cohousing is better than your father's condo 
COMMITMENT TO THE STATUS QUO:  Despite credibly (?) high participation rates, 
the outcome of participation is often the status quo:  Do nothing, change 
nothing is the final conclusion of much of our dialogue.  Clearly, the founders 
think things are pretty much fine the way they are, and new ideas or critiques 
are regarded as disruptive.  The creative energy that necessarily characterizes 
the invention of a cohousing community readily degrades into a defensive 
posture adopted by successful creators.  This ties back to ...
CLIQUES:  Don't mean to be grouchy, but I must say that my cohousing community 
has turned out to be the worst example of in-group / out-group syndrome that 
I've encountered since high school.

In other words: Participation quantity is more or less OK; participation 
quality needs some work.

R Philip Dowds
Cornerstone Cohousing
Cambridge, MA

On Aug 12, 2011, at 11:06 PM, Thomas Lofft wrote:

> I think Michael's ideas below are very creative and offer possibilities for 
> serious consideration.
> Community Renewal: How long has it been since you've been to a good old 
> fashioned 'Revival'?
> Not a religious revival, but a cohousing revival, like is offered every year 
> at the CoHoUS conference? 
> Attendance at the conference can offer many stimulating ideas for 
> consideration by your community. 
> Too expensive to get 50% of your community to the national conference?
> How about budgeting $50 per household for hosting an in-situ "Cohousing 
> Revival" within the community, including hiring an external cooking team to 
> present the meals?
> Select a knowledgeable, energetic "Cohousing Couch, excuse me, Coach" to 
> provide stimulating discussion and targeted activities to re-engage the 
> residents, including the teens and children. [Coaches: Submit a response to 
> an implied Cohousing Coaching RFQ on line to this blog for consideration.] Is 
> there a Certified Cohousing Couch designation yet?
> Community Swinging: many couples find it stimulates the passion that may have 
> diminished in their partnership.
> Do you need a cohousing 'change of pace'? 
> How about grabbing a one month vacation rental at another community in one of 
> your dreamland vacation spots: Northwest; Boston; Washington, DC; California? 
> Nevada? New Mexico?  
> Or arrange a swap from your community for a direct swap with a household from 
> another community and both communities will benefit from engaging with a new 
> visitor from another planet with a head full of new perspectives to share. 
> Yes, a Cohousing Exchange is an idea I've secretly embraced for a long time, 
> but my personal plate is already very full for the rest of the year.\
> Cheers, feel free to engage and embrace anything you like.
> Tom Lofft
> Liberty Village, MD
> where we still need twenty more households to build new homes within 
> commuting distance to Baltimore, Washington, and a dozen each different 
> colleges and hospitals.
> From: "Michael Barrett" <mbarrett [at]>
> Subject: Re: [C-L]_ Developmental stages of cohousing
> I am surprised that this issue has only now appeared on this board. I have 
> observed, with regret, declining participation in both the cohousing 
> communities I have been privileged to live in, and have speculated on 
> whether it is possible to rekindle the social fires that exist in the brand 
> new or building community. I am not optimistic. I feel it is something akin 
> to love and marriage. In love one's life is changed. If marriage follows 
> two lives are changed, hopefully and wonderfully. But a few years later, 
> for most of us, the fires die down.
> Perhaps cohousing is the same except that we fall in love with an idea, a 
> practice and a whole bunch of people.
> Following this analogy, there are marriage renewal movements which claim 
> success. Perhaps problematically, "swinging" can provide a terrific boost 
> to at least the sexual side of two (or more) partnerships or marriages. The 
> cohousing conference is probably our best shot at a a renewal movement. I 
> won't even speculate whether there is a cohousing equivalent to "swinging".
> I see two significant positive influences on maintaining "community". One is 
> a regular scheduled community shared meals program. The other is the 
> presence in a community of the community organizer who, tirelessly and 
> without tangible reward, keeps (in my experience) her finger on the pulse of 
> needs and wishes and just never stops organizing "stuff".
> Someone said to me that without constant pumping of the community (social) 
> well, cohousing degenerates into conventional American society. I 
> substantially agree. I have served my time trying to maintain and build 
> community but am far from tireless, and I confess to a need for expressed 
> appreciation, and eventually dropped off the relevant committee, and have 
> confined much of my community activity to things that have less need for 
> wide and enthusiastic community participation (like finance, and amending 
> the bylaws).
> Sadly the only other thing that I believe can bring a community together is 
> disaster, or the real threat of truly imminent disaster. I believe the 
> initial (and wonderful feel-so-good) bonds in a forming community are often 
> largely forged in the fires of despair and frustration at the intransigence 
> at those who may not support, or more likely actively oppose, the forming 
> community. If there is any bright side to the dark side, my hope is that 
> when the oil (or water or food) stops flowing cohousing communities will 
> rediscover community, as opposed to my morbid fear that in conventional 
> America, families will reach for their guns.
> But hopefully there are communities out there who have found an equilibrium 
> where happiness and contentment reign supreme and frustration and discord is 
> almost non existent, and is very effectively handled. Can we hear from you 
> how you do it?
> Michael - at Shadowlake Village - where we are enjoying unseasonable 
> August cool and low humidity (only 76? at midday today) and the children are 
> counting down the days till school starts. Being as they, of course, share 
> the same attributes as the children from Lake Woebegone they can barely wait 
> to get back. ( I find the term "kids" to be somewhat dismissive, and thus 
> something I resist applying to ours)
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