Developmental stages of cohousing
From: Charles Durrett (
Date: Wed, 24 Aug 2011 12:12:13 -0700 (PDT)
August 22, 2011

Cohousing world,

The question at hand is how to revitalize a community from the slump?

I was in a beautiful little cohousing community in Austria two Summers ago,
just North of Vienna. After the initial euphoria the year after move-in,
they found themselves in a slump. They made a fundamental mistake — not
delineating exactly what everyone’s cooking responsibilities were before
moving in. Some assumed all the time, others assumed once-in-a-while, if
ever. They started over on the meal track but realized that they could not
force the reticent. So they started a new meal club with 12 of the 24
hsouseholds participating fully in the new dinner system of 4 evenings a
week. Most subscribers participated about twice per week. But most
importantly they voted (yes voted) to require that each new buyer had to
participate in the dinner system. They didn’t have to eat, of course, but
they did have to cook circa once per month. By all accounts (I’ve heard from
five) it has established an entirely new sense of community there. Today 17
of 24 participate. Someday it will be 24 of 24. Fundamentally they decided,
“Look, if you don’t break bread with your neighbors regularly, the most
timeless means there is to facilitate community then there is an entire
world out there. We break bread together as a fundamental means of
establishing and maintaining community.”

Similarly, some communities have not got their maintenance program together
before move-in. While no one moves into cohousing planning to take advantage
of their neighbors, it appears when basic needs like maintenance are left up
to volunteerism, and “the tragedy of the commons,” “Oh, I was hoping you
were going to get to it,” and, “Oh, some people can’t do it” is a cop out.
They can cheerlead, they can tool about drinking water (which our
93-year-old resident does, and doesn’t complain anywhere near as much as the
35-year-old yuppies). Best bet, set the individuals and the community up for
success — organize all these fundamentals before (long before) move-in —
even before buying. We find the best bet is to finalize cooking when we plan
the common house.

“Later” means “maybe never,” and “we can always get to that” is very naive.
Understand how things get done or don’t get done in cohousing, and the
difference of setting a community up for long-term success or not, and that
is don’t get into the slump in the first place. I was in Trudeslund (Chapter
5) this Summer — thirty years later they still have dinner seven nights a
week, and maintenance has never been a question.

It was obvious that they are still firing on all cylinders when I watched
them set the table for 45 people for dinner — they have dinner 7 days a
week. They routinely have 500 people hours a week in the common house for 33
households — while a poorly executed project down the street has 100 (each
paid $350,000 for their building). Because Trudeslund set themselves up for
success from the beginning.

Re: Developmental stages of cohousing
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Michael Barrett (   Date: Fri, 12 Aug 2011 09:24:45 -0700
(PDT)  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 priviliged 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 organiser 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
dispair 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
Wobegon they can barely wait to get back. ( I find the term "kids" to be
somewhat dismissive, and thus something I resist applying to ours)

----- Original Message ----- From: "Rod Lambert" <rod [at]>

To: <cohousing-l [at]>
Sent: Friday, August 12, 2011 10:51 AM
Subject: [C-L]_ developmental stages of cohousing

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